The appointment of the new army chief was Sunday mired in a political controversy with Congress and certain other opposition parties questioning the Prime Minister for superseding two senior officers and asking him spell out the “compelling reasons” for it.
Amid the opposition attack, the government justified the appointment of Lt Gen Bipin Rawat as the army chief, insisting that his operational experience and “general dynamism” tipped the scales in the officer’s favour.
Bharatiya Janata Party hit back at Congress and other parties, saying they should not politicise an issue related to defence forces.
Congress leader Manish Tewari slammed the government for “playing with institutions” and doing politics in the army even as he wondered if it was “whimsical cherry picking.”
His comments came a day after the government appointed Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Rawat as the new army chief superseding his two senior officers – Eastern Army Commander Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi and Southern Army Command chief Lt Gen P M Hariz.
Communist Party of India leader D Raja also questioned the government’s move and said appointments whether in the army, judiciary or those of CVC, acting CBI director and to Central Information Commission have become controversial. Commenting on the matter, JD(U) MP Pavan Varma said, “Every question that is being raised is not about politicising an issue but about seeking a clarification for an answer.”
The BJP condemned Congress for its attack on the government over the army chief’s appointment, saying there should be no politics on defence forces and asserted that Lt Gen Rawat has been elevated keeping in mind the current security scenario.
National secretary of BJP Shrikant Sharma said the new army chief was picked up from a pool of five senior-most officers, who are all competent, and Lt Gen Rawat’s appointment should not be seen as a negative against others.
Lashing out at the opposition party, Sharma said Congress by “politicizing” the appointment of the army chief was showing its “frustration” after it has been pushed to the “margins” of national politics following successive electoral defeats.
Defence Ministry sources also asserted that selection of the army chief is the sole prerogative of the government and it is based purely on merit, irrespective of the corps to which the officer originally belonged. The “outstanding” track record of Lt Gen Rawat, an infantry officer, as Commanding Officer of 19 Division in Jammu and Kashmir and his familiarity with the functioning of the Army Headquarters and MoD were cited by the Ministry as the reasons for his selection for the top position.
Tewari said, “While Lt Gen Rawat, who is being appointed the COAS, may perhaps have all the requisite credentials but the fact remains that in a hierarchy-conscious organisation where the principle of seniority is almost sacrosanct, the supersession of three senior officers, Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi, Lt P M Hariz, and perhaps even Lt Gen B S Negi, raises extremely serious and critical questions of institutional integrity.”
However, senior army officials said that Lt Gen Rawat has only superseded Lt Gen Bakshi, the senior-most army commander, and Lt Gen Hariz.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself should spell out the “compelling reasons” behind this supersession, Tewari told reporters at the party office here. “Why the principle of seniority which has held the field for two decades now not respected by the government. Is it that these officers who were superseded unqualified in any manner? Or is it whimsical cherry picking which has been done by the BJP-led NDA government,” he said.A