Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) General Dalbir Singh will retire at the end of this month but there is no word yet on who would be succeeding him as the commander of the 1.3 million strong Indian Army. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar is tight-lipped about it, though he keeps saying that the name will be announced soon.
Unlike the Army, succession in the Indian Air Force appears to be much clearer.
Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha is due for retirement this month. Vice Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa is the most likely successor.
But who would hold the reins of the Army?
The government may or may not go for seniority, as Parrikar has today hinted, yet it is not out of the question. Usually the Indian Army chief is named around two months before the retirement of the serving Army Chief. If that had happened, the name of the Indian Army chief would have been made public before Pakistan announced its Army Chief.
On November 26, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appointed PoK specialist General Qamar Javed Bajwa as the successor of General Raheel Sharif. Though there is no connection between the appointment of an Army Chief across the border and of a similar appointment here, Pakistani establishment’s role in sponsoring terrorists who have attacked three military installations in 2016 alone is something to take note of.
So here are three serving Lieutenant Generals who are, according to reports, the frontrunners to becoming the four star rank officer of the Indian Army.
Eastern Army Commander, Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi –
Lt Gen Bakshi is the most senior of the three lieutenant generals. He heads the crucially important Eastern Army Command headquartered at Fort William in Kolkata. The Eastern Command oversees the entire east and northeast region where India shares its border with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Myanmar, and, most importantly, China.
Lt Gen Bakshi was previously the Chief of Staff of Northern Command which has its headquarters in Udhampur, Jammu and Kashmir. He is one of the most experienced soldiers and has also commanded an armoured division in the Western sector.
If the government goes for seniority, Lt Gen Bakshi could be the next Army Chief.
Southern Army Commander, Lt Gen P.M. Hariz –
Lt Gen P.M. Hariz is the current General Officer Commander-in-Chief of the Southern Command. He took command on September 1. A Muslim from Kerala, Lt Gen Hariz is an officer produced via the armed forces tradition starting at Sainik School in Amravatinagar in Tamil Nadu. Commissioned in 1978 into 12 Mechanised Infantry Battalion, the Lt General has served in distinguished roles including appointments related to the United Nations. His son, too, is an officer in one of the mechanised infantry battalions. His own brother, Arif, retired from the Indian Navy as Commander.
Army vice chief, Lt Gen Bipin Rawat –
Lt Gen Bipin Rawat is younger than both Lt Gen Bakshi and Lt Gen Hariz but was appointed the vice chief of the Indian Army on September 1. That was a clear hint for everyone about the government’s intentions of sidestepping the current system of seniority over merit. Lt Gen Rawat is a distinguished counter insurgency expert and has experience in high altitude warfare. Lt Gen Rawat was commissioned into the 5th Battalion of 11 Gorkha Rifles following his December 1978 graduation from the IMA.
His service in the Congo, during which his brigade defended Goma from enemy attack, was exceptional. But it is his experience of commanding an infantry battalion along the LAC, in Kashmir and a sector of the Rashtriya Rifles that are important. Before assuming charge as the vice chief of Army Staff, Lt Gen Rawat was the GOC-in-C of Southern Command.
The manner in which the Centre is keeping a lid on the appointments have left many curious. The appointments of senior officers is made by Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) consisting of the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. Till now the appointment of all senior officers have been based on seniority by age. The government has not yet taken any specific decision on whether to change the appointment system though a panel on military reforms has advised the government to review the system of preferring “date of birth” over merit in cases of GOC-in-Cs and Corps Commanders.