New Delhi: There are only 19 days to go for the retirement of Army Chief General Dalbir Singh, but his successor is yet to be announced. Usually the new Army chief is announced 60 days before the incumbent retires.
General Dalbir Singh’s appointment was announced 80 days prior to his predecessor General Bikram Singh’s retirement on July 31, 2014.
General Bikram Singh’s name was announced in March 2012, 90 days before he assumed office as Army chief on June 1, 2012. General V K Singh was announced as the next Army chief in January 2010, more than two months prior to assuming office in April 2010.
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has publicly stated that the file for appointment of the new Army chief is with the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). The name is announced after the selection by the PMO is formally approved by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC). Defence Ministry sources said that it is not a matter of public discourse.
Barring one instance in 1983, when Lt General S K Sinha was overlooked for the post despite being the seniormost, India has followed the principle of seniority in selecting the Army chief.
As per seniority, Lt General Praveen Bakshi, who heads Kolkata-headquartered Eastern Command, should succeed General Dalbir Singh on January 1, 2017. The delay in making the announcement has led to speculation that Lt General Bakshi may be overlooked by the ACC this time.
This speculation is based on three factors. When the post of Army vice-chief fell vacant in September, Lt General Bakshi was expected to move into that role to allow his smooth transition to the post of Army chief. But Lt General Bipin Rawat, junior to Lt General Bakshi, was moved from Southern Command in Pune as the vice-chief. Another factor was Parrikar’s public pronouncements that seniority should not be the only criterion for making senior military appointments. Parrikar, however, never said this explicitly with reference to the post of Army chief.
Within the Army, many have referred to the fact that Lt General Bakshi is an armoured corps officer. While armoured corps is a fighting arm like infantry, it will be after nearly two decades that an armoured corps officer could take the post dominated by the infantry in recent past.
There is also speculation that Lt General Bakshi could be promoted to the post of Chief of Defence Staff or Permanent Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee. Parrikar had told The Indian Express last month that the decision to appoint a CDS is political and would only be taken after he has studied the Shekatkar committee report.
The committee, formed to study defence spending and combat readiness, submitted its report to Parrikar in October.
The incoming Army chief usually requires a certain period to take over from the outgoing chief. With the outgoing chief busy in the last fortnight of his stint with ceremonial send-offs, the delay in appointment would leave very little time for the incoming general to understand all the issues. The Defence Ministry refused to comment on the subject.