Of High Calibre
Pointless Din Over Gen. Rawat’s
After a colleague was superseded decades back, I had done an article on the virtues of supersession which drew nasty comments from readers, including some of my close friends. My focus in that piece was on the people getting older and losing much of their grit, confidence and spirit of adventure at work places. Seniority comes with age, so more often than not, it ebbs as one gets older. Therefore, unless one has potential and guts to turn one's stumbling into dance, even if senior in job, can he or she command leadership at all? Also, situations determine whether or not one is suitable for leadership in a given situation and environment. Age and experience are important, but not in each situation and each job, especially at the top. That is why sensible employers, particularly in the private sector, promote people into leadership based only on one's potential and productivity quotient and not on convention, seniority, politics or convenience. Mark of seniority becomes irrelevant there. In govt, hierarchical jobs, however, seniority plays a major role in promotions, but resort to exceptions even there is not ruled out. Thus, the principle of supersession remains ever alive and kicking!
Unseemly controversy has overtaken the supersession of two army generals by Lt. Gen Bipin Rawat who will succeed Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag as the army chief this month-end. Congress-led combined Opposition has accused the govt of "politicising" the appointment by sidetracking the criterion of seniority. The Congress has, in particular, demanded an answer from the government, asserting that the army being a public institution, the nation deserves an answer. Right, the armed forces are public institutions, but in a disturbed security scenario, their needs become differently demanding, pressing and sensitive. Even Arvind Kejriwal’s social media team has started vicious campaign, discovering farcical links between Gen Rawat’s family and the BJP. AAP has even sought to malign the general in a bid to split the army on political and caste lines.
If even sections of the army are angry over the sidelining of two senior officers, it is because the sensitivity of the matter is being overlooked. The question is : Why have the officers, Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi, commanding the eastern army in Kolkata and Lt Gen P M Hariz, who commands the southern army from Pune, both described as "high calibre Generals", been superseded? Also, why was Lt Gen Rawat promoted as army vice-chief just three months ago, bypassing his two seniors? Answer to both these questions is the same: the two consecutive, out-of-turn promotions to Gen Rawat have been the need of this difficult time when the country faces even the prospect of war with Pakistan anytime in the foreseeable future.
The Defence Ministry rightly insists that Gen Rawat is “best suited for the job in the face of the emerging challenges, including a reorganized and restructured military force in the north, continuing terrorism and proxy war from the west, and the situation in the northeast.” The appropriate appraisal of the situation demands that a person who has the right calibre to fight the odds and challenges coming from a rogue state like Pakistan or an equally hostile country like China that stands with Pakistan to aggressively attack India on every international fora, should be the eventual choice for elevation as the army chief.
I personally feel Gen Rawat becomes genuinely suitable for the army’s top job because of his outstanding, gutsy profile that will take care of the disturbed environment in the north. As master of surgical strikes, he planned wonderful operation in the northeast after the 2015 Naga ambush and subsequently into PoK across LoC. He has commanded an infantry battalion along LoC with Pakistan and an infantry division in the Kashmir Valley and has vast experience in high-altitude warfare and counter-insurgency operations. He has handled various operational responsibilities in many areas, including those along LAC with China. Besides, he has vast experience of serving in combat areas and at various functional levels in the army over the last three decades.
Senior officials describe Gen Rawat as an officer "having balanced approach towards soldiering, compassion and connect with civil society. His experience as GOC-in-C, Southern Army Command in mechanised warfare was suitably focussed towards the western borders, in coordination with the other two services.” For his truly exceptional performance within MONUC( UN Congo Mission), Lt Gen Rawat was awarded the Force Commanders Commendation. As per Defence sources, Rawat has been named as the best suited among the Lt. Generals, to deal with the emerging challenges. He was also tasked to present the revised charter of peace enforcement to the special representatives of UN Secretary General and force commanders of all the UN missions in a special conference in London in 2009. Being the son of former Gen L S Rawat, leadership runs in his veins. Besides, as an intellectual, he has authored a number of articles on national security, leadership and needs of the army. He also holds a PhD degree with his extensive research on military media strategic studies. Thus, Rawat's image being one of a very capable, strong and popular officer, the focus in his promotion has clearly been on suitability, necessity and merit.
On the other hand, Lt Gen Bakshi, an Armoured Corps officer, spent most of his career in Jodhpur and had merely two postings in Kashmir, but these were not field postings. Similarly, Lt Gen Hariz had no experience in operational areas in terms of counter-insurgency or seeing action along the LoC. In the present-day hostile environment, flagrantly generated by neighbours, I don't think appointment of either of these senior-most generals would have been in right perspective and order. The Opposition howling against Gen Rawat's appointment is wholly a political cry. However, with Lt. Gen Rawat’s promotion, the line of succession in the force will surely get affected. It is also not clear whether the govt now plans to create the post of chief of defence staff.
The Opposition, especially the Congress, is forgetting that supersesion in the army is nothing new. In 1983, the Indira Gandhi govt had appointed Lt Gen A S Vaidya as army chief superseding Lt Gen S K Sinha, who resigned in protest. Also in 1972, she ignored Lt Gen P S Bhagat, a Victoria Cross awardee from World War II, who was in line to succeed Gen Sam Manekshaw who was later anointed Field Marshal. And how cleverly did she do that? By giving Bhagat’s junior, Gen G G Bewoor, a year's extension. Thus, Gen Bhagat retired without reaching the top, even though he was one of the most celebrated and popular army officers. Can the Congress leaders explain this roll of yesteryear supersession?