On December 17 when the Defence Ministry announced the appointment of Lt General Bipin Rawat as the new Army Chief and Air Marshal BS Dhanoa as the new chief of Indian Air Force, immediately there was lot of dissension among the ranks and civilians.

 

While Dhanoa’s way already had been cleared for the Indian Air Force. The tussle and the curiosity was most regarding the announcement of the new Army Chief.

 

The decision: Rawat has been appointed to the post despite there being two seniors - Eastern Army Commander, Lt General Praveen Bakshi and Southern Army Commander, Lt General PM Hariz - who were the top contenders for the post. Previously also Bakshi was overlooked as Vice Chief of Army Staff when the post fell vacant in September and Rawat was brought in from the Southern Command. The sidestepping of Bakshi at that time itself had raised questions.

 

So has there been  a deliberate belittling of the two senior officers who were competent enough to be suggested for the roles in the first place? The seniority principle is just followed as a tradition in the Army and this breaking away has been unsettling for the regimented nature of the institution.

 

The appointments of senior officers is made by Appointments Committee of the Cabinet consisting of the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. Again, the free role of the government in appointing the Chief of Army begs question. All the government said in response to the selection was that Rawat’s dynamism is what tipped the scales in his favour.

 

So, the government is being blamed for breaking away from tradition, which they are completely free to do since there is no law which mandates it. But then does this appointment mean that from now on hard work and more years of experience will be overlooked in favour of lineage, religion and region when it comes to placements in high offices? If this becomes a precedent, then the people and the Army will lose faith in the government.

 

The Modi government has made some controversial appointments previously as well. The ouster of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen as chancellor of the Nalanda University, the appointment of BJP member Gajendra Chauhan as the director of the Film and Television of India; Girish Chandra Tripathi, a state level RSS functionary, appointed as the Vice-Chancellor of Banaras Hindu University and Pahlaj Nihalani as the Censor Board of Film Certificate chairman among others. While these appointments can in no way be compared to that of the appointment of the Chief of the Indian Army, it does show a certain pattern the government is following. Modi has been placing BJP favourites in top managerial roles of important institutions in the country, despite these people not qualifying for the post and they were promoted to the post against popular opinion. Clearly we see political favouritism in these placements.

 

While the Opposition raked up the issue big time in the Parliament, all the BJP government had to say was that the Opposition should keep the Army away from politics. True, but what if politics already exists in the Army?

 

Another question that seems to be on everyone’s minds is why Lt General PM Hariz was not selected and this considering the fact that the Army is free from all communal bias. A nagging feeling remains at the back of many minds – Was Hariz overlooked because he was a Muslim? A question which was flashed repeatedly on Twitter and other social media networks like WhatsApp and Facebook. If Hariz would have become Chief of Army then he would have been the first muslim in Indian history to assume the great responsibility. The number of Muslims in top positions in the uniformed regiments of India is highly suspect and it is a question that has long been there but always brushed under the carpet.

 

Omar Khalidi, an independent scholar at MIT had previously written a book regarding Khaki and Ethnic Violence in India Armed Forces, Police, and Paramilitary Forces during Communal Riots. Khalidi, in his book, seems to assert that Muslims are poorly represented in the uniformed forces of the Republic of India. He highlights that this is a result of bias on the part of the establishment that suspects the loyalty of community and denies them equal opportunities. So do we consider this still holds true? The government and the Army owes the nation some answers, despite the fact that Army hates civilian interruption in its functioning.