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Political row breaks out over Army chief’s appointment

 M Post Bureau |  2016-12-19 00:17:21.0  |  New Delhi

Political row breaks out over Army chief’s appointment

The Congress and the Left questioned the appointment of the new Army chief on Sunday, saying all recent appointments by the government have been controversial.

The appointment of Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt?General Bipin Rawat, a counter-insurgency specialist, raised eyebrows among Opposition parties because he was given the job ahead of two senior candidates.

The ruling BJP, however, condemned the attack, saying there should be no politics on defence forces. Lt General Rawat has been elevated keeping in mind the current security scenario, the party said. 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 General Bipin Rawat as the new Army chief superseding his two senior officers — Eastern Army Commander Lt General Praveen Bakshi and Southern Army Command chief Lt General P M Hariz. CPI 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.

Meanwhile, BJP National Secretary Shrikant Sharma said the new Army chief was picked up from a pool of five senior-most officers, who are all competent, and Lt General Rawat’s appointment should not be seen as a negative against others.

Lashing out at the Opposition party, Sharma said Congress by “politicising” 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.

A source in the Ministry source said: “The process of selection is based on a process that commences four-to-five months in advance with the Ministry of Defence seeking personal data and professional profile of all eligible Lt Generals from amongst the Vice Chief of Army Staff and General Officers Commanding in Chief of the various Commands,” said a source in the Ministry. 

“The service headquarter forwards data of the eligible candidates, including their professional exposure, achievements and operational experience. These are processed by the Ministry and forwarded through the Defence Minister for consideration and selection to the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet,” said the source. 

Tewari hit back saying: “While Lt General 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 General Praveen Bakshi, Lt P M Hariz, and perhaps even Lt General B S Negi, raises extremely serious and critical questions of institutional integrity.”

However, senior Army officials said that Lt General Rawat has only superseded Lt General Bakshi, the senior-most Army commander and Lt General Hariz. The Prime Minister 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. 

“Why does the Army have to go through unnecessary bloodletting at the top? If it has been done, then reasons need to be put out in the public domain,” he said. Holding that the government has made controversial appointments earlier also, Tewari questioned why the government has still not issued an official notification for the appointment of next Chief Justice of India even when the letter recommending the name was sent two weeks ago. Responding to the Congress’ critical comments regarding the impending appointment of a new Chief Justice, BJP said the Opposition should not reach a premature conclusion. 

“If any party has flouted the democratic norms most, it is the Congress party. BJP has always adhered to democratic norms,” it said. Asked whether the Congress was trying to play politics, Tewari shot back saying: “The government is doing politics with the Army. If the way supersession has taken place is not politics then what?”

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