The baton of stormy times changes hands

The baton of the chief of army staff (COAS) of the Indian Army changed hands at the gong of mid-day. Gen Vijai Kumar Singh ended his 26-month stint, which has arguably been most stormy in the history of the independent India's army.

The new man in, Gen Bikram Singh, would have to preside over the 1.13 million strong Indian Army, bringing to an end a most fractious period the force had to withstand. He is only the second Sikh to be elevated to the post. How much that would be important to him would also define what his legacy would be.

Gen Bikram, as he is known in the army circles, is from the infantry arm. He is also the first chief who has not seen action on a conventional battlefield as he joined in 1972, a year after the 1971 war of Bangladesh was fought and won.

But retired Lt Gen Raj Kadyan, who was a deputy chief of the army, believes that is not an important issue. 'The previous chief was a second lieutenant when the war broke out. What matters is whether he upholds what he has said: that he will continue to modernise the army.'

In fact, Gen Bikram inherits from Gen V K Singh the ongoing 'military transformation' process. A part of that is a plan to provide a quantum jump to the foot soldiers, the infantry, in terms of agility, survivability and lethality.

The army, which has lagged in the equipment procurement process of the forces in comparison to the air force and the navy, has a few major items to procure in the immediate future. The first is 155 mm howitzers. The purchase of 145 ultra light howitzers from BAE System through a country-to-country deal with the USA is in an advanced stage.

There is also a star-crossed plan to procure over 400 155 mm/49 calibre towed artillery guns. The process of procuring these guns have been continuously mired in controversies with the vendors repeatedly being charged with indulging in corrupt practices.

The armoured brigades are supposed to get the home-made Arjun Mark Is and IIs; and enhanced T-90 tanks manufactured under licence in India from the Russians. The ambitious programme, F-INSAS (Future Infantry Soldier as a System) would require a whole host of equipment like night visions devices, modern carbines and computerised fire finders.

While doing all this, Gen Bikram would also have to guard his flanks from snipers who have charged him with unprofessionalism in leading the Indian peace-keepers in the Congo; and being involved in a fake encounter in Jammu and Kashmir.

A perceptive military analyst, Brig (retd) Arun Sehgal, said, 'People remember him as the spokesman during the Kargil conflict when he was in the directorate general of military operations (DGMO). And he will be held to account for his statement that he will not shove any controversy under the carpet.'
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