26 December 2016

Appointing a General is the Government's Prerogative, but ...

Selecting and appointing a Chief to any country's Army or to any wing of its forces should be the prerogative of the Government. This position can be defended by invoking Chanakya or Machiavelli. But, one could even invoke Rawls' justice. In particular, the first part of the second principle of justice by Rawls conveys that selection of people to positions of power should be based on merit after provisioning for equal opportunities. Hence, India cannot be an exception to that.

One may question my invoking Rawls' principles meant for a democratic polity to the selection of an Army Chief. I agree that a democratic polity by, for and of the people is more about peace and prosperity. Nevertheless, it is a bitter irony that war-preparedness has become an important aspect of statecraft, democratic or not. In fact, in a federal structure like the United States of America with states having a larger say in domestic matters (more than that of India) one of the three most important roles of the American President is on defence (defend sovereignty for America and its allies and also to maintain 'global' order); the other two important roles being external affairs (diplomatic relationship with the committee of nations as also multilateral agencies or one may say to retain one-upmanship) and the treasury (common money unit, dollar, which in some sense also happens to be a 'global' currency). Though, Rawls is cautious and avoids extending his analysis across countries, one has to concede that defence cannot be dealt in isolation in any country and the selection of an Army Chief ought to be considered as an important feature even in a democratic polity and one ought to go by merit.      

The Government of the day has to do the selection of the Army Chief keeping in view its requirement. General Bikram Singh has put it succinctly that "the Chief designate would be well placed to deal with all operational contingencies, even in the worst possible two-front scenario, wherein both China and Pakistan may pose conventional threat to our territorial integrity" and according to the Ministry of Defence "had an edge owing to his vast experience in the asymmetric operations in the Kashmir valley, our north eastern states and the United Nations mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo." 

The core question that comes into the selection of Lieutenant General Bipin Rawat as the Chief designate of the Indian Army is the supersession of two other contenders (Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi and Lieutenant General PM Hariz) who were senior to him. This becomes a questionmark if the basis of seniority was based on their merit-based selection to their current positions and not because of their date of induction into the Indian Army or by their age or some such criteria. 

It goes without question that a professional organisation like the Indian Army promotes its cadre based on merit at all levels. It is for this that the public ought to know the basis of current seniority and that there was a technical reason that came in the way and Lieutenant General Bipin Rawat could not have been elevated to the position of Lieutenant General before Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi and Lieutenant General PM Hariz.

If there is no technical reason that defines the current seniority then it is necessary to explain the reasons that led to the current hierarchy and the change in requirement between then and now. Even if there has been no change in requirement, it is necessary to know current requirement and the experience details that the three officers or all the contenders (five senior most officers) have had. Unfortunately, there is not much in the public domain that I could lay my hands on. I leave that aside for someone who could lay their hands on those details. Instead, I will read between the lines and raise some possible conjectures on the requirement by the Government.

My first conjecture is as follows. If making Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi as Chief designate would have meant that the person next in succession would have been Lieutenant General PM Hariz, a  Muslim, and the Government wanted to avoid that. Further, preempting that now rather than act on that after Lieutenant General Bakshi's tenure would have raised greater concerns later and the Governent wanted to avoid that.

My second conjecture is as follows. It is quite possible that elevating Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi and Lieutenant General PM Hariz in succession could have led to shorter tenures for two successive Chiefs and the Government wanted to avoid that. 

My third conjecture would on the requirement of the Government today will draw from General Bikarm Singh's above-mentioned post where he mentions that the advantages of the Chief designate will "not only allow the continuity in our counter proxy war and counterinsurgency operations, but also give the government options to up the ante along the Line of Control (LoC), should that be necessary." This has to be read between the lines.

In General Bikran Singh's write-up, a case is being articulated on 'continuity' and also in providing option to 'up the ante'. Are these signs of an impeding war? One is aware of its ramifications on patriotism and its implications on polity when ante are upped close to the elections (for instance Iraq war and its impact on American polity). Will there be a war-like scenario in the near future in India? Is this in anticipation of what our neighbours are likely to plan or will it be necessitated by an electoral calculation? Will there be an implicit unspoken collusion by leaders across the boarder, as it would be to their domestic political advantage? All these need to be answered in due course.

Whether selecting the next Army Chief in India is about facilitating peace and prosperity or it is about a tacit war-like scenario has a thin line differentiating the two and only time will tell. But, let us be forewarned and work towards a peaceful and friendly co-existence with our neighbours and also within the country with ourselves. Let me paraphrase Pope Francis' Christmas message of 2016 to convey that we need to free ourselves from the hostage of materialism and from that of indifference. 

I completely agree and defend the position that appointing a General is the Government's prerogative, but in a democratic-polity by, for and of the people there should be concern and engagement, as in its absence democracy itself will be at bay.

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