Merit Must Reign in the Armed Forces

Merit Must Reign in the Armed Forces

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Source: THE DAILY PIONEER

By Deepak Sinha

The Government must take a firm stand on higher defence selection. This is difficult but essential. It will define the Prime Minister’s tenure in office

For some time now, the Army has been in the news for the wrong reasons, be it the controversy over the selection of the Army chief, the public circulation of Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi’s video speech to officers within Eastern Command on the new year or the controversy about use or misuse of troops by officers for personal purposes. In all of this, the vital issues that are of overwhelming importance remain sidelined and left in the shadows.

The first issue is a long-standing one and pertains to the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff. While Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has categorically stated that something on these lines is in the pipeline, it will make little sense to put in place an additional chain of command that does not deal with the problems afflicting the military’s inability to work together. If it does not go the whole hog and turns out to be just another bureaucratic post that adds to the gargantuan red tape that already afflicts the military, then it is best avoided.

If this process is to go to its logical conclusion and ensure closer inter-service cooperation and effective use of the defence Budget, then there is little choice but to adopt the joint theatre concept as well. That most modern armies are organised in this manner is a well- known fact and even China has understood the advantages that such a system provides and taken the plunge fairly recently.

Another issue of even greater importance that has been ignored and needs to be dealt with on priority, if our higher command structure is to be made efficient, pertains to the selection of Army Commanders and their equivalent. It was an issue that was looked at in detail by the Kargil Review Committee and the Group of Ministers Report on National Security, but their recommendations have yet to be acted upon.

At the present time, promotion to the rank of Lieutenant General is based on recommendations of a Selection Board. However, whether the individual selected is given the command a Corps or not, is done only on the basis of seniority and fulfilling the criteria of minimum residual service of three years in that appointment. Individual competence is not even a factor and has, over the years, resulted in some competent officers who have performed exceedingly well as Divisional Commanders being promoted to be Lieutenant Generals but not getting command of a Corps, as should be natural scheme of things.

The importance of this matter lies in the fact that Army Commanders, from among whom the Chief is selected, can be appointed from only among those who have commanded a Corps based on his seniority and having residual service of two years in that appointment. Once again, a number of competent Corps Commanders miss out on being appointed Army Commanders because they lack the necessary residual service.

This can hardly be the ideal way to select Corps/Army Commanders who are directly responsible for the implementation of our operational and strategic defence plans. Moreover, the existing system has been tinkered with on occasion by ensuring promotion board results and vacancies are only announced at a time that suits vested interests and ensures that specific officers only meet the laid down criteria at the cost of other, may be more competent, officers.

It had been suggested by the GoM that Army Commanders must be chosen by a Selection Board comprising of the Chief of Defence Staff and the three Service Chiefs. As a matter of

fact, even the procedure for selection of Corps Commander also needs review and it must not be based purely on remaining residual service.

All of this will ensure that competence is given greater weight in all considerations rather than leaving it just to circumstance and date of birth, as is the case today. In turn, it will automatically impact the selection of Service Chiefs as well and we are likely to avoid the type of controversies that are dogging our system today. These are all difficult calls indeed, but necessary, and will, in the end, define Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tenure in office.