In a rare break from tradition, India appoints an army chief out-of-turn

Breaking norms.
Breaking norms.
Image: AP Photo/Channi Anand
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India has appointed new heads for its army and the air force.

Lt Gen Bipin Rawat will succeed Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag as the chief of army staff, the Indian government tweeted late on the evening of Dec. 17. Singh retires at the end of this month.

Meanwhile, Air Marshal B.S. Dhanoa will be the new chief of air staff.

While Air Marshal Dhanoa’s appointment has not surprised anyone, the government has gone against the norm with Lt Gen Rawat, currently the army’s vice-chief—a post he was appointed to only a few months ago.

Lt Gen Rawat has superceded two senior officers—Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi and Lt Gen PM Hariz—to the post.

The out-of-turn appointment of an officer as army chief is a rare move in independent India’s military history. It is bound to be perceived as part of the creeping politicisation of the strictly apolitical armed forces of the country.

Earlier this year, the government’s over-the-top celebration of a military operation was criticised by sections within the country as part of this trend.

Referred to as “surgical strikes” now, it involved Indian Army personnel attacking terrorist launch-pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. While this operation was said to be in retaliation to a terrorist attack on an Indian Army base, political leaders and officials have since been seen and heard projecting this as a major achievement of the reigning government, especially prime minister Narendra Modi himself. Many observers have alleged that such political appropriation of a strictly military and not entirely unprecedented operation was uncharacteristic of a professional army and a mature democracy.

India’s incoming army chief commissioned in the 5th Battalion of the 11 Gorkha Rifles in Dec. 1978, after graduating from IMA, Dehradun. He had previously commanded an infantry battalion, along the Line of Actual Control, and an infantry division in the Kashmir Valley.