BY SHAILESH RANADE

The appointment of Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhaag as the COAS (Desig) by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh three days before leaving 7, Race Course Road is Sonia Gandhi’s way of telling Narendra Modi to “get lost”. Sanjaya Baru has confirmed what Indians had dreaded all along – Manmohan Singh was PM only in title.

The current COAS has another 11 weeks to retire and that the country is not at war is another matter altogether. Given Manmohan’s track record in security matters, it would take him many days to even react if India were invaded.

Some myths regarding the selection of Military Chiefs need to be exploded right away.

MYTH ONE: Is there is succession plan? Yes there is. It is often decided by Chiefs when Officers are coming up for promotion to the Major General/Rear Admiral/Air Vice Marshal level. If the Chief of the Day doesn’t like an Officer’s face, he will definitely miss the first attempt to Flag Rank. Gen Bikram Singh is not the topper of his Course? What happened to the topper? If the concerned Officer has somehow got through the Promotion Board and made it to the 2 star level, he can easily be tripped at the Fleet/Corps Commander Level. Remember the case of Rear Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat. This Admiral was overlooked for Fleet Commander by the scheming CNS at that time, Admiral JG Nadkarni. A succession plan is subjective and made only to further personal rather than national interests.

MYTH TWO: Does seniority matter? No, it does not. The government has to choose from the top half a dozen three star level Officers. These Officers are generally senior or junior by a few months, sometimes by a few days. It is not that a great coup is taking place if supersession does occur. A lot was written by vested interests on the recent promotion of Admiral RK Dhowan. The fact is he was only one course junior (6 months) to Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha and was a topper throughout. Officers are getting written off at all levels. Some unfortunate ones even get caught between battles of two Senior Officers, much like the grass between two fighting elephants.

MYTH THREE: Does professionalism or merit matter? Yes, it does at all levels. The Services have a very stringent selection system. Apart from the odd aberration, an Officer takes about 33 years and 8 promotions to make it to a three star level. Since the pyramid incline now starts after Lt Col rank, promotions depend upon vacancies available. This means that to be assured of the next rank, an Officer has to be at the top or very near to the top. Therefore, it can be surmised that Officers at the 3 star levels are all professional and competent. The government may however take their performance at that level into account. Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha’s “Command” performance was dismal and therefore he was rightly superseded. He may have been a great fighter pilot but turned out to be a poor leader. Sometimes luck also plays a part. The current CNS was actually recommended to head the Western Naval Command (WNC) in place of Vice Admiral Sinha.

MYTH FOUR: Is the Chief a political appointment? Yes it is. There have been enough cases where the PM or the Defence Minister have intervened and got the “Boy” of their choice. Such cases include Gen AS Vaidya, ACM OP Mehra, Admiral Sushil Kumar etc. In fact, Admiral Sushil Kumar had not even commanded a front line warship as a Captain. One trick used by the politicians is to grant extensions so that the “Chain” is not broken. Beneficiaries include Gen GG Bewoor, Admiral JG Nadkarni etc. Vice Admiral S Jain too was given an extension but was unfortunately grounded by his own Chief of Staff. To put it simply, if the politicians did not matter, senior military Officers would not be courting them. Unfortunately, one factor has been overlooked in the recent military discussion on promotions.

MYTH FIVE: Does integrity matter? Yes it does. The Adarsh Scam was an eye opener. It was unimaginable that dozens of military crooks could be found in an area half the size of a football field. It was again incredulous that those identified included 3 Service Chiefs and numerous three star level C-in- Cs. Soon thereafter, was the Tatra Scam followed by another AgustaWestland Scam. While the Tatra Scam will probably be reopened and names revealed, two Air Chiefs have nearly got caught in the Agusta rotor wash. The CBI has a “look out notice” for one of them and the other has hurriedly been posted to distant Norway as ambassador, a position equivalent to an Air Vice Marshal. Nothing demeans a soldier and lowers his morale more than the thought of his Chief putting himself before his country. The soldier’s God has suddenly transformed into a lowly despicable and purchasable creature. What happened to the Chetwode Code? Will juniors blindly follow orders? Not anymore.

The Military Chief is a political appointment. The political leadership of the day should brush aside all arguments of seniority. Other than performance and integrity, emphasis should be on the Chief’s perspective plan for his force and hold him accountable. Commanders have been changed in the middle of a war. There can be no problems if it is done in peace. There was the curious case of  AP Venkateswaran. One day he was Foreign Secretary. Next day he was not. Rajiv Gandhi’s words, “soon you will be talking to a new foreign secretary”, did not cause any ripples, much less shake the bureaucratic world.

A Nation’s Military Chief is an important appointment. It is through him that the last resort is deployed to defend the nation’s interest. It is too serious to be left to an outgoing government that has been booted out of office. Manmohan Singh has set a dangerous precedent by disregarding the advice of the incoming political leadership. Even the President who is the nominal head of the Services has not been above board. If the new Prime Minister feels that Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhaag is not the Chief who would fit into his vision and plans for the military, a pink slip would definitely be in order.

Much like the “Middle Watch Keeper” who has the Captain’s trust, the new Army Chief must have the trust and confidence of his Prime Minister. The Prime Minister must sleep well, though Narendra Modi is the kind who will ensure that this nation’s watch keepers will always remain awake.

(Shailesh Ranade is a Guest Blogger with the Canary Trap. The opinions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of Canary Trap or any employee thereof)

15 thoughts on “Lt Gen Dalbir Singh Suhaag can be shown the pink slip”

  1. Armed Forces are the extension of politics and hence very much the part of political process of any nation-state. Army appointments have been political in nature since antiquity and will remain so forever.

    Political weeding out in Army starts with the SSB interview od an aspiring officers and remains with him all through out. The terms used for weeding out undesirable are different at different stages. It can non-resourcefulness, or rigidity or unsocial or adamant, or to stingy. etc etc… These are the faces of political coin institutionalsed by state.

    Therefore, it is imperative that outgoing governments should not meddle with water to make the pool dirty. New govt must act decisively and move ahead

  2. Considering the fact that only 11 weeks remain for appointee to retire, and haste shown by political leadership before demitting office, the appointment certainly becomes suspect on the touchstone of national interest.
    Adarsh and other scams have tainted the image of senior officers from all 3 services.
    The rot has to stop and hope the new Prime Minister will not play politics with national security.
    Thanks for raising this issue. Wait for election results of Gen. VKSingh and some other retired senior Defence officers

  3. The question is not whether his appointment can be cancelled by the new govt. or not, of course it can be. The question is whether the new PM will do so or not. It is not a simple or mechanical issue. It involves much more.
    The only other comment I have is about passing (and trying to question) the Chief designate’s merit or ability. It is not only subjective but malicious in content. It does no credit to ESM including VKS to indulge in such slander

  4. Gen Dalbir Singh may be a deserving candidate. But the timing is suspect. The General should have excused himself and left it to the next PM and RM. Now his fate hangs in balance. It is possible that new dispensation may cancel his appointment.

  5. Height of arrogance !
    Wonder what the Queen is trying to prove and at the sheer ” SPINELESSNESS OF Dr MANMOHAN SINGH ”
    Yeh Suhag Ujdega Aur Fauj Ki Jag Hasai Ho Gi

  6. NaMo means business. All three Chiefs would need to pull up their socks. NaMo has zero tolerance for corruption and zero diet for imported goods. The Chiefs must ensure the biggest bang for the tax payers rupee.

  7. At last an article that comes out of the political fog created by the outgoing UPA. Defence is too important a subject to be left to the bureaucrats and their politician cronies. The Indian Armed Forces have been severely damaged by political broadsides launched by the Politician -Bureaucrat combine including fears of a coup. The situation is so bad that the Navy Chief can no longer run his service and is obliged to resign. The chain of command in the Indian Armed Forces has become a myth with three star officers jockeying for position with the Bureaucrats and defying their Commanders. We face the prospect of a defeated armed forces even before the bullets start to fly. What happened to the Chetwode Code? Will juniors blindly follow orders? Not anymore. They will only follow orders to the extent that they do not get into trouble thereby becoming a police force. Initiative? Forget it. O Mother India, how you have been served.

  8. A very nice article. Like a typical family picnic, the Congress is dirtying the waters before it departs. But trust Modi to clean it up in the days to come. There is still hope.

  9. BJP had appointed Adm Arun Prakash a day before it demitted office circa 2004. The reason the Govt follows a seniority succession in the chain of command is to keep the office of the Armed forces apolitical. Just because Gen VK Singh has a personal grudge against Gen Suhag ( or the fact that the beneficiary in case Suhag doesn’t make it is his daughters father in law) doesn’t mean that BJP start their stint by destroying the apolitical institution of the Armed Forces.

    Announcing a Chief 2 – 3 months before retirement of the incumbent is a normal process to smoothen the transition to the Chief’s office. Gen VK Singh should know as he has been one of the beneficiaries of the same process he now decries.

  10. A very well analysed piece of write up. We strongly wish that our defence forces be apolitical. Senior Officers who climb up the pyramidacal structure of promotion should never fall in the traps of corrupt and cunning politicians to avoid muck in our pious organisation

  11. 24 hours to NaMo

    In another 24 hours , exit polls will become obsolete when election results start pouring in
    And as the sun rises in the sky on 16th May , usual games will play-out on TV channels

    * CLAIM GAME

    In this game , the main players will be the leaders of BJP and its pre-poll allies
    All of these leaders will claim personal credit for BJP’s victory – without appearing to offend the Great NaMo !
    They will tell the TV anchors :
    There never was any doubt that we will win
    We had told you so , all along
    NaMo wave was unstoppable
    People were fed up of UPA’s failures
    This is the beginning of the end of the Dynasty Rule
    We will not be vindictive ( – except in case of RSVP ! )
    We gracefully accept the mandate given to us by people to bring in Good Governance
    People want Gujarat Model replicated all over India and we will do it

    * BLAME GAME

    This game will be played by leaders of Congress and its UPA allies
    They will try to hide their faces on TV channels ( – now I understand why police cover up the faces of alleged culprits ! )
    But if caught unaware by those intrepid roving journalists / cameramen , they will mumble in inaudible voices :

    We humbly accept the verdict of the people
    We honour their wishes ( though much against our wishes ! )
    We will play the role of a responsible opposition ( – but make no mistakes , at every small opportunity , we promise to disrupt the working of the Lok Sabha , better than what BJP ever managed )
    RSVP had nothing to do with our defeat
    Our Working Committee / Parliamentary Board will examine the reasons why people dumped us ( – and find some scapegoats ! )
    After all , we have been playing this game for over 65 years and know too well that you cannot fool all the people all the time !
    You win some , you lose some
    We will emerge stronger by 2019 ”

    * AIM GAME

    This game will be played out by the Third Front political leaders whose only ” Aim ” was to remain ” Relevant ” in the Lok Sabha !
    These leaders will be saying :

    As a Third ( rate ? ) Front , we have emerged stronger
    So what , if we cannot form the Government ?
    We cannot even agree on who is our Prime Ministerial candidate !
    But can’t you see that we are M-powered ? ( Maya / Mamta / Mulayam ) – with 3 potential PMs ?
    As always , we will continue to provide NaMo , our ” Issue – based ” support ( – the only issues being , withdrawal of all scam-related cases / disproportionate assts cases / CBI investigations,
    etc , against our Behenji / Didiji / Netaji )
    And of course , grant of ” Special Status ” to W.Bengal / Bihar / UP / Tamil Nadu / Odisha / Seemandhra etc

    On 16th , switch on your TVs to witness the ” Grand Finale ” !

    * hemen parekh ( 14 May 2014 / Mumbai )

  12. General Dalbir stands approved as next Army Chief, and is the most deserving professionally and his character traits have been/are impeccable. Is known to be the most experienced in art of strategy and warfare in current/contemporary environments. It is to say the least sublime to ridiculous on one’s dubious
    s and dirty thought of reversing already taken decision on his appointment. All exservicemen, including General( V ) VK, and the Nation should honour such apolitical decision. Surely, VK would avoid placid ripples on his age-issue row to assume into a torrent storm. We know very well our mature and competent next political Leadership and greatness of Mr Narendra Modi, PM Designate. Dev Sehgal

  13. What ever the Congress thinks or does, the common man feels there is more than meets the eye. After numerous scams, this too reeks of some underhand dealings. This is not to suggest that Gen DS Suhaag is unfit for the top job. Its just that he may be the innocent pawn in the larger murky world of the Congress. The same happened with Air Chiefs Tyagi and Browne. Were they alone to be blamed? How about the bureaucrats and politicians involved. Gen Suhaag may well watch his back. My suggestion is – If the Congis are involved, be careful.

  14. I am not qualified to comment on the merits of the possible contenders for COAS. However, I wsh to make a few points.

    At all levels for promotion from Col (Lt Col earlier) onwards, merit has been the criterion. There is no earthly reason why this should be given the go by for promotion to the top job and seniority becomes the overriding factor. Why on earth do we need a Appointments Committee of the cabinet if seniority, a mathematical issue, is the only thing that counts? If for some reason an Army Cdr is considered unfit to be chief, he should be removed from his job immediately.

    It is the prerogative of the government of the day to choose whom it wants. Dodging the issue of inter se merit amongst five or six army cdr’s is an abdication of responsibility. To carry out a preemptive strike and select a man 48 hours before you are leaving office is disgraceful.

    The pity is that the govt has done Gen Suhaag no favours. It has unnecessarily put the backs of the next govt up. Their attitude will be “If you had the power to announce his appointment, I now have the power to cancel it and up yours”.

    VK Singh’s public utterances on the subject are quite unnecessary.

    In sum, I agree with Mr Ranade.

  15. The Chief Designate must realize that he has to work with a new PM and RM as the Vice Chief for at least 11 weeks. Lt Gen Dalbir Singh will require all his skills in the next 11 weeks. He will be really on test.

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