From Christina Palmer & Manjeet Kaur
New Delhi: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reported to be in fix to finalize the name of the next Chief of Army Staff of the Indian Army as his NSA Ajit Kumar is giving him different warnings for all the three names that have been shortlisted for Prime Minister’s choice for new COAS as sitting Indian Army Chief General Rawat is due to retire next month, The Daily Mail has learnt on good authority.
According to the well-placed sources, NarendraModi had made certain promises with Commander of Indian Army’s Northern Command Lt. Gen Ranbir Singh, earlier this month after the General survived a chopper crash near LoC which happened just ahead ofKartarpur Corridor opening by Pakistan for Sikh pilgrims, a place that is described as Mecca of Sikhs, located in Pakistan’s Punjab province. At that stage, NSA AjitDoval had advised his Premier to rush to Northern Command Headquarters and to lure Gen. Singh and to extend certain motivational gestures to him, including tipping him off to be made next COAS. The sources say that Modi did just what Doval told him and he also wore a military jacket during his visit to Army’s Northern Command to show solidarity with troops, particularly with Gen. Singh. The sources further say that now when PMO received issued three nominations for next COAS choice, Doval wrote a detailed letter to PM, warning him of appointing any Sikh General as Indian COAS, particularly General Ranbir Singh, citing his religious emotions for Kartpur Sahib, located in Pakistan, making him a doubtful choice. However, on the other side, Prime Minister’s political aides are pushing Modi to appoint Gen. Singh as new COAS to repair the political and diplomatic damage, caused by Pakistan’s overture of Kartarpur Corridor, luring millions and millions of Sikhs across the world with Sikh community holding a referendum Worldwide to get a new State out of existing Indian Punjab next year. These political aides and diplomats from External Affairs Ministry have advised Premier Modi to appoint Gen. Singh as a goodwill gesture to Sikhs across the world and back home, both. However, Modi so far is reported to be inclined more towards input by AjitDoval and is focusing more on the name of Lt Gen Naravane, from 7th Sikh Light Infantry, justifying that since Gen. Narvane is from Sikh Regiment, his appointment could also deliver in same manner for luring Sikhs. But the sources say that Gen. Narvane is a confidante of AjitDoval and despite being lower on seniority list, is being given preference over Gen. Singh by NSA office’s communication to PMO. The Daily Mail has learnt further that NarendraModiwill soon announce not only the name of the new Chief of Army Staff COASbut will also reveal the name of the country’s first four-star Chief of Defense Staff (CDS), a decision the Indian Armed Forces have been awaiting with bated breath amid all the speculation but was being delayed by PMO due to certain indistinct input by AjitDoval.
In contention for the post of COAS are three officers whose names have been sent to the Prime Minister for final selection. Gen Rawat retires on 31 December three months before he turns 62, the upper age limit for service chiefs. The Daily Mail has learnt that the name of the CDS and the new Army chief is likely to be announced at least two weeks before Gen Rawat’s retirement.Lt Gen Naravane, who has also served as the Eastern Army Commander and Commander of the Army Training Command (ARTRAC), is the senior-most among the three.Known as the quintessential Army man, Lt Gen Naravane, from 7th Sikh Light Infantry, took over as the Vice-Chief on 1 September 2019 and has vast experience in counter-insurgency operations both in Kashmir and the northeast. He has also commanded a battalion of the Army’s counter-terrorism unit in disputed Kashmir Rashtriya Rifles.
The officer was part of the Indian Peace Keeping Force when it was deployed in Sri Lanka during the civil war, and served as India’s defenceattaché at the Indian embassy in Myanmar for three years. The Daily Mail has learnt that GenNaravanebecame the front-runner to take over as the Chief of Army Staff only after NSA Doval started advocating for him at the PMO.
However, Lt. Gen Singh was included in the list due to his seniority and professional achievements.AjitDoval also opposed his name citing his failure to successfully conduct the surgical strikes against Pakistan in 2016 when he was at the helm of affairs as Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) Commissioned into the 9th Battalion of the Dogra Regiment, he has vast experience in planning both operational and information warfare as he has served in the Military Operations directorate as a Colonel, Brigadier, Major General and Lieutenant General. He served as Deputy Chief of Army Staff (Information Systems and Training) before taking over the Northern Command. The Daily Mail’s findings indicate that incidentally, he is a beneficiary of the Modi government’s decision to lower the service tenure one must have left for selection as an Army commander. While it was 24 months until 2017, it now stands at 18 months.
Even though Gen Rawat is the front-runner and literally the lone candidate to become the CDS, a lot of speculation is doing the rounds in the armed forces about who the first incumbent will be. At the defence ministry level, sources said, the names of the three service chiefs were initially discussed but Gen Rawat emerged as the consensus candidate.
However, this alone does not guarantee his appointment as the CDS. In the case of incumbent Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria, his name did not originally figure in the list sent to the PMO, which later sought his file. Rumors circulated by a section also suggested that a vice-chief could become the CDS. This would, however, be surprising because an officer who has not even commanded his own service would then become the ‘first among equals’ and the single pointsperson for the PM on defence matters. “There are rumours because the experience with this government is that whosoever’s name comes up, he does not make it. The Prime Minister holds the trump card,” said a source in the government. Whoever becomes the CDS will have a tough task at hand. All procurement matters will come under the CDS, as will budgetary allocation for the three services. He will also be heading the Strategic Forces Command (SFC), Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), Cyber Command, Space Command and the Armed Forces Special Operations Command. The CDS will be spearheading the Modi’s government’s plan for integration of the three services and creation of theatre commands.
Speaking to media in September, Gen Rawat had said, “Whoever becomes the CDS, he will have to be the first among equals. Whichever service he belongs to, he will have to shed the inhibitions of that service. He will have to convince the other two that we need to work together.” He said the CDS would work on bringing the three services together, at both top and bottom levels, such as integrating training establishments and logistics.
“Some of the operational doctrines would have to be integrated. And finally we will have to come out with theatre commands. One commander controlling everything,” he said, adding that integration of the Ministry of Defence with the three services is also necessary.
From Christina Palmer & Manjeet Kaur