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Don't Delay Appointing Service Chiefs!

By Colonel K THAMMAYYA UDUPA (Retd)
Last updated on: April 19, 2022 19:30 IST
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If the government of the day would like to set in place a smooth and well-planned changeover and facilitate the incoming chief to chalk out his action plan well in advance, the announcement of a successor needs to be done early, observes Colonel K Thammayya Udupa (retd).

IMAGE: Then Eastern Army commander Lieutenant General Manoj Pande, left, with then Western Air Command AOC Air Marshal Amit Dev at the Eastern Air Command HQ in Shillong, June 13 2021.
General Pande will take over as the chief of the army staff on May 1, 2022. Photograph: ANI Photo
 

Mr Narendra Modi, in his prime ministerial address to the nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15, 2019 had announced the decision to create the post of Chief of Defence Staff.

It is said that the agenda of defence reforms is close to Mr Modi's heart. As such, it was widely believed that the vacancy caused by the death of India's first CDS General Bipin Rawat in the tragic helicopter accident on December 8, 2021 would be quickly filled up.

Four months later, we still do not have a CDS.

In many WhatsApp groups, especially those of defence forces veterans, rumours and gossip of behind-the-scenes machinations along with narratives of palace intrigue are doing the rounds regarding the likely next CDS.

The Government announced the name of the successor of General Manoj Mukund Naravane's successor only on Monday, April 18, 2022. General Naravane will superannuate as chief of the army staff on April 30, 2022.

IMAGE: Lieutenant General Manoj C Pande takes charge as the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Command, in Kolkata, June 1 2021. Photograph: ANI Photo
 

In normal circumstances, the date on which a serving service chief would vacate the chair on superannuation is well known.

If the government of the day would like to set in place a smooth and well-planned changeover and facilitate the incoming chief to chalk out his action plan well in advance, the announcement of a successor needs to be done early.

As a chief designate, the successor should have enough time to get briefed by the environment as well as to put in place the team of personnel to suit his vision.

These activities could take anything up to two months. Hence there was some logic in announcing the names early.

In the past, it was generally believed that the name of an officer designated to succeed a retiring service chief would be announced nearly two months in advance, to allow a planned, smooth changeover to take place.

Not so any more, ever since Mr Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance came to power on May 26, 2014.

Let us look at the data of the last 50 years, that is, from 1972.

The press releases from the Government of India's Press Information Bureau are available on its Web site, from which one may collate this data.

On the day the appointment of a new service chief is confirmed and ready for announcement, the PIB issues a press release.

From 1972, 60 service chiefs have been appointed, 21 in the Indian Army (General G G Bewoor to General M C Pande), 19 in the Indian Navy (Admiral S N Kohli to Admiral R Hari Kumar) and 20 in the Indian Air Force (Air Chief Marshal O P Mehra to Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhari).

The PIB notification in respect of General BB Bewoor is not available on the PIB Web site.

Amongst the Air Force chiefs, the Press Information Bureau notifications of two -- Air Chief Marshal Dilbagh Singh and Air Chief Marshal S K Kaul -- are also not available.

General Shankar Roy Chowdhary and Air Chief Marshal Denis A La Fontaine took over within a day of appointment by the government because their respective predecessors General B C Joshi and Air Chief Marshal L M Katre died in service.

Admiral Sushil Kumar and Admiral Robin Dhawan took over on the very day their appointment orders were issued as the office was already vacant.

Their respective predecessors, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat had been removed from office and Admiral D K Joshi had resigned.

So, of the 60, these seven cases are not being considered and we will restrict ourselves to the balance 53.

The data in respect of these 53 officers shows that from 1972 till date, the Government of India has announced the name of any successor service chief on an average 56 days before he is to assume office.

The maximum has been when the government led by Mr Morarji Desai announced Air Chief Marshal Idris Hassan Latif as Air Chief Marshal Hrushikesh Moolgavkar's successor on May 2, 1978.

It was 122 days before he took over on September 1, 1978.

At the other end, Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari's name as Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria's successor was announced by the current government on September 21, 2021; he took over just nine days later, on September 30, 2021.

Of the 53 appointments in consideration, nine have been under Mr Modi's prime ministership.

The other 44 have been under Mrs Indira Gandhi (10), Mr Morarji Desai (2), Mr Rajiv Gandhi (4), Mr V P Singh (2), Mr P V Narasimha Rao (3), Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee (5) and Dr Manmohan Singh (14) and one each under Mr Chandra Shekhar, Mr H D Deve Gowda and Mr I K Gujral.

The average number of days in advance of a service chief retiring that the successor's name was announced in these 44 cases, is was 64.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi with then Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat. Photograph: PTI Photo

Mr Narendra Modi's government announced Admiral Karambir Singh as Admiral Sunil Lanba's successor on March 23, 2021, 69 days in advance. He took over on May 31, 2021.

Other than this one outlier case, the eight other appointments made by this government follow a pattern.

IMAGE: Lieutenant General Manoj C Pande, the next army chief.

General Bipin Rawat's name as the next COAS to take over on December 31, 2016 was announced on December 17, 2016.

Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa took over as the Chief of Air Staff on January 1, 2017 after his name was announced barely 13 days earlier, on December 19, 2016. His successor, Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria took over as CAS on September 30, 2019.

His appointment had been announced on September 19, 2019, 11 days earlier.

General Manoj Mukund Naravane's appointment as COAS was announced on December 17, 2019 and 14 days later he took over. And now, Lieutenant General Manoj C Pande's appointment as COAS has been done just 12 days before he is to take over.

The average number of days in these eight cases is 17.

Announcing the name of a successor service chief as late as possible has now become a characteristic of this government. This stands on its head the earlier belief that an early announcement helps in a well-planned and smooth changeover.

Is there any military reform hidden in this somewhere? Or is it in line with Mr Narendra Modi's proclivity to make important announcements giving very little or no notice, like that of demonetisation on November 8, 2016 and total lockdown on March 24, 2020?

Mr Narendra Modi likes to convey an impression about his decisiveness. So why is it that the nation in general and the armed forces in particular have to go through this suspense of 'Who will be the next Chief?' till the final days of the incumbent's tenure?

Services chiefs appointed in the last 50 years: Dates of announcement of appointment and dates of taking over

Sr. No Name of the Service Chief Date of Taking Over as Chief Date of Appointment (as per Press Information Bureau Notification) No of days between Notification and Taking Over Prime Minister at the time of issue of notification Remarks
1 General G G Bewoor 16 January 1973 Not available Not available Mrs Indira Gandhi Not taken into consideration for compiling the data.
2 Air Chief Marshal O P Mehra 16 January 1973 22 December 1972 25d Mrs Indira Gandhi  
3 Admiral S N Kohli 01 March 1973 28 December 1972 63d Mrs Indira Gandhi  
4 General T N Raina 01 June 1975 15 March 1975 78d Mrs Indira Gandhi  
5 Air Chief Marshal H Moolgavkar 01 February 1976 12 January 1976 20d Mrs Indira Gandhi  
6 Admiral Jal Cursetji 01 March 1976 22 January 1976 39d Mrs Indira Gandhi  
7 General O P Malhotra 01 June 1978 24 March 1978 69d Mr Morarji Desai  
8 Air Chief Marshal Idris Hassan Latif 01 September 1978 02 May 1978 122d Mr Morarji Desai  
9 Admiral R L Pereira 01 March 1979 28 November 1978 93d Mr Morarji Desai  
10 General K V Krishna Rao 01 June 1981 20 March 1981 73d Mrs Indira Gandhi  
11 Air Chief Marshal Dilbagh Singh 01 September 1981 Not available Not available Mrs Indira Gandhi Not taken into consideration for compiling the data.
12 Admiral Oscar Stanley Dawson 01 March 1982 18 November 1981 103d Ms Indira Gandhi  
13 General Arun Shridhar Vaidya 01 August 1983 31 May 1983 62d Mrs Indira Gandhi  
14 Air Chief Marshal L M Katre 04 September 1984 01 July 1984 65d Mrs Indira Gandhi  
15 Admiral R H Tahiliani 01 December 1984 01 October 1984 61d Mrs Indira Gandhi  
16 Air Chief Marshal Denis A La Fontaine 03 July 1985 03 July 1985 0ms Mr Rajiv Gandhi Due to Admiral L M Katre's untimely demise, appointed at very short notice. Hence not taken into consideration for compiling the data.
17 General Krishnaswamy Sundarji 01 February 1986 07 November 1985 86d Mr Rajiv Gandhi  
18 Admiral J G Nadkarni 01 December 1987 10 October 1987 52d Mr Rajiv Gandhi  
19 General V N Sharma 30 June 1988 30 April 1988 61d Mr Rajiv Gandhi  
20 Air Chief Marshal S K Mehra 01 August 1988 20 June 1988 42d Mr Rajiv Gandhi  
21 General Sunith Francis Rodrigues 01 July 1990 23 April 1990 69d Mr V P Singh  
22 Admiral L Ramdas 01 December 1990 13 October 1990 49d Mr V P Singh  
23 Air Chief Marshal N C Suri 31 July 1991 05 June 1991 56d Mr Chandra Shekhar  
24 General B C Joshi 01 July 1993 09 April 1993 83d Mr P V Narasimha Rao  
25 Air Chief Marshal S K Kaul 01 August 1993 Not available Not available Mr P V Narasimha Rao Not taken into consideration for compiling the data.
26 Admiral V S Shekhawat 01 October 1993 02 September 1993 29d Mr P V Narasimha Rao  
27 General Shankar Roy Chowdhary 22 November 1994 21 November 1994 1d Mr P V Narasimha Rao Due to General B C Joshi's untimely demise, appointed at very short notice. Hence not taken into consideration for compiling the data.
28 Air Chief Marshal S K Sareen 31 December 1995 22 November 1995 39d Mr PV Narasimha Rao  
29 Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat 01 October 1996 02 September 1996 29d Mr H D Deve Gowda  
30 General Ved Prakash Malik 01 October 1997 01 August 1997 61d Inder Kumar Gujral  
31 Admiral Sushil Kumar 30 December 1998 30 December 1998 0ms Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee Was appointed at short notice after Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat's removal. Hence not taken into consideration for compiling the data.
32 Air Chief Marshal A Y Tipnis 31 December 1998 31 October 1998 61d Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee  
33 General S Padmanabhan 01 October 2000 14 August 2000 48d Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee  
34 Admiral Madhvendra Singh 29 December 2001 26 October 2001 64d Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee  
35 Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy 31 December 2001 30 October 2001 62d Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee  
36 General Nirmal C Vij 31 December 2002 31 October 2002 61d Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee  
37 Admiral Arun Prakash 31 July 2004 01 June 2004 60d Dr Manmohan Singh  
38 Air Chief Marshal Shashi P Tyagi 31 December 2004 31 October 2004 61d Dr Manmohan Singh  
39 General J J Singh 01 February 2005 27 November 2004 66d Dr Manmohan Singh  
40 Admiral Sureesh Mehta 31 October 2006 01 September 2006 60d Dr Manmohan Singh  
41 Air Chief Marshal Fali H Major 31 March 2007 30 January 2007 60d Dr Manmohan Singh  
42 General Deepak Kapoor 30 September 2007 26 July 2007 66d Dr Manmohan Singh  
43 Air Chief Marshal Pramod V Naik 31 May 2009 20 March 2009 72d Dr Manmohan Singh  
44 Admiral N K Verma 31 August 2009 06 June 2009 86d Dr Manmohan Singh  
45 General Vijay Kumar Singh 31 March 2010 22 January 2010 68d Dr Manmohan Singh  
46 Air Chief Marshal Norman Anil Kumar Browne 02 August 2011 20 May 2011 74d Dr Manmohan Singh  
47 General Bikram Singh 01 June 2012 03 March 2012 90d Dr Manmohan Singh  
48 Admiral D K Joshi 31 August 2012 05 June 2012 87d Dr Manmohan Singh  
49 Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha 01 January 2014 29 October 2013 64d Dr Manmohan Singh  
50 Admiral Robin Dhawan 17 April 2014 17 April 2014 0ms Dr Manmohan Singh Was appointed at short notice after Admiral D K Joshi's resignation. Hence not taken into consideration for compiling the data.
51 General Dalbir Singh 01 August 2014 14 May 2014 79d Dr Manmohan Singh  
52 Admiral Sunil Lanba 31 May 2016 05 May 2016 26d Mr Narendra Modi  
53 General Bipin Rawat 31 December 2016 17 December 2016 14d Mr Narendra Modi  
54 Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa 01 January 2017 19 December 2016 13d Mr Narendra Modi  
55 Admiral Karambir Singh 31 May 2019 23 March 2019 69d Mr Narendra Modi  
56 Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria 30 September 2019 19 September 2019 11d Mr Narendra Modi  
57 General Manoj Mukund Naravane 31 December 2019 17 December 2019 14d Mr Narendra Modi  
58 Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari 30 September 2021 21 September 2021 9d Mr Narendra Modi  
59 Admiral R Hari Kumar 30 November 2021 09 November 2021 21d Mr Narendra Modi  
60 Lieutenant General Manoj C Pande 30 April 2022 18 April 2022 12d Mr Narendra Modi COAS designate

 

Number of days in advance that the name of successor service chief was announced by Government of India since 1972

Government Headed by Which Prime Minister Service Chiefs Appointed during their tenure (Numbers) Service Chiefs whose data considered in the analysis (Numbers) Announcement of the Name of Successor to retiring Service Chief (in days) Remarks
Least Maximum Average
Mrs Indira Gandhi 13 11 20 103 59  
Mr Morarji Desai 3 3 69 122 94  
Mr Rajiv Gandhi 5 4 42 86 60  
Mr V P Singh 2 2 49 69 59  
Mr Chandra Shekhar 1 1 56 56 56  
Mr PV Narasimha Rao 4 2 29 83 50  
Mr H D Deve Gowda 1 1 29 29 29  
Mr I K Gujral 1 1 61 61 61  
Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee 6 5 48 64 59  
Dr Manmohan Singh 15 14 60 90 70  
Mr Narendra Modi 9 9 9 69 21  
Total 60 53 9 122 56  
 
Mrs Indira Gandhi - Dr Manmohan Singh 51 44 20 122 64  
 
Mr Narendra Modi (if Admiral Karambir Singh's appointment is not considered)   8 9 26 17  

The notifications issued by the Press Information Bureau:

 

 

 

Colonel K Thammayya Udupa (retired) is a B Tech (Electrical) from KREC (now NITK) Surathkal. He was commissioned into the Corps of Engineers (The Bombay Sappers) in December 1982. He commanded a RAPID Engineer Regiment and took premature retirement from the Indian Army in April 2007.
Post retirement he served in the Indian Institute of Management-Indore.
He lives in Udupi-Manipal and can be contacted at ktudupa@gmail.com

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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