A political slugfest on Sunday broke out over the new army chief's appointment by superseding two officers with Congress and the Left asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi to spell out the "compelling reasons" for it even as the Bharatiya Janata Party hit back saying they should not politicise an issue related to defence forces.
Congress leader Manish Tewari slammed the government for "playing with institutions" and doing politics in the army even as he wondered if it was "whimsical cherry picking".
His comments came a day after the government appointed Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Bipin Rawat as the new army chief superseding his two senior officers -- Eastern Army Commander Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi and Southern Army Command chief Lt Gen P M Hariz.
Communist Party of India CPI leader D Raja also questioned the government's move and said appointments whether in the army, judiciary or those of Central Vigilance Comission, acting Central Bureau of Investigation director and to Central Information Commission have become controversial.
The BJP condemned the Congress for its attack on the government over the army chief's appointment, saying there should be no politics on defence forces and asserted that Lt Gen Rawat has been elevated keeping in mind the current security scenario.
BJP National Secretary Shrikant Sharma said the new army chief was picked up from a pool of five senior-most officers, who are all competent, and Lt Gen Rawat's appointment should not be seen as a negative against others.
Lashing out at the opposition party, Sharma said the Congress by "politicising" the appointment of the army chief was showing its "frustration" after it has been pushed to the "margins" of national politics following successive electoral defeats.
Tewari said, "While Lt Gen Rawat, who is being appointed the COAS, may perhaps have all the requisite credentials but the fact remains that in a hierarchy conscious organisation where the principle of seniority is almost sacrosanct, the supersession of three senior officers, Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi, Lt P M Hariz, and perhaps even Lt Gen B S Negi, raises extremely serious and critical questions of institutional integrity."
However, senior army officials said that Lt Gen Rawat has only superseded Lt Gen Bakshi, the senior-most army commander and Lt Gen Hariz.
The prime minister himself should spell out the "compelling reasons" behind this supersession, Tewari told reporters at the party office in New Delhi.
"Why the principle of seniority which has held the field for two decades now not respected by the government. Is it that these officers who were superseded unqualified in any manner? Or is it whimsical cherry picking which has been done by the BJP-led NDA government," he said.
"Why does the army have to go through unnecessary bloodletting at the top? If it has been done, then reasons need to be put out in the public domain," he said.
Raja said, "Appointments in the army have become controversial, the appointments in the judiciary are already controversial, the appointments of CVC, CBI director and to Central Information Commission, all these top-level appointments are becoming very controversial."
Terming this as "very unfortunate", Raja said it is not in the interest of democracy and the country.
Holding that the government has made controversial appointments earlier also, Tewari questioned why the government has still not issued an official notification for the appointment of next Chief Justice of India even when the letter recommending the name was sent two weeks ago.
Responding to the Congress' critical comments regarding the impending appointment of a new Chief Justice, the BJP said the opposition party should not reach a premature conclusion and wait for an appropriate time.
"If any party has flouted the democratic norms most, it is the Congress party. The BJP has always adhered to democratic norms," it said.
Asked whether Congress was trying to play politics, Tewari shot back saying, "The government is doing politics with the army. If the way supersession has taken place is not politics then what?
"The government believes that if they are asked any question, then he/she is anti-national, if any legitimate question is also asked about armed forces, then that is sedition?" Tewari said, noting that it is the responsibility of the government to tell the country as to what were the circumstances which led to this supersession.
"These are public appointments. The chief of the Indian army leads a million strong army. And, therefore it is legitimate to ask questions when such an unprecedented action takes place," he said.
He said the prime minister, whether it is demonetisation or any other issues, "believes he is not accountable to Parliament nor is he accountable to people of this country and every decision can be a 'Tughlaki farman' (dictat) taken at his whims and fancy".
Asked about Congress leader Shehzad Poonawalla's tweet that Modi did not want Lt Gen Hariz, who he claims would have been the army chief after Lt Gen Bakshi and hence first Muslim army chief, Tewari said it was "totally inappropriate".
"Shehzad Poonawalla used to be my intern. He used to work with me. And I think it is absolutely inappropriate, with all due respect to him, to try and bring religion in these appointments. The fact is that there is principle of seniority and an hierarchy and that needs to be respected".
Asked about media reports that a key middleman in the VVIP chopper scam has claimed he is being pressured to name opposition leaders even though he does not know them, Tewari said there has been a "witch hunt".
"According to the reports which have emerged in the public space, the Italian supreme cour, has for the lack of a better word quashed the decision of the Court of Appeals and ordered a retrial," he said.
The Congress spokesperson said this means that the particular decision now does not stand.
"Under those circumstances there has been an attempt at witch-hunt over the past two-and-half years," he said, adding that it was under UPA tenure that all work, in terms of trying to get to the bottom of this entire episode, was done.