General Bakshi is understood to have been assured by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar that the process was under way to appoint him as India’s first tri-service commander, a post that would, at least nominally, place him senior to General Rawat.
Ajai Shukla reports.
Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi, who has been superseded by General Bipin Rawat as the chief of the army staff (COAS) from the New Year, has announced he will continue in service.
Even as General Rawat was ceremonially taking over charge as army chief on Saturday morning in New Delhi, General Bakshi personally addressed his staff at Headquarters Eastern Command in Kolkata, stating that he would extend his full support to General Rawat.
General Bakshi’s address was relayed by videoconference to other headquarters under his jurisdiction.
General Bakshi complimented all the men in the Eastern Command for their commitment and service and urged them to join him in continuing their good work.
Following the government’s announcement on December 17 that General Rawat would succeed the outgoing chief, General Dalbir Singh Suhag, speculation had been rampant that the two generals who General Rawat would supersede — General Bakshi and Lieutenant General P M Hariz who heads the Southern Command — would resign from service.
Defence ministry sources put out the rationale that General Rawat, an infantry officer, had greater experience in handling counter-insurgency operations than General Bakshi, who is from the armoured corps and well-versed in mechanised warfare.
It is an unwritten military tradition for senior generals to resign when a junior supersedes them for the post of army chief (though not for lesser posts).
When General Arun S Vaidya superseded his senior, Lieutenant General S K Sinha as COAS in 1983, General Sinha promptly submitted his resignation.
In this case, however, General Bakshi is understood to have been assured by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar that the process was under way to appoint him as India’s first tri-service commander, a post that would, at least nominally, place him senior to General Rawat.
This assurance was apparently conveyed when General Bakshi met Parrikar in his office on December 21.
Parrikar, as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have publicly committed to appointing a tri-service commander.
Clearing this post has been a difficult process; with the Indian Administrative Service bureaucracy steadfastly opposed the announcement of a five-star chief of defence staff (CDS), who would be senior even to the Cabinet secretary, the top bureaucrat.
The compromise solution being worked through the system involves creating the four-star post of ‘permanent chairman chiefs of staff’ (PCCOS), which the Naresh Chandra Task Force had proposed in 2013.
This would be a fourth four-star general, in addition to the existing chiefs of the army, navy and air force.
The PCCOS appointment would require Cabinet clearance.
The PCCOS is spoken of as a ‘first amongst equals’ with the three service chiefs.
However, at least for the present, the three service chiefs would have clear fiefdoms while the PCCOS would only be a an upgraded version of the three-star officer who currently heads the Integrated Defence Staff, handling perspective planning, and tri-service issues of equipment and manpower structuring.
Appointing General Bakshi as PCCOS would involve the delicate matter of leap-frogging him above Admiral Sunil Lanba, the current navy chief, who is senior to General Bakshi.
Admiral Lanba is currently the chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, which includes the three service chiefs.
Furthermore, it is unclear what time lines the government is working on for clearing the appointment of the first PCCOS, or precisely what assurances have been given to General Bakshi.
Speaking on television on Friday, Parrikar stated that he would put up a proposal to the PM in January, who would then take a decision.
General Bakshi is due to retire in the normal course in July 2017. In case the government is unable to clear the PCCOS post by then, it would fall to another officer.
IMAGE: General Bipin Rawat, the new army chief, bids farewell to General Dalbir Singh Suhag.