Speculation abounds regarding the government's intentions following its announcement of a one-month extension for General Manoj Pande, who was slated to retire this month. The government has further fuelled suspense by not naming Gen Pande's replacement, leaving everyone to speculate about its motives. While the situation is somewhat unusual, it's not entirely unexpected.

Why the move is 'unusual'?

Terms like 'unusual' and 'rare' have been used in the media and by some experts for the army chief's one-month extension. Here are three likely reasons:

Succession: The move will have an impact the line of succession in the army. The two seniormost officers after Pande - vice chief Lt-Gen Upendra Dwivedi (Jammu and Kashmir Rifles) and Southern Command chief Lt-Gen Ajai Kumar Singh (Gorkha Rifles) are both set to retire on 30 June. The Army, Navy and IAF chiefs can serve till 62 or for three years, whichever is earlier, while a Lt-Gen rank officer retires at 60 unless he is approved for the four-star rank.

Although unusual, this has not happened for the first time.

In 2016, General Bipin Rawat's selection as the army chief resulted in superceding two senior officers – Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi, the then eastern army commander in Kolkata and Lt Gen PM Hariz, who commanded the southern army from his headquarters in Pune.

This happened after a gap of many years when former prime minister Indira Gandhi overlooked Lt Gen SK Sinha to make General AS Vaidya the army chief in 1983. General Rawat's appointment was the second time in 33 years when the government didn't follow the tradition of choosing the seniormost general for the top post. It was then said albeit not officially that Lt Gen Rawat was best suited among the generals to counter the challenges the country currently faced during that time. Another important factor that was discussed quite a lot during that time was that Lt Gen Bakshi did not belong to the infantry.

Timing: What is surprising that the announcement came just six days before General Pande's slated retirement on 31 May. The announcement must have taken even the army by surprise because recently Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen Upendra Dwivedi felicitated General Pande during the Retiring Officers' Seminar for his glorious and meritorious service for over four decades.

However, it has to be mentioned that the government has not made any announcement on the successor of General Pande so far.

Model Code? Although some quarters are pointing out that the government has refrained from high level appointments because of the Model Code of Conduct in place, it has to be said that the government announced the appointment of Admiral Dinesh K Tripathi as the next Navy chief on 19 April which was in fact the day of first phase of polling for the ongoing Lok Sabha elections.

The position of the Chief of the Army Staff is at exactly same level.

Why the extension is 'usual'

Elections are on: As the counting of votes is exactly a week away, in all probability the swearing-in of the next government should not take much time if the results throw a clear mandate no matter who gets to form the government. In such a scenario, this leaves it for the next government to fill the important posts. It has to be noted that no senior post in the defence forces has been filled in the last one month and not likely to be done before the election process is over. It has to be kept in mind that the appointment of the COAS also leaves few posts in the chain of command below him vacant.

It has happened in the past: Prime minister Indira Gandhi extended the tenure of Gen GG Bewoor (who succeeded Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw) in 1975 and denied the post to Lt Gen PS Bhagat in the process.

Seniority hasn't been the only criteria: The NDA government has also junked the seniority principle two times during its 10-year tenure. First, it superseded two senior Lt Gens (Praveen Bakshi and and PM Hariz) to appoint Gen Bipin Rawat as the Army chief in December 2016) and then Admiral Karambir Singh was appointed as the navy chief in May 2019 superseding the then Andaman Nicobar Command chief Vice Admiral Bimal Verma.

2024-05-27T08:41:12Z dg43tfdfdgfd