Lt Gen Naravane the senior most, Northern commander Lt Gen Ranbir also in race

by Manu Pubby

NEW DELHI: The vetting process for selection of the next Army Chief has begun, with a list of five top officers being considered for the post after the retirement of incumbent General Bipin Rawat at the end of the year.

The government faces a tough choice for what has now become a selection process where the old convention of seniority no longer applies. At the top of the list are the Northern and Eastern Army commanders -- both of whom have rich operational and command experience and a good track record when it comes to anti-insurgency operations. Lt Gen Mukund Naravane, who is currently the Eastern army Commander, would be the senior most officer of the Indian Army when General Rawat retires in December end. The Sikh Light Infantry officer has commanded a Rashtriya Rifles battalion in Kashmir, has served in the Assam Rifles and has been posted as the defence attache to Myanmar.

His posting as the head of the Army’s Training Command in December 2017 had raised eyebrows as it is considered a backwater that carries no operational experience. However, in September 2018, a game of musical chairs was played with the top brass of the Army that saw him shifted to the operationally sensitive Eastern Command that has delivered several Army Chiefs in the past. The Northern Army Commander Lt Gen Ranbir Singh, who became the face of the surgical strikes when he announced operations along Myanmar and in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK), also has an enviable career record. The government broke from tradition by choosing him as the Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) in 2016 despite him being approved to command a Corps level formation.

The officer, who belongs to the Dogra regiment, was a Major General in the military operations department when surgical strikes were planned in 2015 and had personally briefed the top leadership of the country on the planned operations as well as the post action report. While the selection process will look into the service record of both officers, there’s also speculation that the much delayed restructuring of the top military brass may also be in the offing in the coming months.