While seniority has been the preferred criterion, barring some exceptions, South Block is abuzz that the government now intends to expand the canvas of the selection process

The recent extension of Army Chief General Manoj Pande’s tenure has indeed added an element of unpredictability to the process of appointing military leadership in India. Let’s delve into the details:

Unexpected Extension:

Gen. Manoj Pande, who was scheduled to retire on May 31, received an unexpected one-month extension, making him the first Army chief in 53 years to secure such a short-term extension.

Historically, military service chiefs rarely receive extensions, with notable exceptions like Gen. Sam Manekshaw and Lt. Gen. G.G. Bewoor.

The extension for Gen. Pande defied the past practice of announcing a new service chief’s name two to three months in advance to ensure a smooth transition of responsibilities.

Succession Uncertainty:

Prior to this extension, it was widely anticipated that Lt. Gen. Upendra Dwivedi, the current Army vice-chief, would be named Gen. Pande’s successor

However, the delay in announcing the successor created speculation about potential supersession in the military hierarchy.

Other contenders for the post of Army chief include Lt. Gen. Ajai Kumar Singh, Lt. Gen. M.V. Suchindra Kumar, Lt. Gen. N.S. Raja Subramani, and Lt. Gen. J.P. Mathew.

Context And Challenges:

The extension comes amid ongoing tensions with China in eastern Ladakh and the impending move to create integrated theatre commands.

With the one-month extension, Gen. Pande will continue to lead the world’s second-largest army until June 30.

Interestingly, on the same day, two senior Army officers—vice-chief Lt. Gen. Dwivedi and Southern Command head Lt. Gen. Ajai K. Singh—are also set to retire.

In summary, the decision to extend Gen. Pande’s tenure has disrupted established precedents and introduced an element of surprise into the succession plan for India’s military leadership. The government’s approach seems to echo Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” emphasizing mystification and unpredictability.

Undoubtedly, the next Indian Army chief will face numerous challenges, such as promoting jointness among the three services through theatre commands and evaluating the politically contentious Agniveer recruitment scheme. The Army has been internally conducting a survey and might tweak the Agniveer scheme, since defence minister Rajnath Singh has indicated openness to changes.

On the jointness front, the notification of the Inter-Services Organisations (Command, Control and Discipline) Act on May 10 has paved the way for creation of unified theatre commands in the military. The need of a capable leadership to shepherd this project all the more underscores the significance of the choice of the new Army chief. So, who next after Gen. Pande?