This is not the first time… Army Chief gets extension, what next?

Ronit Kawale
Ronit Kawale - Senior Editor
5 Min Read

New Delhi: The government on Sunday granted a one-month extension to Army Chief General Manoj Pandey. He was due to retire on May 31. This is the first such extension given by the government to an Army Chief in several decades. Army Chief General Manoj Pandey has got a one-month extension six days before his retirement. General Pandey, who took over as the 29th Army Chief in April 2022, will turn 62 this month. The inordinate delay in announcing his successor had already given rise to a lot of speculation. The matter will get more complicated if the name is detailed by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC), headed by the Prime Minister. Because the next most senior Army officer, Vice Chief Lieutenant General Upendra Dwivedi (Jammu and Kashmir Rifles) and his successor, Southern Command Chief Lieutenant General Ajay Kumar Singh (Gorkha Rifles), are both due to retire on June 30.

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The chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force can serve till the age of 62 or three years, whichever is earlier. While Lieutenant General rank officers retire at the age of 60 if they are not approved for a four-star rank. A top government official told the Times of India that 'any speculation or controversy is unwarranted' as it was decided that no key post would be filled before the election process is completed. There have been no top-level military postings in the past month. The next Army chief was to take charge on May 31, a day before the final phase of polling. Now, the next government is likely to announce the new Army chief in mid-June, the official said, who will take over from General Pandey on June 30 (both Lieutenant General Dwivedi and Singh will still be in the race).

However, the election code of conduct did not prevent the government from announcing on April 19 that Admiral Dinesh K Tripathi will take over as the new Navy chief on April 30, replacing Admiral R Hari Kumar. The next three officers in seniority whose names have also been sent to the ACC are Lieutenant Generals MV Suchindra Kumar and NS Raja Subramani, chiefs of the Northern Command and Central Command, and Lieutenant General JP Mathew, chief of the Integrated Defence Staff.

Seniority is usually given importance for promotion in the army, but in some cases it has not happened. The earliest example is from 1975, when the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi extended the tenure of General G. Bewoor. The Government of India has bypassed the seniority rule twice in the last 10 years. For the first time in December 2016, General Bipin Rawat was made the Army Chief, bypassing Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi and PM Hariz. General Rawat later became the first Chief of Defense Staff, but he died in a helicopter crash in December 2021.

For the second time, Admiral Karambir Singh was appointed the Navy Chief in May 2019. During this time, Bimal Verma, who was the head of the Andaman and Nicobar Command at that time, was ignored. In both the cases, the government had said that its decision was taken 'not only on the basis of seniority, but on the basis of merit'. There have been many exceptions to the principle of seniority in the past. For example, Indira Gandhi appointed General AS Vaidya as the Army Chief in 1983, replacing Lieutenant General SK Sinha. Similarly, Air Chief Marshal SK Mehra became the Air Force Chief in 1988, replacing Air Marshal MM Singh.

A senior officer said that earlier the announcement of the new army chief was made two months in advance. These decisions taken at the last moment are not good for the morale of the army. Politicization of the army is also increasing. Some senior officers are taking help from politicians for their promotion.

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