Battle for Top Posts Turns Army, Navy into Warzones
By N C Bipindra - NEW DELHI
Published: 02nd Mar 2014 08:23:19 AM
Army and Navy have become the battlefields of ambition and lust for power. Senior generals and admirals in the Army and the Navy are busy in an internecine war to see who reaches the top. While Admiral D K Joshi’s resignation has indicated that the Navy was sailing on choppy waters, Army is turning into a hostile terrain as the inner conflict for the top post in the wake of General Bikram Singh’s retirement in August intensifies.
According to sources in the Indian armed forces, the tug-of-war that claimed Admiral D K Joshi’s job has been on for six months now. Trouble for Joshi, who is perceived as outspoken and honest, didn’t begin with INS Sindhurakashak submarine sinking in Mumbai on August 14. It actually began when Defence Minister A K Antony rapped the navy for “frittering away nations assets” at an in-camera naval commanders conference on November 23 last.
Joshi was upset that Antony’s comments in a closed-door meet was made public through a ministry press release and he vehemently defended the navy on its safety record at the December 2 annual press conference. With that began a series of reports on 10 incidents, which created an impression that the Navy was careless in its operations, top naval sources said.
Joshi had argued with Antony on the day he resigned that even insignificant operational incidents like a boat hitting the jetty while being berthed were “blown out of proportion” to deliberately make him fight a perception battle about the Navy’s professionalism. “If you notice, there is a pattern emerging. There are pulls and pressures at work,” a senior armed forces officer, who did not wish to be identified, told the Sunday Standard. “There is a game being played. And it becomes obvious with each passing day,” he added.
It is part of the South Block buzz that only a few months ago Joshi had issued orders that officers, who had been overlooked for promotion but were still posted at one place for over five years should be immediately transferred. Nearly 60 such officers were moved out of their comfort zones. Some officers strongly felt that there were “deliberate” leaks about the naval incidents and they pointed a finger at those who may benefit with Admiral Joshi now gone. But what has again triggered a succession battle in the Navy is Joshi suggesting in his resignation letter that vice chief Vice Admiral R K Dhowan be made the interim chief till a regular Admiral is appointed to the top job. Soon, information began to float that Dhowan was not qualified to become chief, primarily because he was not the senior-most Vice Admiral and he had no “command” experience at any of the three Naval Commands at Mumbai, Visakhapatnam and Kochi.
The senior-most officer is Western Naval Commander Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha. Applying the seniority principle, Sinha qualifies to be the next chief after Joshi’s resignation. But to scuttle that possibility, questions have now been raised on his moral responsibility, since nearly 10 of the accidents and incidents, including that of Sindhurakshak and Sindhuratna submarines, took place under his watch.
Old files have been dusted out by some in the navy and defence ministry hierarchy to note that at least two former Navy chiefs had raised doubts over his professional acumen and that they were against Sinha being promoted to take charge of operational command. One of the two chiefs was Joshi’s predecessor Admiral Nirmal Verma, who retired in 2012 and is now on a diplomatic assignment in Canada. Verma had recommended to Antony in 2012, just before his retirement, that Sinha should not be considered for posting as the chief of the Integrated Defence Staff headquarters in Delhi, which is also considered a commander rank and responsibility.
In the Army, General Bikram Singh is all set to retire from service in August this year. When that happens, present Vice Chief Lt Gen Dalbir Suhag is tipped to be the next chief. But six months before it’s likely to happen, there are efforts to pin responsibility on Suhag for a botched-up intelligence raid in the Northeastern region under his watch as the 3 Corps commander in Dimapur, with reports of a cold-blooded extra-judicial killing in Nagaland by the then personnel from the intelligence unit, doing the rounds, sources said.
General V K Singh, just before his retirement in May 2012, had imposed a Discipline and Vigilance ban on Suhag being promoted as Army commander for this “lapse” under his 2 Corps command tenure. But General Bikram Singh, on assuming office as chief in June 2012, revoked the ban accepting Suhag’s explanation to an earlier notice issued to him. Suhag got promoted with retrospective effect from June 1 that year to take charge as Kolkata-based Eastern Army Commander.
Attempts are on to make the allegations of “lapses” on part of Suhag floating. If it happens, then Southern Army Commander Lt Gen Ashok Singh, whose son Dr Anirudh is married to General V K Singh’s daughter Yogja, would succeed General Bikram Singh as chief. He is the second senior-most Lieutenant General. But, sources say that as a counter to the allegations against Suhag, it is being floated around that Lt Gen Ashok Singh was the 1 Corps commander in Mathura and the armoured units under his command rolled from Hissar towards Delhi in mid-January 2012 when General V K Singh had gone to the Supreme Court against the central government for getting his birth date restored in service records as 1951 instead of 1950. However, the word ‘Coup’ has been left unsaid in those reports.
That way, both officers would stand discredited before the nation and their chances of being the Army chief would be scuttled.
IAF is flying in clear skies
The Air Force isn’t facing a succession war within. The leadership change was settled three months ago, with Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, an ace fighter pilot, becoming chief on his predecessor Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne retiring on December 31. Raha will enjoy full three-year tenure as chief and will retire in 2016.Chief Marshal Arup Raha took over as the chief on December 31 last year.
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