Departing for the first time from precedent, the UPA government on Thursday overlooked senior-most Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha and appointed his junior Vice Admiral Rabindra Kumar Dhowan as the next Navy chief.
This comes 50 days after Admiral D K Joshi quit suddenly owning moral responsibility for two submarine mishaps, which claimed 20 Naval personnel’s lives in seven months.
“The government has appointed Admiral R K Dhowan as the Chief of the Naval Staff,” Defence Ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar said in a statement that unusually came early in the day — within an hour of the government offices opening for work.
Express had reported the likely appointment of Dhowan as Navy Chief on March 13.
Though the government was tight-lipped on why it overlooked Sinha’s six-month seniority to 59-year-old Dhowan, it was obvious that Defence Minister A K Antony and the UPA government wanted to play it safe during Parliamentary elections. Though seniority is not a laid-down principle for appointment as chief, this is probably the first time in the Navy that an officer has been superseded. “The resignation of Admiral Joshi caused an unprecedented situation for the government,” explained a Defence Ministry official.
After he was named the 22nd chief of the world’s fourth largest maritime force, Dhowan assumed office and wore the four stars of his new rank. The officers in the Naval headquarters in South Block seem to have accepted the superseding of Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, who is the Mumbai-based Western Naval Commander, and were present in full measure for a guard of honour on the lawns of South Block.
The government clearly seemed to be avoiding criticism by overlooking Sinha, under whose direct watch in Mumbai several Naval accidents took place, including the sinking of INS Sindhurakshak.
But the superseding is not likely to go down without generating a noise, Navy sources said, as the slighted senior-most Naval officer’s course of action will be known soon.
Eastern and Southern Naval Commanders Vice Admirals Anil Chopra and Satish Soni are also said to upset with the elevation of Dhowan, who has no experience of heading key fighting commands of the Navy and has been only in staff postings, pushing files.
New chief’s priority
Taking over from a predecessor who quit midway owing to a series of mishaps, new Navy Chief Admiral Rabindra Kumar Dhowan said the force will ensure that such accidents do not happen in future. Its personnel would follow laid-down rules without resorting to shortcuts which lead to such incidents.
Admiral Dhowan, commissioned in the Navy on January 1, 1975, is a Navigation and Direction specialist and whose high point of command posting was Eastern Fleet Commander at Visakhapatnam as a Rear Admiral. As a Vice Admiral, he was the Deputy Chief and later Vice Chief, before he was made the officiating Navy chief after Joshi resigned, placing the Navy headless all of a sudden and in effect, upsetting the likely line of succession in the force.
If Joshi had continued as chief, Dhowan would have retired from service on May 31 this year and Shekhar Sinha would have become vice chief. Satish Soni would have gone to Mumbai as the Western Naval Commander and taken over as the next Navy chief when Joshi formally retired by end of August 2015.
Soon after the guard of honour, Dhowan told waiting reporters that his priority areas would be to ensure India “has a fighting force and the Navy is combat ready at all times to meet all challenges”.
“We have standard operating procedures and safety procedures laid down so that we do not have accidents. What the Navy has ensured is that we have effective safety audits in place and strict procedures by which we ensure accidents do not happen,” he said, when asked about what he intended to do to have a mishap-free Navy.