With Army’s Next Vice Chief Shortlisted, Centre Moves a Step Closer To Appointing CDS

The incumbent Chief of Army Staff, General Manoj Naravane, is almost certain to be elevated to the country’s top military post. So his successor needed to be finalised first.

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Chandigarh: By shortlisting Lieutenant General Manoj Pande as the Indian Army (IA)’s next Vice Chief of Staff, the Union government appears also to be advancing the inter-related appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) to succeed General Bipin Rawat, who died in a helicopter crash last month.

The Wire had earlier reported that the CDS’s appointment had been postponed since it was predicated on the government deciding on the next Chief of Army Staff (CoAS), as the incumbent General Manoj Naravane was almost certain to be elevated to the country’s top military post.

General Naravane had succeeded General Rawat as the CoAS in December 2019. Senior retired and serving military officers and defence and security analysts were of the view that General Naravane had subsequently worked closely with General Rawat when the latter became CDS and busied himself with reorganising the Indian military into Integrated Theatre Commands to advance inter-service ‘jointness’.

General Naravane is also the senior-most of the three service chiefs, thereby ensuring his appointment in mid-December as chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee as a stop gap measure, until a new CDS was appointed. Besides, senior officials responsible for appointing the next CDS are, in defence and security circles, widely believed to prefer that this officer be from the Army, the largest and the most widely deployed force along India’s restive northern and western borders and on counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir and in the northeast.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with CDS General Bipin Rawat (left) and Army Chief General M.M. Naravane (right) in Ladakh in July 2020. Photo: PMO

Succession plan approved? 

In the meantime, news reports earlier this week indicated that General Pande, who presently heads the IA’s Eastern Command, headquartered at Fort Willian in Kolkata, would succeed Lieutenant General C.P. Mohanty as the force’s Vice Chief – after the latter retires at the end of the month. Subsequently, this would make General Pandey the senior-most officer when General Naravane superannuates as CoAS in April. And, provided the government adheres to established tenets of service seniority, Genral Pandey would consequentially become India’s 28th CoAS, for around two years, until he reaches the age of 62 years.

If appointed CoAS, General Pande who hails from Nagpur and was commissioned into the Bombay Sappers in December 1982, would also be the first ever IA officer from the Corps of Engineers to hold this post.

Earlier, in 1973 Lt General Premindra Singh Bhagat from Pande’s associated Royal Bengal Sappers and a recipient of the Victoria Cross in World War II, was poised to become the COAS. But at the time, the Indira Gandhi government stymied General Bhagat’s elevation for petty political considerations, depriving a Corps of Engineers officer from becoming CoAS, despite it being one of the Army’s oldest arms, dating back to the late 18th century.

“Gen Pandey’s elevation as the Army’s vice-chief not only sets the line-up for the eventual appointment of the CDS, but also that of the CoAS,” said Brigadier Rahul Bhonsle (retired) of the New Delhi-based Security Risks consultancy group. It will also give General Pande adequate exposure to the workings of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and related departments in the event of him being promoted as CoAS, he added.

There is no blueprint for appointing the CDS, who is not only the single-point military advisor to the defence minister, but also head of the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and secretary of the newly created Department of Military Affairs, in addition to prioritising equipment purchases.

Hence, this appointment is entirely a political decision and one that will eventually be confirmed by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) and its two members: Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah.

Meanwhile, General Pande will bring varied operational and administrative experience to his prospective job.

He attended Staff College at Camberley in the UK and also served as the Chief Engineer at the United Nations Peace Keeping Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea in the rank of lieutenant colonel. Subsequently, he commanded in turn an engineer regiment and an infantry brigade along the Line of Control in Kashmir and thereafter a Mountain Division in Ladakh, before completing a tenure at the Military Operations Directorate at Army headquarters in New Delhi. He also served as head of the tri-service Andaman and Nicobar Command before assuming his present responsibilities as head of the Eastern Army in June 2021.

Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Y.B. Chavan was the defence minister in 1973.