Outgoing Army chief General Bipin Rawat has been appointed as the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), a new position created by the central government to serve as a single point of contact for different branches of the armed forces.
As the CDS, General Rawat will be tasked with trimming weapons procurement procedures and integrating operation of the armed forces, besides acting as the principal military advisor to the Union Defence Minister on tri-service matters. He will also head the Department of Military Affairs and be paid a salary equivalent to a service chief.
General Rawat, set to retire at the end of this month, was appointed as the 27th Chief of Army Staff in December 16 amid a raging controversy over his seniority. He had superceded two senior officers to occupy the Army chief's position, becoming only the second officer to be appointed to the post in this manner since late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi overlooked General SK Sinha to make General AS Vaidya the Army chief in 1983.
Back then, government sources said he was best suited to face the challenges faced by the country, given that he had hands-on experience of serving in combat areas and held various functional positions in the Army over 30 years. The opposition, however, held that the centre had simply appointed a person more attuned to its ideology to a key defence position.
General Rawat, an alumnus of the St Edward School in Shimla, was commissioned in the Fifth Battalion of the Eleven Gorkha Rifles in December 1978 from the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun. A recipient of the prestigious "Sword of Honour", he has 10 years of experience in counter-insurgency operations as well as those conducted along the Line of Control.
However, General Rawat's term as the Army chief was also peppered with controversies. In 2018, he said that an Army officer -- Major Leetul Gogoi -- had made the "right call" in tying a Kashmiri resident to the bonnet of a vehicle and subjecting him to a humiliating ride through various villages in the Valley. Last week, he sparked off a political controversy by accusing "certain leaders" of instigating violent protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
"Leadership is all about leading. When you move forward, everybody follows... But leaders are not those who lead people in inappropriate directions, as we are witnessing with a large number of students," he said at a health summit in the national capital.
Several opposition leaders took exception to General Rawat's claim, with some reminding him that he was overstepping his brief by commenting on civilian matters and others claiming that his statement was in violation of Section 21 of the Army Rules, 1954. This particular rule bars defence personnel from communicating the press or publishing any book related to a political issue.
General Rawat will be succeeded by Lt General Manoj Mukund Naravane as the next Chief of Army Staff.