The Narendra Modi government on Saturday appointed Lt General Bipin Rawat as the next Army chief. Taking that decision is the prerogative of the government but the announcement has led to a row. Why?

Lt Rawat has bypassed Eastern Command chief Lt Gen Praveen Bakshi (armoured corps) and Southern Army Command chief Lt Gen PM Hariz (mechanised infantry) to take over the coveted post. He will formally replace General Dalbir Singh Suhag on December 31.

In a force that highly believes in the hierarchy and gives extreme importance to ranks, the decision is usually taken on the principle of seniority. While Lt Gen Bakshi was commissioned in December 1977, Lt Gen Hariz was commissioned into the force in June 1978. Lt Gen Rawat followed suit and got commissioned in December 1978 into the fifth battalion of the 11 Gorkha Rifles.

But why has the decision been taken?

As per reports, sources in the Defence Ministry claim that the decision has been taken on the basis of “merit and suitability”. Lt Gen Rawat is said to have “more than 10 years of experience in counter-insurgency operations and on the Line of Control, besides serving on the China border. He has the requisite experience considering the current situation.”

While Lt Gen Hariz has had no experience in an operational area, Lt Gen Bakshi has mostly been posted in Rajasthan. Lt Gen Bakshi was also heading one of two operational commands, the Eastern Command, which looks after the sensitive China border and conducts counterinsurgency operations in the Northeast, reports the Indian Express.

However, it’s not the first time that such a decision has been taken. Forer PM Indira Gandhi announced the appointment of Gen AS Vaidya as the Army chief in 1983 superseding Lt Gen SK Sinha. In 1988, Air Chief Marshal SK Mehra also superseded Air Marshal MM Singh to become the IAF chief. In 2014, Admiral Robin Dhowan superseded Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha to become the Navy chief.

The announcement has also triggered opposition from political parties who are accusing the government of “politicising” the armed forces. It is now to be seen whether Lt Gens Bakshi and Hariz will step down against the decision as serving under a junior is considered unacceptable in the force.