Will continue to lead Eastern Command: Lt General Praveen Bakshi


Even as General Bipin Rawat and Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa took over as the new Army and IAF chiefs on Saturday, Lt General Praveen Bakshi made it clear he had no intention of resigning and would continue to lead the Eastern Army Command (EAC) with "full professional sincerity" as before.

Though many serving and retired officers were of the view that Lt General Bakshi should have quit in keeping with the military ethos and tradition after being superseded by General Rawat for the top post, the EAC chief said it was time to end the "speculations and trolling" in media and social media.

"Everyone should now focus on contributing their best to the betterment of the Army and nation," said Lt General Bakshi, addressing the officers under his command from Kolkata. He even called up General Rawat, who is one year junior to him in service, to congratulate him and express full support.

Sources said Lt General Bakshi, an armoured corps officer who is slated to retire in July 2017 when he turns 60 (a chief serves till 62), also wanted to fight the "smear campaign" that had been carried out to malign his image over the last few months.

A couple of anonymous letters, alleging irregularities in the use of the EAC chief's emergency financial powers, were sent to authorities when the government was yet to decide who would replace Gen Dalbir Singh Suhag as the Army chief on December 31. Discreet inquires by the controller general of defence accounts, however, did not find any substance in the allegations, said sources.

Then, on December 17, the government had disregarded the seniority principle and cited the vast operational experience in counter-insurgency and high-altitude warfare of Lt General Rawat (an infantry officer from the Gorkha Rifles) to underscore his "merit and suitability" to take over the reins of the 1.3-million strong Army.

While doing so, apart from Lt-Gen Bakshi, the government also ignored the claim of Southern Command chief Lt-Gen P M Hariz (mechanized infantry), who is six months senior to Lt General Rawat and turns 60 in November 2017, as earlier reported by TOI.

Though the government has virtually ruled out any move to make Lt General Bakshi the country's first chief of defence staff, a new four-star general post that is in the works as part of the proposed higher defence management reforms, a governorship or ambassadorship for the superseded general could still be on the cards.

Gen Rawat, on his part, has sought the cooperation of both Lt General Bakshi and Hariz. As the 27th Army chief, he will have to tackle the volatile situation along the Line of Control with Pakistan as well as the counter-insurgency operations in J&K and north-east. The force is also grappling with critical operational deficiencies on several fronts, ranging from modern infantry weapons and helicopters to 155mm howitzers and ammunition reserves.

Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa, the 25th IAF chief, in turn, takes over at a time when his force is down to just 33 fighter squadrons (each with 16-18 jets) when at least 42 are needed to tackle the "collusive threat" from Pakistan and China. The 36 Rafale jets, which IAF will get in the 2019-2022 timeframe under the recent Rs 59,000 crore deal inked with France, will not be enough to stem the fast-depleting number of fighters.

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