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Playing with fire - India Today

Manoj Joshi ()
February 16, 1998

Title: Playing with fire
Author: Manoj Joshi
Publication: India Today
Date: February 16, 1998

On January 31, Major-general Yogesh "Yogi" Behl retired from
service. He need not have, but for Defence Minister Mulayam Singh
Yadav. Behl, a former chief of the Delta Force in Doda and till
recently a staff officer at the strategic Northern Command of the
Army, had been cleared for promotion as It-general in April 1997
along with eight others by army headquarters, but the raksha
mantri had other ideas. He wanted two other major-generals, one
related to a key western Uttar Pradesh farmer leader, added to
the list. For 10 months. Mulayam refused to send the panel for
confirmation to the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC)
which alone has the right to ask the Army to review its choices.

Mulayam's tactics have derailed the Indian Army's command
structure: the Army had to do without an adjutant-general for
several weeks, the crack 21 Corps has been without a commander
and soon the premier strike formation of the Army-1 Corps-may be
in the same position. Never since the fateful years preceding
the humiliating defeat of India in the border war of 1962 has
political interference in connection with the promotion of
officers reached the level that has been achieved in the United
Front's 18 -month reign.

In 1996, Major-General B.S. Malik was given a dubious extension
and then promoted at Mulayam's behest. Then, in what was seen as
an irregular move, Military Secretary to the President Major-
General C.Y. Sampath Kumar, got his post upgraded to the rank he
was in line for-lt-general-by presenting the bemused Army
headquarters an order signed by then President Shankar Dayal

Blocking promotions to push politically favoured candidates began
early last year when the Ministry of Defence (MOD) removed five
of the 30 names approved for promotion from brigadier to major-
general and added five of its own. The then army chief, General
Shankar Roy Chowdhry, agreed to compromise on two such candidates
in order to get the list through. Emboldened, the MOD resorted to
similar tactics when it received the list of the nine recommended
for promotion from major-general to It-general. But the Army, now
under a new chief, General V.P. Malik, decided to put its foot
down. Army officers emphasise that the selection was the fairest
possible. The board that considered the 50 names for nine
expected vacancies included Roy Chowdhry, then vice-chief Malik,
the five regional commanders and the chief of training command.

The selection process was arduous and exacting and on occasion
required voting. Some 57 of these officers man key staff
positions or command one of India's 11 corps (a unit of 5 0,000
or so) and the five regional armies. The list, including those
not approved, was sent to the MOD whose job it is to make sure
procedures are followed and then conveyed to the ACC.

For eight months, the MOD sat on the list. The game soon became
clear when a junior officer apprised the army chief that the Army
had made a "mistake"-two more vacancies were available. An MOD
bureaucrat told V.P. Malik that the raksha mantri wanted these
posts reserved for "X", the brother of an officer who had been
similarly politically promoted earlier, and "Y" a "cover"
candidate to show that the ministry was not pushing anyone, least
of all "X".

Mulayam was blase about it; the "problem", he told the army
chief, could be easily ironed out. But he did not move the
papers. Malik stuck to his guns. Late last month, the PMO's
pressure forced the MOD to send the list to the Cabinet. Sources
say that on Mulayam's insistence, the two controversial names
remain on it. The ball is in Prime Minister I.K. Gujral's court.
So far, he has shown no concern but is likely to assert himself
and tell the defence minister not to play the caste card in the
selection of key army officers.

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