Seniority or merit?
The recent appointment of the new chief of Army staff, Lt. Gen Bipin Rawat has questioned the long held tradition of appointing the senior-most eligible officer to the post. He has superseded two senior-most officers to hold this post. Since then, a number of controversies have taken place regarding the appointment of the chief of Army staff.
Arguments in favour of the ‘seniority’ principle
It is often seen that some divisions of the army are more favoured over others. Such discriminations should not be made since army is inherently a hierarchal institution. And the seniority principle can stop such discriminations.
Arguments against the ‘seniority’ principle
The criteria for selection of the army chief are ‘seniority cum merit’. This means that often merit supersedes seniority. As merit is a better criterion, it means that often the more efficient and competent officer is selected. He would be the best and the fittest man and would facilitate the ease of doing business with the government. It is not always necessary that the senior most officer is always the best experienced or the fittest officer. It also depends upon the operations that they perform throughout their lives.
A breach of a well established tradition can lead to internal clashes, and increasing uneasiness among the army. This can be a severe threat to the national security. The top most officers are generally deemed to be of equal merit and rank. ‘Merit’ becomes a subjective term at a senior level in the army.
Fortunately or unfortunately, since the prerogative of choosing the army chief is solely upon the government, the government can choose any officer of its choice. But yes, more transparency is needed in the selection procedure. The focus should rather be on protecting the national security and sovereignty than debating or criticizing the government’s decision.