With the Chief of Army Staff, Gen M M Naravane, set to retire on April 30, the government is expected to name his replacement soon. Previously, the name of the COAS designate and equivalents in the other two services were released at least one month before the office holder’s retirement, but recently, there has been just a couple of weeks’ notice.
There is speculation that the government will name the next Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) later this month. Since the sudden and unfortunate death of Gen Bipin Rawat in a helicopter crash in December 2021, the position has remained vacant.
Gen Naravane is widely seen as the favourite for the post of CDS, and it has been speculated in defence circles that the government has been waiting for his stint as COAS to come to an end before making the announcement. Unless, of course, the powers that be decide on deep selection, this would ensure that the line of succession is not disrupted.
Under normal circumstances, Lt Gen Manoj Pande, the Vice Chief of Army Staff, would be the next COAS. If that’s the case, he’ll be the first Corps of Engineers officer to be selected to the top job. Among all the arms and services, only Infantry, Armoured Corps, and Artillery officers have made it to COAS.
However, the Southern Army Commander, Lt Gen J S Nain, has the same rank as Lt Gen Pande, with the exception of IC Numbers (inter se seniority of commission), and nothing can be claimed with certainty until the name is officially released.
Veterans are irked by the Tour of Duty.
The news that the government is about to announce a new recruitment system called Agneepath or Tour of Duty, in which soldiers would only serve for three years or five years, respectively, and only a fixed percentage would be selected for permanent pensionable service, has caused considerable concern among veterans.
The new system is projected to save the government significant amounts of money in pension payments while also broadening the reach of recruiting to blocks and villages that have hitherto been overlooked in recruitment efforts due to their lack of proximity to typical recruitment catch zones. The emphasis is also on instilling a nationalist spirit in the Army and moving away from representation based on caste, religion, or location.
While the veterans agree that the Army needs to trim the fat and save money so that it can spend it on much-needed equipment, they have serious reservations about the short tenure of potential recruits in the Army.
It has been reasoned that three years is significantly less time for a soldier to assimilate into the unit and his surroundings, and that by the time he gets into the rhythm of soldiering, he will be dismissed. Many veterans have published powerful essays in various online newspapers and have also expressed their opposition to the system and suggestions for improvements on social media.
It remains to be seen if these problems are addressed before the programme is publicly publicised, or if it will be implemented in the manner that news reports have indicated.
But the bottom line is that young individuals in the recruiting age range are becoming agitated since there hasn’t been a recruitment push in nearly two years, and those who may lose out due to their age would be the biggest losers. It is also unknown how these young people from the recruitable population will react to the Agneepath technique of recruitment.
When airplanes, armoured trains were used to attack villagers
The anniversary of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar in 1919 is commemorated every year on April 13th. Most people are unaware, however, that the days that followed were equally terrifying for residents of other regions of the state who had been subjected to aerial fire, bombing, and machine gun fire from armoured trains.
The jets were employed on the orders of Lt Governor Michael O’Dwyer to disperse peaceful villagers gatherings in the aftermath of the Jallianwala Bagh tragedy. The 16 Division dispatched four planes from Lahore to Gujranwala on April 14 to drop bombs and fire machine guns into assembled civilians. In Gujranwala and the neighbouring villages, around ten bombs were dropped, and crowds were machine-gunned.
Second Lieutenant Vincent and Major Carberry were the pilots who fired hundreds of machine gun shots and dropped bombs at numerous areas in and around Gujranwala on April 14, including Khalsa High School in the city, according to the Hunter Commission Report.
On April 15, Lt Dodkins opened fire on communities near Gujranwala that he accused of causing damage to railway lines. He was claimed to be following Royal Air Force operational guidelines for dealing with locals who may have destroyed government property.
On the 16th and 17th of April, an armoured train travelled from Lahore to Sheikhupura, then to Chuharkhana, where protestors had vandalised the railway line and station.
The train fired machine gun fire at the village, and Lala Sri Ram Sud, Sheikhupura’s Sub Divisional Officer (SDO), led a party of soldiers into the village to fire at civilians. On April 17, he led another group of soldiers to a nearby village named Mahniawalia, where soldiers opened fire on a group of 25 locals who had gathered at a location. On April 17, four innocent persons were shot and killed by a British Sergeant who was seeking for an accused at Chuharkhana.
While the British had employed air power frequently in the North West Frontier Province and tribal areas, this was the first and only time planes were deployed against civilians in the Punjab.