New Delhi: The appointment of Lt. Gen. Bipin Rawat as the next Army Chief came under attack on Sunday with the opposition parties criticising the move for the generally followed seniority norm having been ignored while the government defended the decision, saying he was "best suited" for the job.
The Congress and the CPI questioned Rawat's appointment and termed it "unprecedented".
"We would like to ask the Prime Minister what was the compelling reason why this supersession has taken place. Why the principle of seniority, which has held now for almost two decades, was not respected," Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari told a press conference here.
"Is it that these officers who have been superseded were unqualified in any manner or is it whimsical cherry-picking which has been done by the BJP-led government," he asked.
The government, however, insisted that Rawat was "best suited" for the job.
"He was found the best suited among the Lt. Generals, to deal with emerging challenges, including a reorganised and restructured military force in the north, continuing terrorism and proxy war from the west, and the situation in the northeast," a source in the Defence Ministry said.
The appointment of Lt. Gen. Rawat has ignored the seniority of Eastern Army Commander Lt. Gen. Praveen Bakshi and Southern Army Commander Lt. Gen. P. Mohammad Hariz who have spent longer years in service.
Tewari said: "Not only is this supersession unprecedented, probably this has happened for the first time that three senior Generals (Commanding different armies) have been superseded".
"It is not the first time this government has done this. The appointment or the non-appointment of a full-time Enforcement Director, the ad-hoc appointment in the CBI, which has been questioned by the Supreme Court, is an extremely serious matter which shows this government has scant regard for institutional integrity," the Congress leader said.
"Why is there a delay in the notification for the next Chief Justice of India," he asked.
Chief Justice T.S. Thakur is retiring on January 3. The government is yet to announce the next Chief Justice.
Similarly, the Communist Party of India also accused the Narendra Modi government of creating controversies over appointments on the top posts and advised that army should not be dragged into "controversies".
"This has become controversial and all these are in public domain... it is unfortunate. The Army should not be drawn into controversy," party leader D. Raja told IANS.
The Bharatiya Janata Party hit back at the Congress and the CPI for questioning the appointment, saying armed forces should not be dragged into political debate for political gains.
"We condemn the Congress's repeated attempts at dragging the armed forces into political debate to suit its narrow political ends," BJP spokesperson G.V.L. Narsimha Rao told IANS.
"There are some red lines that Congress and Left parties should not cross in national interest which is supreme. But the Congress has been guilty of doing it repeatedly for political purposes," he said.
Lt. Gen. Rawat was commissioned in the Fifth Battalion of the 11 Gorkha Rifles in December 1978 from the Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun, where he was awarded the 'Sword of Honour'.
He has commanded an infantry battalion along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), a Rashtriya Rifles Sector and an infantry division in the Kashmir Valley.
He also has vast experience in high altitude warfare and counter-insurgency operations.