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A 1st: An Engineer named as India’s next Army Chief

Lt General Manoj Pande to succeed General MM Naravane on May 1 but deafening silence continues on appointment of a new Chief of Defence Staff

Photo Credit : Indian Army


Army Chief-designate, Lt General Manoj Pande

The Government on April 18 named Lieutenant General Manoj Pande as the next Chief of the Indian Army. He will become the first officer from the Corps of Engineers to make it to four-star rank in the Indian Army. He will succeed General Manoj Mukund Naravane on May 1 as the 29th Chief of Army Staff (COAS).

The closest a General from the Corps of Engineers has gotten to the top job in the Army was when the legendary Lt General PS Bhagat was in the reckoning for succeeding the iconic Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw as the Army Chief in January 1973. A Victoria Cross awardee in World War-II, Lt General Bhagat was reported to be the 1971 War hero Field Marshal Manekshaw’s choice as his successor but the Government of the day selected General GG Bewoor instead. 

The selection of Lt General Pande, currently the Vice-Chief of Army Staff, for the office of Chief of Army Staff is on expected lines. But the presence of an officer from the Corps of Engineers is a rarity in the Indian Army’s Infantry-dominated top brass. The principal challenge for Lt General Pande as Army Chief will be to carry forward the baton from General Naravane in ensuring the stability of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) which has been threatened by China for the last two years. 

But there continues to be deafening silence on the appointment of a new Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the apex military job which stays vacant even four months and 10 days after the tragic death of India’s first CDS, General Bipin Rawat in a helicopter crash in the Nilgiris. The indecision on the CDS is even more puzzling because of the extent to which the political leadership is invested in the biggest military reforms since India’s Independence. The CDS is the key to these reforms, which envisaged a reorganisation of military formations into Theatre Commands. 

As an interim arrangement, the outgoing Army Chief, General Naravane has been officiating as chairman chiefs of staff committee but with none of the authority which was vested in the late General Rawat to push ahead with sweeping reforms. It is not yet clear if Lt General Pande, on promotion as Army Chief, will also pick up the tri-service mantle from General Naravane.

“General MM Naravane COAS & all ranks of Indian Army congratulate Lt General Manoj Pande VCOAS on being appointed as the 29th Chief of the Army Staff COAS of the Indian Army. Lt General Pande will assume the appointment of COAS on 01 May 2022,” the Indian Army stated on its social media handle, acknowledging a prior report by a new agency. 

Commissioned as an officer in the Bombay Sappers in December 1982, Lt General Pande, in the course of his distinguished career, has commanded the Eastern Army, the tri-service Andaman & Nicobar Command, a Corps deployed along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the North-East, a Mountain Division in Western Ladakh and an Infantry Brigade along the Line of Control (LoC) besides an Engineers Brigade in a Strike Corps. He took over as the Vice-Chief on February 1, which was an indication that he was in line to succeed General MM Naravane.

He took an active part in Operation Vijay in Kargil in 1999 and Operation Parakram in 2001-02, which involved mobilisation for war after the attack on the Indian Parliament by Pakistan-led terrorists.  

Lt General Pande has served as Chief Engineer to UN forces in their Mission in Ethiopia &Eritrea. He has also attended the National Defence College, the Higher Command Course, and the UK Staff College at Camberley.  

His appointment first as Vice-Chief and now as Chief of Army Staff in a span of just over two months is an indication that he has emerged unscathed from the tragic shooting of innocent civilians in Nagaland by special forces operating under his supervision in December 2021 during his tenure as the Eastern Army Commander. 

The killings - which the Army described as a case of mistaken identity – created a political furore in India’s North-East which culminated in the recent announcement of withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) from large swathes of the North-Eastern states. AFSPA enables the Indian military to conduct operations to restore order in areas deemed “disturbed” under violence by insurgents and secessionists.