The government on Saturday announced that Vice Chief of Army Staff Lieutenant General Bipin Rawat (pictured above) will take over as the next chief of Army staff after General Dalbir Singh’s term ends on December 31. The Centre also selected Vice Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal BS Dhanoa to be the new chief of the Indian Air Force. A spokesperson for the Defence Ministry announced the two appointments on Twitter.

The selection was made reportedly on the basis of “merit and suitability”. Lieutenant General Rawat has “more than 10 years of experience in counter-insurgency operations and on the Line of Control, besides serving on the China border”.

This is the only other time besides in 1983 that an Army chief was not selected on the basis of seniority – Lieutenant General Rawat superseded two senior officers Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi and Lieutenant General PM Hariz to take over the post, a move that has drawn suspicion from the Opposition. Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi, who headed the Eastern Command, was next in line to be the Army chief, while Lieutenant General Hariz was the chief of the Southern Command.

Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari questioned Rawat’s appointment, asking why the government had ignored the other two for the appointment. He said a vice chief was not necessarily the second officer with the most experience. “Is it that all these officials, who were superseded, were not able? Or was it cherry picking?” Tiwari said.

Moreover, Communist Party of India leader D Raja said it was “very unfortunate” that Army appointments had become controversial, The Times of India reported. “The appointments in the judiciary are already controversial, the appointments of Chief Vigilance Commissioner, CBI director and to the Central Information Commission are becoming very controversial, too,” he said.

The ruling party at the Centre, however, dismissed the criticism. Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao slammed the Opposition’s reactions, saying they would “hurt the morale” of the Army. “These comments are something that no political party that believes in patriotism should indulge in,” Rao said, according to NDTV.

The new chiefs are usually announced two to three months before the tenures of the incumbent are due to end. However, the announcements were deferred this time, which had triggered speculation about a change from tradition, had reported, mentioning that Rawat was a possible contender for the post of Army chief.

Government officials told NDTV that the lieutenant general was found to be the best person suited to deal with the emerging challenges. They believe his 10-year experience in counter-insurgency operations along the LoC would come handy, in addition to his experience commanding the Dimapur-based 3 Corps that took on insurgent camps in Myanmar.

The officials further said that Lieutenant General Bakshi had no significant operational tenures in Jammu and Kashmir, having spent most of his career in Jodhpur, similar to Lieutenant General Hariz who could not boast of any operational area of experience.