The Indian Army on Monday made the long-awaited announcement of Lieutenant General Manoj Pande being appointed as the next Chief of Army Staff (CoAS) to replace outgoing General MM Naravane. Lt Gen Pande, the current Vice Chief of Army Staff will assume the topmost army role on May 1 after General Naravane retires on April 30.
Lt Gen Pande is an alumnus of the National Defence Academy (NDA) Khadakwasla and the Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun, Lt Gen Pande was commissioned in the Bombay Sappers in December 1982. Incidentally, he is the first engineer to become the CoAS and 29th overall for the country.
First Corps engineer to lead the army
The Indian Army in the past came incredibly close to having an Engineer lead the army but due to the petty political squabbling of Indira Gandhi’s government, the appointment could never materialise. Reportedly, in 1973 Lt General Premindra Singh Bhagat from Pande’s associated Royal Bengal Sappers and a recipient of the Victoria Cross in World War II, was set to become the COAS.
However, the Indira Gandhi government, known for its incessant interference in the workings of the Indian Army bottlenecked General Bhagat’s elevation for petty political considerations, depriving a Corps of Engineers officer from becoming the CoAS, despite it being one of the Army’s oldest arms, dating back to the late 18th century.
PM Modi corrects the anomaly
Thus, once again, Prime Minister Narendra Modi who chairs the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) responsible for the appointment of CoAS has corrected a historical wrong and set a precedent that even the engineers in the Army can dream of leading the Army one day.
As for Lt Gen Pande, for his illustrious service, he has been conferred with the Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Ati Vishisht Seva Medal, Vishisht Seva Medal, the Chief of Army Staff Commendation and twice with GOC-in-C Commendation.
Lt Gen Pande’s promotion strikes terror in hearts of China and Pakistan
His elevation to the top army post has already sent shockwaves across India’s two neighbours/enemies viz. China and Pakistan. Reportedly, Lt Gen Manoj Pande has the experience of battling the two enemies on both fronts.
It is pertinent to note that in the aftermath of the December 2001 Parliament attack which nearly brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war, it was Lt Gen Pande that commanded an engineer regiment during Operation Parakram in the Pallanwala sector along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir.
Operation Parakram was the large-scale mobilisation of troops and weapons to the western border of India. However, the war never mobilised despite the Army lock and loaded to go all out and decimate Pakistan into the ground.
Going toe-to-toe with a hostile enemy in China
Moreover, Lt Gen Pande has served as the 4 ‘Gajraj’ Corps commander in the northeast, which looks after both the Line of Actual Control as well as counter-insurgency operations. As the general officer commanding-in-chief of the Eastern Command from June 2021 to January 2022 before he became the Army vice-chief – Lt Gen Pande has the necessary experience in dealing with China in hostile conditions.
During Lt Gen Pande’s stay at the Eastern Command, he was responsible for strengthening India’s surveillance and patrolling capacities by inducting surveillance drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), better surveillance radars, better communication systems and better night vision systems. On several occasions, Lt Gen Pande pointed out that the introduction of technology remained one of the key steps in stifling China advances on the border.
Been there, done it all — Lt Gen Pande
Former Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat on numerous occasions had talked about the 2.5 front war India is currently facing. Thus, it helps the Army’s morale that they now have a leader who has been there and done it all.
He has been at the forefront when it has come to taking on the enemies and showing them their place. With such close ground knowledge of the current situation between India and its neighbours, Lt Gen Pande could potentially be the game changer.
Lt. Gen Pande — an eventual successor to the post of CDS
The situation with China in the aftermath of 2020 Ladakh border standoff has been ongoing. The standoff on the border has continued despite dozens of military-level talks. India has been guarding the strategically superior higher peaks which have put the Chinese at disadvantage in the region. However, the situation needs to be sorted quickly and Lt Gen. Pande promises to bring that extra decisiveness to the table.
Lastly, the elevation of Lt Gen. Pande to the COAS is being seen as the next step towards the modernisation of armed forces and making India capable of fighting wars on multiple fronts simultaneously.