New Army Chief faces the challenge of closing fissures in top echelons

General Bikram Singh, a veteran infantry officer, who took over as the 25th chief of the Indian Army on Thursday, has to grapple with the challenge of closing the fissures in the top echelons of the world's second largest force.

He succeeds General V.K. Singh, whose 26-month tenure was marred by a slew of controversies, including an unseemly row over his date of birth.

General Bikram Singh, 59, who earlier served as commander of the Kolkata-based Eastern Army Command, will have a tenure of two years and three months.

Describing the tasks ahead of General Bikram Singh as “very challenging,” defence and strategic affairs analyst C. Uday Bhaskar told The Hindu that the new Army Chief would need the support of all to provide the healing touch and close the fissures that had arisen of late in the top echelons. “He faces a very challenging task, and perhaps he will feel somewhat handicapped because his tenure begins against the backdrop of a divisive and turbulent period.”

Mr. Uday Bhaskar said General Bikram Singh would also need to devote considerable time and energy to the modernisation of the Army to keep it “agile and fighting fit.” General V.K. Singh's tenure was a “combination of controversy and courage,” as he had started improving the health of the Army, but got bogged down in the age row and other controversies.

General Bikram Singh has played a key role in counter-insurgency as Corps Commander of the Srinagar-based 15 Corps and the Akhnoor-based 10 Division as Major General. “Bikki” to his friends, he was commissioned into the Sikh Light Infantry Regiment on March 31, 1972, after he attended the Indian Military Academy. He was awarded the ‘Commando Dagger' and the ‘Best in Tactics' trophy during his young officers' course at the Infantry School, Belgaum, where he later served as instructor in the Commando Wing.

During the Kargil conflict, he served in the Military Operations Directorate and was fielded to brief the media on the operations.

As brigadier, he attended the U.S. Army War College in Pennsylvania and served the United Nations in Central America on two assignments.

Earlier, the outgoing Army Chief said the internal health of the 1.13-million-strong force had improved during his tenure.

Interacting with journalists after inspecting a farewell guard of honour, General V.K. Singh, 62, brushed aside controversies that broke out during his tenure. If “we pay too much attention to certain things, they become controversial.”

Asked about his major achievements, General Singh said: “What we have been able to achieve is changing of the mindset in the Army. We have been able to take the path of transformation, which includes making the Army ready, relevant, agile and much more effective. Leaner in terms of how it takes its decisions [and that] is already in the pipeline.”

He said: “We have been able to ensure that the hollowness affecting the Army was addressed in a very cogent manner, and we had the support of the Defence Minister [A.K. Antony].”

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