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Leadership Changes in the Indian Army in February 2023

Image Credit: Economic Times
Leadership Changes in the Indian Army in February 2023

February 2023 witnessed major leadership changes at the Army Headquarters (HQ) in New Delhi and regional commands. Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) Lieutenant General Baggavalli Somashekhar Raju was moved out to lead South Western Command and was succeeded by Lieutenant General M.V. Suchindra Kumar. Lieutenant General N.S. Raja Subramani, Chief of Staff in the Northern Command, was appointed to lead Central Command and was succeeded by Lieutenant General Anindya Sengupta.

Profile – Lieutenant General Baggavalli Somashekhar Raju (Army HQ to South Western Command)

Image Credit: India Today

Lt Gen Raju was profiled in detail earlier. He finally got a geographic/ regional command to lead, being one of two anomalous appointments which did not fulfil the criteria before he was appointed VCOAS. It is also worth highlighting that the tenure is usually for a two-year period. Raju’s exit within a year suggests that incumbent Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Manoj Pande wants to appoint his own trusted aide by his side since Raju’s appointment was widely believed to be politically motivated.

Though he is not getting the coveted Western Command, the South Western Command has been exceptionally active over the past year to promote integrated joint operations with sister services and paramilitary forces while also serving as the preferred staging ground for various bilateral and multilateral exercises between the Indian Army and its allies and partners. More importantly, the South Western Command is the primary geographic zone for validation of India’s Proactive Operations or Cold Start Doctrine involving Integrated Battle Groups. This will likely be Raju’s final active duty appointment before retirement late next year.

Profile – Lieutenant General MV Suchindra Kumar (within Army HQ)

Image Credit: Outlook India

Lt Gen Kumar is a graduate of the National Defence Academy (NDA) and later the Indian Military Academy (IMA), from where he was commissioned into the 1st Battalion of Assam Regiment (1 ASSAM) in 1985. He also completed MSc in Strategic Studies from Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) and M.Phil. in Defence & Management Studies from National Defence College (NDC), both in India. Later in his career, Kumar participated in specialised training programmes such as Cooperative Security in South Asia in Sri Lanka and the United Nations Senior Mission Leaders Course in Egypt.

As a Major, Kumar attended the Junior Command Course at Army War College, Mhow. Upon promotion to Colonel, he commanded a battalion in the Assam Regiment and later the 59 Rashtriya Rifles in Indian-Occupied Jammu & Kashmir (IOJ&K).

Kumar’s first stint as Brigadier was in IOJ&K as Commander of the Rajouri-based 120 Infantry Brigade and later as Brigadier General Staff (BGS) in 3 Corps/Eastern Command. After these regional command appointments, he was appointed Quartermaster General Branch/Army HQ as Deputy Director General (Canteen Services).

Upon promotion to Major General, Kumar was yet again posted to Rajouri (IOJ&K), this time as General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the 25 Infantry Division. Thereafter, he was appointed Additional Director General of Military Intelligence (ADGMI) in Army HQ. During this tenure, Kumar led an Indian Army delegation for Army-to-Army Staff Talks (AAST) with Sri Lanka on future training aspects; the delegation met various counterparts from the Sri Lanka Army, including a courtesy call on then Army Commander Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake. Reportedly, Kumar had expressed willingness to accommodate the Sri Lanka Army’s desire to avail more training opportunities in India in spheres such as intelligence and simulator systems for small arms.

After promotion to Lieutenant General, Kumar returned to IOJ&K as GOC of the prestigious Nagrota-based 16 Corps (White Knight Corps). During this term, marked by stringent COVID-19 lockdown protocols, Kumar participated in the Indian Army’s motorcycle expedition from Kargil to Karakoram Pass to celebrate India’s “victory” in the 1999 Kargil War. A year later, Kumar was appointed Director General of the Military Intelligence Directorate, reporting to then VCOAS Pande for almost half a year before the latter was promoted to General rank and appointed COAS.

Barely two months after Raju succeeded Pande as VCOAS, Kumar was elevated to the relatively new position of Deputy Chief of Army Staff (Strategy) for broader oversight of intelligence, logistics and operations. Though reporting to Raju, he was effectively the eyes and ears for Pande. During this term, he was involved in multiple international engagements with foreign counterparts. These included meeting with Brigadier General Abdulla Zuhury, Director General of Maldives’ Defence Intelligence Service, to enhance joint training and support and also Major General Chris Field of the Australian Army Research Centre to enhance bilateral defence cooperation.

Kumar’s continued elevation within Army HQ to VCOAS confirms that he enjoys the incumbent Indian Army chief’s exceptional confidence and patronage.

Profile – Lieutenant General N.S Raja Subramani (Northern Command to Central Command)

Image Credit: ANI

Lt Gen Subramani is a graduate of the NDA and IMA, from where he was commissioned into the 8th Battalion of Garhwal Rifles in 1985. He is also an alumnus of the NDC (India), Joint Services Command and Staff College, Bracknell (UK), Master of Arts from King’s College London (UK) and M. Phil in Defence Studies from Madras University (India).

As a Major, he led the 16th Battalion of Garhwal Rifles during Operation Rhino against insurgents from the United Liberation Front of Assam or ULFA, which lasted for around two years, for which he received the Sena Medal for devotion to duty.

As a Colonel, he was posted as Defence Attaché in Kazakhstan, then later recalled to Army HQ as Assistant Military Secretary for a brief period before being appointed as Colonel General Staff (Operations) in Eastern Command. After this stint, he was moved to the western sector as Deputy Commander of a Rashtriya Rifles sector in IOJ&K.

Upon promotion to Brigadier rank, Subramani was retained in IOJ&K, where he commanded the Samba-based 168 Infantry Brigade. He went to NDC thereafter, where he wrote a paper titled “Strategy to Resolve the Naga Insurgency”. His next appointment was Deputy Director General of Military Intelligence (DDGMI) in Army HQ. It was during this term that Subramani led an Indian Army delegation to Sri Lanka. After this crucial tenure, he returned to Eastern Command (as BGS) before being nominated Chief Instructor at DSSC.

As Major General, Subramani’s first stint was GOC of 17 Mountain Division (Black Cat Division)/ Eastern Command, which has the distinction of becoming the first mountain strike corps focused on perceived threats from China. He was subsequently appointed GOC of Uttar Bharat Area, a static area formation under Central Command headquartered in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh.

After promotion to Lieutenant General rank, he was appointed to lead the prestigious 2 Corps (Kharga Corps) in Ambala/Western Command, which is the frontline strike corps focused on offensives against Pakistan. It was from there that he was moved to Northern Command theatre as Chief of Staff prior to his recent nomination.

Profile – Lieutenant General Anindya Sengupta (within Northern Command)

Image Credit: Republic World

Lt Gen Sengupta is a graduate of NDA and IMA. He is also an alumnus of DSSC, Army War College and NDC (all in India). He was commissioned into the Punjab Regiment in 1987.

As Colonel, Sengupta acted as Chief of Staff for the Command Post Exercise of Exercise Yudh Abhyas 2013 hosted by US Army Pacific, which included troops from the Indian Army’s 99 Mountain Brigade, 5 Gurkha Rifles, 50 Independent Para Brigade and 54 Engineers Regiment. The Indian Army delegation, during this exercise, got the opportunity to engage with counterparts from the 3rd Squadron of the 73rd Cavalry Regiment under the famed 82nd Airborne Division.

Upon promotion to Brigadier, he was appointed Commander of the 120 Infantry Division (IOJ&K) and later went for a higher course in NDC, where he wrote a paper titled “Evolution of Continental Strategy”.

As Major General, one of his stints was GOC of Victor Force/Rashtriya Rifles which is based in southern parts of IOJ&K and routinely conducts “counter-insurgency” operations alongside multiple civilian and paramilitary law enforcement agencies. Subsequently, Sengupta was recalled to Army HQ, where he served as Director General of Strategic Planning.

Upon promotion as Lieutenant General, his first stint was to lead the 14 Corps (Fire and Fury Corps) in Leh, IOJ&K, succeeding Lieutenant General PGK Menon. It is worth highlighting here that Menon was leading multiple rounds of Commander-level talks with his Chinese counterparts during the standoff over Pangong Tso that were apparently fruitless. Despite the change of guard, Sengupta had to spend a fortnight with his predecessor to be familiarised with the strategic complexities involved in his area of responsibility.

Observations

The moving out of Raju a year before his designated term ends as VCOAS suggests that incumbent COAS General Pande wants to appoint a reliable right-hand person to look after operational and strategic issues. Despite his impeccable career, Kumar’s appointment is also telling since he also (like Raju) does not have experience leading any geographic/ regional command. There are a few other plausible explanations: One, that Kumar has two stints in Military Intelligence and hence is more aware of recent discreet engagements with China etc. Secondly, he has established a working rapport with high-level counterparts in allied and partner countries. It remains to be seen who is appointed Kumar’s successor to the Deputy Chief of Army Staff (Strategy) slot.

Subramani possesses extensive experience in the insurgency-rife eastern sector and was speculated to replace incumbent Eastern Command chief, Lieutenant General Rana Pratap Kalita; the latter served as Chief of Staff in Eastern Command when it was led by Gen Pande prior to his nomination as VCOAS. Kalita later succeeded Pande as the first Assamese to lead Eastern Command. In this context, Pande appears to be content with Kalita handling this crucial sector. Like Kumar, Subramani also has past experience in Military Intelligence and has the unique experience of leading strike formations in both the eastern (17 Mountain Division) and western (2 Corps) sectors. Coupled with insights as Chief of Staff in Northern Command (his most recent stint), he is in a unique position to direct the strategic posture of an operational area that will serve as a pivot against the perceived ‘two front threat’ from Pakistan and China.

Sengupta’s elevation within Northern Command could help the incumbent Army Commander, Lieutenant General Upendra Dwivedi, on multiple fronts, especially crisis communications and enhancing operational synergy between Rashtriya Rifles and civil/paramilitary agencies in case the Union Government proceeds with reported plans to withdraw regular army troops from IOJ&K in a phased manner.

Zaki Khalid

The author is an Intelligence Analyst, Trainer and Consultant with management-level experience in Pakistan's national security sector. He writes for CSCR as an External Contributor and can be reached on Twitter: @misterzedpk

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