With the deadlock over postings of senior Army officers continuing, in a relatively rare development in recent years, the General Officer Commanding of Jalandhar-based 11 Corps, Lt Gen Jagbir Singh Cheema, has been nominated as officiating General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Western Command with effect from August 1.
The present Western Army Commander, Lt Gen KJ Singh, retires on July 31 and as reported earlier in The Indian Express, the Army Headquarters has not been able to finalise his replacement. The appointment of Lt Gen Cheema is an interim arrangement till a permanent incumbent is posted. With this arrangement there will be no vacuum in the functioning of Headquarters Western Command and the chain of command will be intact.
It is not uncommon for the seniormost Corps Commander in a command to officiate as the Army Commander in the absence of the permanent incumbent but veterans say this is the first time in many years that this arrangement has had to be resorted to in Western Command because the Army HQs has failed to post a replacement. Normally this is resorted to when the Army Commander is on leave or is incapacitated. In Western Command, the Chief of Staff also could not be appointed as officiating Army Commander because he will pick up the rank of Lt Gen on August 1 and has not commanded a Corps.
Lt Gen Jagbir Singh Cheema has been in Command of 11 Corps since August 21, 2015 and has operational experience of Counter Insurgency Operations in Jammu & Kashmir as also the North-East.
The outgoing Army Commander, Lt Gen KJ Singh presided over a high level video conference with the Corps Commanders and Principal Staff Officers today wherein the working modalities and response strategies were deliberated and finalized in the absence of a permanent Army Commander. He emphasized on maintaining high operational preparedness and swift response system to meet any contingency in the Western Theatre.
Highly placed sources inform that while Lt Gen DR Soni is available to be posted as Western Army Commander but he has not been chosen for the post. He was earmarked to be sent as Commander-in-Chief Andaman and Nicobar Command but with the Ministry of Defence mooting that the post stay with the Navy, onstead of being a tri-service command rotated between the three services, there is a turf battle going on with the Army and the Air Force objecting to the move. This has consequently held up Lt Gen Soni’s elevation. And with Lt Gen Soni being senior to Lt Gen Surinder Singh, who is earmarked for Western Command, the latter cannot be elevated as Army Commander before him.