By Neeraj Mahajan
Gen. Manoj Mukund Naravane, who stepped into the Chief of Army Staff’s shoes on 1 January 2020 is the 3rd officer from Sikh Light Infantry to become Chief of the Indian Army. Prior to him, Gen. V. P. Malik and Gen. Bikram Singh served as the 19th and 25th COAS.
The Chief of the Army Staff (COAS) – usually a four star general is the professional head, and the highest-ranking officer in the Indian Army.
The office of the Chief of the Army Staff was created by an Act of the Parliament in 1955. Prior to that the professional head of the Army used to be called Commander-in-Chief of the British Indian Army. Prior to India’s independence in 1947, the Commander-in-Chief worked closely in contact with Office of the Viceroy of India and used to operate from South Block at Raisina Hill, in New Delhi.
A peculiar situation arose on 15 August 1947 when Kodandera Madappa Cariappa, the highest ranking Indian officer in the British Indian Army was just a brigadier. Cariappa joined the British Indian Army shortly after the end of World War I. He was commissioned as a temporary lieutenant on 9 September 1922 and later granted permanent commission with effect from 17 July 1920 in the Rajput regiment.
K. M. Cariappa, was the first Indian military officer to attend the Staff College, Quetta, the first Indian to command a battalion, and also one of the first two Indians to attend the Imperial Defence College, Camberley, UK. Soon after independence, he was promoted to the rank of Major General, and appointed deputy chief of the general staff. He commanded the Indian Army’s Eastern and Western Commands before going on to be the first Indian Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of the Indian Army. Cariappa led Indian forces during the 1947 War and was appointed commander-in-chief of the Indian Army in 1949.
Till date every year January 15, 1949 the day Cariappa took over the reins of the Indian Army, is officially celebrated as the Army Day. In 1955 the post of Commander-in-Chief was abolished and replaced by Chief of Army Staff.
Commissioned in the Sikh Light Infantry on June 7, 1980 Lt. Gen. M.M. Naravane, PVSM, AVSM, SM, VSM, ADC will take over as the 28th Chief of Army Staff on January 1, 2020. Lt. Gen. Naravane is currently the 40th Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) of the Indian Army – a post he assumed on 1 September 2019 following the retirement of Lt Gen Devraj Anbu, also from the Sikh Light Infantry.
Sikh Light Infantry is amongst the oldest regiments of the Indian Army with a glorious history of valour and sacrifices in almost all wars and operations since independence. Its motto Deg Teg Fateh, spells out the regimental ethos.
Gen. Naravane’s elevation to the post of Army Chief is another feather in the cap of the Indian Infantry which has produced more than half i.e. 15 out of 27 Chiefs of Army Staffs. Within the infantry – Gorkha Rifles has produced the maximum – four Chiefs – Field Marshal Manekshaw, Gen Bewoor, Gen. D. S. Suhag and Gen. Bipin Rawat.
Naravane also happens to be the 13th Army Chief from the National Defence Academy NDA which has produced a total of 32 service chiefs including 12 Army Chiefs, 11 Naval Chiefs and 9 Air Chiefs. All other officers to have become chiefs were direct entries to the Indian Military Academy, Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy.