Over a month after the resignation of former naval chief DK Joshi, the government has been unable to appoint a new chief due to procedural delays and a lack of any sense of urgency, and with two of the three aspirants for the top job having blots on their career record.
In the meantime, the French naval chief's visit has been cancelled as there is no naval chief to recieve him. Various important meetings too have been put on hold.
Vice chief of naval staff RK Dhowan is the officiating naval chief but he cannot present himself as naval chief in any function or meeting, though he can discharge his duties.
The important Naval Commanders Conference, scheduled for April 12-14, has been deferred by the ministry. This is the forum in which the chief normally examines operational readiness, assesses the progress made in key projects and initiates functional, organisational and administrative steps necessary to enhance the navy's prepardness.
On the government's inability to appoint a chief, former navy chief Admiral (retd) Suresh Mehta said: "Joshi's resignation was an unexpected and an unprecedented situation. And before designating a service chief, the government has do various checks and background verification, which is a time-consuming exercise..."
Three top admirals are in the running for the top job — western naval command chief Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, acting naval chief Vice Admiral Robin Dhowan and eastern naval command chief Vice Admiral Anil Chopra. The election commission has permitted the government to appoint a chief.
Before recommending names to the Appointment Committee of the Cabinet (ACC) headed by the prime minister, the ministry is awaiting clearances from the IB, CBI and CVC.
But the problem of the government goes beyond that. The senior-most naval commander should get the job according to convention. In this case, Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, who heads the western naval command, is the senior-most. His elevation is being held back because most of the recent naval mishaps took place under his watch.
When the naval chief lost his job because of the accidents, it will seem to be a mockery of the moral values, which the ministry under AK Antony now claims to uphold, if the officer directly responsible for the mishaps is elevated. Also, the Vice Admiral can seek legal redress if he is denied promotion. There were objections to Shekhar Sinha being appointed as commander in chief of the western naval command but the ministry had overruled it.
Dhowan too has negative marks: he has not been the commander in chief of any command.
Defence minister Antony is in Kerala for 10 days for campaigning. Considering all this, it is likely that the navy will remain without a chief till the end of April.