It wasn’t any surprise when the government announced the appointment of Lt Gen Manoj Pande as the next Chief of Army Staff. After 39 years of trials and tribulations, Cadet Manoj Pande who stepped into the portals of the National Defence Academy over four decades back, will put on the epaulets of a General, the Chief of Army Staff of one of the world’s largest armies. The decades in between are also witness to the rise of an extraordinary man to this vital appointment. On his shoulders will rest the primary burden of ensuring the nation’s security.
For Bombay Sappers and its parent arm the Corps of Engineers, it’s a day for rejoicing. For the first time Corps of Engineers have broken the bastion to wrest the honours and produce the first Army Chief. Perhaps, it’s quite in tune with the requirement posed by technologies’ invasion of the battlespace today.
Manoj’s most visible traits in NDA are recalled best by Col Ram Athavale, an old family friend and a year senior to Manoj in the National Defence Academy. In Col Ram Athavale’s words, “Manoj was simple, most unassuming, barely noticeable in a crowd, but hugely focussed professionally”.
Post commissioning, 2/ Lt Manoj proceeded to attend the Young Officers Course in the College of Military Engineering, Pune. Later, he went for the Degree Course for Corps of Engineers officers. His instructor then, Maj Ajay Chaturvedi (Later Maj Gen) says, “Manoj was in the final semester and I was teaching two subjects, Heat Transfer and Renewable Sources of Energy. He topped the course. What struck me was his intellectual capacity, urge for excellence and focus on enhancing knowledge”.
The General’s performance in the courses had always been commendable. Based on his merit he was sent to Camberley for attending the Staff College Course. He was posted, thereafter, as Brigade Major of an Infantry Brigade. Maj Gen A Chaturvedi recalls, “I was commanding the formation Engineer Regiment. As always, he was the epitome of professionalism and his brigade commander depended on his professional advise”.
Manoj commanded the 117 Engineer Regiment during Operation Parakram. The operation had been launched after a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament. The Regiment was deployed along the Line of Control in J&K. After command, he proceeded for his Higher Command course to the Army War College, Mhow.
Maj Gen A Chaturvedi was to interact with him again when Manoj commanded the Regiment and appreciates, “Manoj’s contribution resulted in a reduction of infiltration”
As a Brigadier, he commanded 474 Engineer Brigade as part of a Strike Corps in the western theatre. Thereafter, on being selected to the General Cadre, Manoj commanded an Infantry Brigade along the Line of Control as part of 10 Infantry Division..
At this stage, Maj Gen Jaswal (later, Lt Gen and Army Commander) was the GOC 10 Infantry Division and Manoj’s boss. The General recalls, “Manoj was honest to the core, punctilious, had an eye for detail, and displayed professional promise of a very high order. His integrity is impeccable. In addition, he is a fine human being and most humane.”
Thereafter, GOC 10 Infantry Division was Lt Gen (then Maj Gen) Rakesh Sharma who was to retire later as the Adjutant General of the Indian Army. He describes the young Brigade Commander as, “In 2011, as a Brigadier, he was commanding the hot Pallanwalla Brigade. He had absolute clarity of thought and the fullest command of operations. Manoj had prepared his brigade superbly in the Chhamb- Jaurian Sector. Munnawar Tawi and enclaves across were his forte”.
As a Maj Gen, Manoj went on to command the Kargil Division. Gen DS Hooda (Retd) was the Army Commander Northern Command then. Gen Hooda says, “He is an outstanding professional and a deeply committed officer. These are challenging times for the army and I think it’s good to have Lt Gen M Pande at the helm.” Incidentally, both officers had also been on a UN mission together, in their younger days.
Lt Gen Rakesh Sharma goes on to say,” Later on, in command of the very difficult Kargil Division, Manoj Pande displayed his full mettle. As Chief designate, he has intimate knowledge of Eastern and Northern Commands, as also the joint Services Andaman and Nicobar Command.
Manoj commanded 4 Corps in the eastern theatre. The tenure of the Corps Commander was followed by the command of two different commands. He commanded the Andaman & Nicobar Command, followed by the Eastern Command. He was ultimately brought in as Vice Chief of Army Staff.
Today we have an officer with a firm technical background as the Army Chief to be. In the history of warfare, never have we witnessed the overarching requirement of synthesizing high-end technology with conventional kinetic warfare. Lt Gen Manoj Pande has a deep insight into both. The other big issue today is joint-manship; getting all the three services together to get the best bang for the buck from capability development funds, and maximising operational payoffs through integrated employment of the three services. The General can sit at the head of the table on both counts with ease.
All the best General.
Brig SK Chatterji (Retd)