| Padmanabhan (right) changes Vij’s insignia during the handover. (AFP)
New Delhi, Dec. 31: General Sundarajan Padmanabhan took a bow today: he retired as India’s 20th army chief and the only one after Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw in 1971 to have overseen a full mobilisation of the armed forces. But before he boarded a service aircraft to hometown Chennai, he took another shot at the General on the other side.
“It is their misfortune that they have him as their chief,” Padmanabhan remarked on Pervez Musharraf.
Padmanabhan, the fourth officer from the army’s Regiment of Artillery to be chief, personally affixed the four-star insignia of a full general on Nirmal Chander Vij, the vice-chief of army staff.
General Vij began officiating as the army chief as soon as General Padmanabhan, left South Bloc after a guard of honour on a cold, wet and foggy morning. General Vij formally takes over tomorrow.
“The mobilisation of troops was certainly my proudest moment,” Padmanabhan said after handing over charge.
General Padmanabhan has his critics — who fault the army under him for not being able to convince the political establishment of the need for a military strike against Pakistan — but his supporters outnumber them. Many serving and retired officers rate General Padmanabhan as a highly accomplished officer comparable to the late General Krishnaswamy Sundarji, whose brainchild was Operation Brasstacks that saw India and Pakistan teetering on the brink in 1987-88.
Rise of Vij
Gen. Vij, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, ADC was commissioned in the Dogra Regiment on December 11, 1962. He is a graduate of the Defence Services Staff College and has attended the prestigious Higher Command and National Defence College Courses.
He commanded a brigade in the east in counter-insurgency and high-altitude areas and a RAPID (Reorganised Army Plains Infantry Division, a brainchild of General Sundarji) formation in the desert.
He also has the unique distinction of having commanded two corps — a Strike Corps and a corps deployed in anti-insurgency operations in the Northeast — for three years. For his exceptional performance in counter-insurgency, he was awarded the Param Vishisht Seva Medal.
During Operation Vijay — the Kargil war — he had the unique distinction of being the Director-General of Military Operations.
In his capacity as DGMO, he was responsible for ensuring the withdrawal of the remnants of Pakistani troops from Kargil after July 12, 1999, and also for conceiving and finalising plans for the successful Operation Khukri, conducted by the Indian contingent in the UN Peacekeeping Forces in Sierra Leone.
He was the General Officer Commanding in Chief of Southern Command from October 1, 2000, to September 30, 2001, after which he became the vice-chief of army staff.