Amid continued tensions with China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the crucial Eastern Command is getting a new commander, with Lt Gen. Manoj Pande taking the charge Tuesday. The country’s only tri-service command, Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC), which Lt Gen. Pande headed, will also get a new commander Tuesday when Lt Gen Ajai Singh will take over.
Lt Gen. Pande will take the charge of Lt Gen. Anil Chauhan who retires as the Eastern Commander Monday. He is also set to become the senior-most officer in the force when Army Chief Gen. M.M. Naravane retires next year.
Lt Gen. Chauhan has led the Army’s response in the East against China’s overall aggression along the LAC.
Prior to taking over as the Eastern Army Commander in April 2020, he was the Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) and one of the main architects of ‘Operation Sunrise’ under which both Myanmar and Indian armies carried out coordinated action against insurgent groups operating near the border between two countries.
While the Eastern command looks after the critical LAC with China and borders with Myanmar in the East besides anti-insurgency operations in the North-East, the Andaman and Nicobar Command is a harbinger of the larger similarly planned theaterisation of the Army, Navy and Air Force capabilities.
The ANC is in the midst of a massive upgrade of infrastructure, both in terms of military and civil.
It is also the Command which is playing a strategic role in keeping an eye on Chinese activities in the Indian Ocean Region.
Lt Gen. Pande will be senior-most after COAS retires next year
An alumnus of the National Defence Academy, Lt Gen. Pande was commissioned in December 1982 in the Corps of Engineers (The Bombay Sappers).
He will be the senior most officer when Gen. M.M. Naravane superannuates in April 2022. According to tradition, the senior most officer becomes the chief of Army staff.
If appointed as the Army chief, Lt Gen. Pande will create history of sorts since there has never been a Chief of Army Staff (COAS) from the Corps of Engineers.
His younger brother has also served in the Army.
Lt Gen. Pande goes to the Eastern Command as a veteran of the region with experience of having worked there in various capacities, including as the commander of the Tezpur-based 4 Corps that looks after the LAC and counter-insurgency operations.
He has also served as brigade general staff (Operations) at the Eastern Command Headquarters.
He has also been brigade major of a Mountain Brigade in the North-East, besides being posted along the LAC and in counter-insurgency operations.
His other commands include the 117 Engineer Regiment during Operation Parakram in the Pallanwala Sector of Jammu and Kashmir, along the Line of Control.
A graduate of Staff College, Camberley (United Kingdom), who attended the Higher Command (HC) and National Defence College (NDC) courses, Lt Gen. Pande has also commanded an Engineer Brigade in the Western Theatre, as part of Strike Corps, 52 Infantry Brigade along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir, and 8 Mountain Division in the High Altitude Area of Western Ladakh.
He has also served as chief engineer in the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea and also tenanted the appointments of additional director general in the Military Operations Directorate at Army Headquarters and chief of Staff Headquarters, Southern Command.
Lt Gen. Ajai Singh a 5th generation Army officer
Lt Gen. Ajai Singh will be the 16th Commander-in-Chief of the Andaman and Nicobar Command (CINCAN) and takes over after Lt Gen. Pande.
He is a fifth generation Army as well as Cavalry/Armoured Corps officer, with family service of over 162 years since 13 September 1858.
Incidentally, he was commissioned into the 81 Armoured Regiment, a regiment raised by his late father.
Prior to his appointment as the CINCAN, Lt Gen. Singh was heading the Bathinda-based 10 Corps, one of the two Strike Corps aimed at Pakistan.
He is the author of the two recent studies — one for reorganisation of the Army HQ and another critical study on operations.
Incidentally, he has also served at various appointments across Army’s six geographical commands as well as at the Army Training Command.
Lt Gen. Singh, who has served as the military observer at Angola as part of the UN posting, has also undertaken volunteer tenures with the infantry for counter-insurgency operations in the Kashmir valley and in the North-East.
He was posted to a battalion of the Maratha Light Infantry, with whom he commanded a Rifle Company in Operations Vijay (Kargil) and Meghdoot (Siachen Glacier) and received the Army Chief’s Commendation for gallantry.
Lt Gen. Singh has also served as the additional DG at the Military Operations Directorate, and has been the director-general (DG) of financial planning and also the director-general of military training.
The officer’s civil educational qualifications include a BSc, an MBA with ORSA specialization, an MSc in Defence Studies, an MPhil in Defence & Management Studies and an MA in International Security and Strategy from Kings College, London.