The days of suspense are finally over and the new air chief has been announced. Senority won out after all. And the winner is Air marshal Fali Homi Major, PVSM, AVSM, SC, VM, ADC (at present Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Eastern Air Command). He will be next Chief of the Air Staff with effect from March 31, 2007. There was some heart burning and hectic lobbying to prevent Air Marshal Major from becoming the Chief as never before in the history of the Air Force has a helicopter pilot reached this level. As this site reports:

 “This, in fact, has led to considerable churning within the IAF in the weeks leading to Tuesday’s appointment, with a strong lobby urging that the practice of appointing only a fighter pilot to the top job be adhered to. According to sources, defence minister AK Antony is believed to have shot down the argument, holding that competence and seniority should be the sole criteria for selection.”

Indeed, competence should definitely count. But breaking with tradition always causes dissatisfaction. In fact Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi (the present Air Chief) himself was not in favour of going against tradition, but the Air Force has not made any official comment on this issue. The prerogative to choose the Chiefs lies with the Indian government after all. 

A tradition of elevating only those from the combat arms to the position of ‘Chief’ exists not just in India but in most countries of the world. There are sound reasons for this as in times of war it is a fighter pilot’s training which can help him strategise. However making a non-fighter pilot the Chief is not really a first for India. In the eighties Air Chief Marshal IH Latif was made the Chief even though he was not a fighter pilot. 

When Partition bought with it the division of the armed forces, Latif as a Muslim officer was faced with the choice of joining both India or Pakistan, but there was no making up of minds for him. He was very clear that his future lay with India. Even though both Asghar as well as Noor Khan called him up to persuade Latif to join them in the fledgling Pakistan Air Force, Latif made it clear that for him, religion and country were not interlinked. It was no surprise that Latif made his way to become the first Muslim Chief of Air Staff of the Indian Air Force.

So finally when the government takes a decision it takes into account the various complexities involved. And in the case of Marshal Fali Homi Major no one can dispute the fact that he is a distinguished officer with an amazing record. His bio in brief:

Born on May 29, 1947.
Commissioned into the Air Force on December 31, 1967 as a helicopter pilot.
In a service spanning over 39 years, he has worked in a variety of Command, Staff and Instructional appointments.
He has the distinction of having 7765 hours of flying experience to his credit.
Has been awarded the Saurya Chakra award for undertaking a very dangerous and exacting rescue mission on October 14, 1992 at Timber Trail in Parwanoo, Himachal Pradesh.
Fellow of the National Defence College, New Delhi, and the Army War College, Mhow.
Oversaw the tri-Service operations including the Tsunami operations during his tenure as Deputy Chief of Integrated Defence Staff (Operations) at IDS Head Quarters.
He was promoted as AOC-in-C, Eastern Air Command in September 2005.
The Indo-US Joint Air Exercises at Kalaikunda in 2005 were successfully conducted under his leadership in Eastern Air Command.
He was awarded Param Vishist Seva Medal (PVSM) in January 2006 and Ati Vishist Seva Medal (AVSM) in January 2002.
He is one of the Honorary ADCs of the Supreme Commander.

(Photo of choppers sourced from India Daily)