The Indian government has appointed new chiefs of army and the air force, raising eyebrows in political circles. The appointment of Lieutenant General Bipin Rawat as the new army chief has sparked a controversy as he has superseded two senior-most officers.

The opposition has demanded answers for overlooking the seniority of the two officers. On Saturday, 17 December, the government said Rawat, the current vice chief of army staff and a counter-insurgency specialist, would take over from retiring General Dalbir Singh Suhaag next year.

"The next army chief will be LT Gen Bipin Rawat with effect from the afternoon of December 31," said the defence ministry on Twitter. The terms of the current chiefs of army and the air force end on 31 December.

The army chief's appointment, which is generally announced at least two months in advance, is in sharp contrast to the existing tradition in the country in which the senior-most officer is given the post.

Air Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa, a fighter pilot and presently the vice chief of the Indian Air Force (IAF), will be the next chief of the air force.

Rajiv Jain will head the Intelligence Bureau (IB) and Anil Dhasman will be at the helm of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). While the IB focuses on domestic intelligence, RAW is in charge of foreign intelligence.

The government has defended its decision on the army chief, but senior left-wing opposition leader D Raja said: "The nation should be convinced how the judgment on selection is not controversial... I do not know what is going to be the reaction of superseded officers. The Defence Ministry should explain how they justify the appointments. Now it has come to the public domain as controversy."

Manish Tewari, a spokesperson for the main opposition Indian National Congress, said: "It is the responsibility of the government to tell the public why such a decision was taken... We are not against General Rawat... We are only questioning the break from tradition."