Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav awaits its Second Chief Of Defence Staff

It is now seven months that the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the highest military position in the country has been lying vacant in the Armed Forces.

India awaits its second CDS.
Earlier this month, the government issued notifications, widening the selection pool for the top position.

Maj Gen SVP Singh

It is now seven months that the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the highest military position in the country has been lying vacant in the Armed Forces. The position was aspirational, reform-oriented and a reflection of government’s grand vision for the Armed Forces.

The death of Gen Bipin Rawat on 08 December 2021 was unfortunate. In the newly created post of CDS, Gen Rawat had proceeded with urgency and aplomb to accomplish given mandates. In this regard, his services could have been extended up to maximum 65 years i.e. end March 2023.

The fatal helicopter accident has put to question whether a sound succession plan exists in our system and why is it not institutionalized? The answer is mostly affirmative. It is important to recall that the high powered implementation committee constituted by the Prime Minister when creating the post of CDS, to lay down its powers and hierarchy had suggested that the CDS be a four star officer but senior to the three Service Chiefs. Accordingly, the Service Regulations of all three Services
were amended on 28 December 2019 to formally appoint India’s first CDS.

This ipso facto implies that the three serving Chiefs would merit selection to this apex post whenever a vacancy exists. So, why the delay begs a question in everyone’s mind? It was hoped that on Republic Day 2022 the nation would get to see its second CDS. But it was not to be.

It was then presupposed that the government did not want to usurp the succession of Gen Manoj Pande as India’s 29th Army Chief. In the interim period from January to March, three C-in-C level officers, all senior to then Lt Gen Pande superannuated.

As we approached 30 th April, it was anticipated that Gen MM Naravane would be elevated to this prestigious post. This date too did not see the appointment of the CDS.

Instead, in early June 2022, the government astonishingly amended Service Regulations of all three Services through a notification laying down fresh eligibility criteria for the CDS. It puts an age embargo to below 62 years and expanded
eligibility to the post for all serving and retired three star officers. This effectively widens the choice to an estimated 150 plus contenders.

Does it imply a policy of deep selection from a large kitty, an illogical thought at best? Or is it opening this august office for undesirable political maneuverings. It has led to conjectures that the change in criteria has more to do with machinations rather than meritocracy or seniority. This does not portend well for the military or the nation. The military ethos dictates we stand firm in allegiance to the Constitution of India.

Simply put, the original mandate for selection initiated in 2019 was sound. After all, when the General Officers and equivalents are promoted to C-in-C level ranks, they are first among equals to be considered for selection to be Chiefs of their respective Services.

So, this amendment should have at best extended to C-in-C ranked officers. However, the Chiefs of Service should be deemed as firsts to be fit for this topmost post. Apart from their experience and continuity, they would assume the role
of CDS seamlessly.

In UK, the CDS has invariably been picked from within the serving Service Chiefs. The current CDS was earlier CNS. However, in USA, retired Chiefs have been recalled to active service. In July 1961, President John Kennedy recalled Gen Maxwell Taylor three years after his retirement as Army Chief in a newly created position designated as “Military Representative to the President.” Later in July 1962, Kennedy nominated Taylor to be Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In George W Bush administration, Gen Peter Schoomaker returned after three years retirement and served as US Army Chief from 2003 to 2007.

The CDS provides single-point military advice to the Government on matters involving all three services. He is also the Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), Secretary of the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) and the Military Advisor to the tri-service Nuclear Command Authority. He is also responsible for prioritising material procurement for all three services. Hence CDS has been entrusted with a vast canvas of responsibilities. However, currently he is without operational command authority.

What the CDS brings to the high table is the ability to better manage the country’s strategic resources and the nuclear arsenal; synergise inter-service doctrinal, planning, procurement and operational issues; and streamline long term defence and procurement processes. Above all, he is the focal point of jointness in operations eventually operating as theatre commands.

Then why the Post is lying Vacant? Re-structuring? The Importance of the CDS!! The likely motives floated in the environment are that the Government is likely to make several changes and re-structure the charter of the CDS. The corridor whispers say that the bureaucracy is exasperated over their disparaged authority and is clamouring for the office of Secretary DMA to be assigned under them or be diluted. This is not in the best interests of the nation and the military. Retrograde as it sounds it will have a negative impact.

In the last three years, the DMA has been a positive for the Armed Forces. However, the Secretary DMA should be a three-star ranked officer. This will remove the twin anomalies of CDS being equated to Secretary to Government of India and secondly, he will not be a signatory to sanctioning his own recommendations.

The CDS is a power projection post of India. Therefore re-structuring should have the permanent Chairman of the COSC with an enhanced role in the nuclear command and control chain and be vested with command authority over the Strategic Forces Command along with the triad of the Cyber and Space Agencies and the Special Operations Division.

The Government should have an incumbent in whom it will have faith and trust to take forward its policies. The CDS in turn should be committed to the military strategy and foreign policy of the Government. He should be a bridge between the Government, the bureaucracy and the military. CDS must also be an interface with the industry since all revenue and joint procurement plans are dealt by him.

The Urgency of a CDS?
The CDS is a quintessential pillar as India navigates its way to a global power. Safeguarding our strategic landscape on the Northern borders is paramount. As members of the QUAD and the Indo-Pacific our reach extends from east coast of
Africa, the Middle East to west coast of Australia. The Indian Ocean is a strategic theatre critical for our diplomatic and military regional engagements. As members of the BRIC, RIC, and SCO our outreach extends to Central Asian Region. Our influence will be determined by military capabilities; bilateral military exchanges and defence trade. These will form the foundation of India’s outreach region.

It is the Government’s prerogative to select and appoint service chiefs but it is the delay that has set the cat among pigeons. The Government of the day needs no advice, but it would do well to remove impressions that the Armed Forces hold a
lower priority and that senior military posts are open to politicisation.

One hopes that on 15 August at ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’, India’s second CDS is announced, if not earlier.

(Maj Gen SVP Singh is a former Additional Director General Artillery)

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First published on: 14-07-2022 at 12:45 IST