By Maj Gen Ashok Kumar, VSM (Retd)
There are multiple critical reforms which are needed in the Defence forces to make them future ready for the coming generations of war. Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) has been one such critical need.
The need for this appointment was highlighted time and again by various experts committees but it was not done despite coming quite close to this appointment being made in the past. The real change took shape when the PM announced from the Red Fort on 15 Aug 2019 that the defence forces will have a CDS shortly. As a follow up, the Government deliberated on the role and charter of CDS and it was on 01 Jan 20 that Gen Bipin Rawat assumed the appointment of CDS having completed his tenure as COAS.
He had two hats, one of CDS as well as that of the Secretary DMA and embarked on Theaterisation in a desired manner. He died on 08 Dec 21 in a tragic manner in a helicopter crash near Wellington along with his wife and other colleagues and staff. While this was a sudden and disastrous event, it was natural for the Government to take some time to deliberate on his successor, however, despite a crying need, it has taken the Government close to six months to announce the CDS whereas a country facing wars on two fronts and with the LAC standoff continuing, it reflects poorly on the decision making capabilities of the Government under adverse conditions.
Delay in appointment started getting linked to Gen MM Naravane retiring on 30 Apr 22 and then being nominated as CDS but it did not happen. Not only this, rumours were abuzz about the appointment of the CDS and secretary DMA being separated. While multiple conjectures were being made in the absence of clear cut inputs from the Government, in a sudden move (or a well thought out move), Government has amended Army, Navy and AF rules on 06 Jun 22 wherein Lt Generals of Army and equivalent from Navy and AF have become eligible for this appointment in addition to Generals of the Army and equivalent from Navy and AF. This indicates that the basic concept of planned Theatre Command coming under CDS is not likely to happen and the appointment may remain ceremonial if a Lt General is appointed as CDS as inter rank relations with the service chiefs will definitely create substantial functional problems.
As the amendment would not have been adequate, another condition of age not being more than 62 years has been put. It simply means that no service chief gets appointed as a CDS ever as their retirement age is 62 years. Only option to appoint a service chief as CDS remains valid if he is appointed while still in service. If some service chief is appointed while in service, the timing will be subject of political maneuvering, however, it is hoped that the Government’s decision will be as to what is best for the country.
While there is no reason to highlight apprehensions on the intent of the Government, the amended rules leave a large scope for arbitrary selection. Tour of Duty (TOD) announcement due on 08 Jun 22 as learnt from the media has been postponed and who knows that the Government will utilise this appointment to declare the amended norms of TOD. What happens on these issues will decide the way Armed Forces will proceed but one thing is very clear, with the LAC standoff continuing and with the changing world order, India has limited time to course correct restructuring of its Armed forces. Theaterisation and real purpose of CDS have been negated once again for days to come.
(The author is a Kargil war veteran and defence analyst. He is a visiting fellow of CLAWS and specializes in neighbouring countries with special focus on China. He tweets @chanakyaoracle Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgViews expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).