The Indian Armed Forces especially the Chiefs of Army (COAS), Navy (CNS) and Air Force (CAS), the Chief of Integrated Defence Staff (CIDS) and Ministry of Defence bureaucrats must be biting nails, awaiting a formal announcement of the name of India’s First Chief of Defence Staff (CDS).
This is because the powers and charisma he will wield will affect the working of MOD and inter pares working of the Chiefs. Ceremonial planning may have begun.
If media speculation is anything to go by, the outgoing COAS, General Bipin Rawat, is tipped to be the first CDS.
CDS has been given no command functions. He will head a new Department in MOD. He will be the Principal Adviser which will be put along with the National Security Advisor (NSA) as he headed a Chiefs’ Committee, now as a Cabinet Minister.
History needs to be heeded as access to the Prime Minister in India as head of the Cabinet matters as India runs on Cabinet Control. President is Commander-in-Chief only in name. The PM retains the real power.
In India another feature is that the personality of the Chief matters. In 1971 General (later Field Marshal) Sam Manekshaw set a bench mark as the Chairman of Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) to act like a CDS with direct access to the Defence Minister and Prime Minister. This instilled confidence and ensured effective preparations for the impending war that followed in 1971. It took months to get the machinery going for that victory, something we ought not to forget.
Luckily, Ajit Doval, the current NSA as per analyses made by the India Defence Forum (IDF), given his personality, hard work and his background of Intelligence, has instilled that confidence as evident in the Surgical Strikes on 29th September, 2016 and recently Air Strikes at Balakot into Pakistan on 26th February this year.
Basically a civilian, an Indian prime minister having little or limited little background on security issues and on wars always needs a trusted adviser. Let’s hope the CDS can fulfill that role as he will be the Permanent Chairman COSC for a three–year tenure as well.
This may be the appropriate time to recall past attempts at managing military matters at the top with uneven results and why the country waited for seven decades to get its first CDS.
As COAS, Gen K Sundarji took over Op PAWAN (1987-91) with his power of command of troops and side–lined COSC Chairman and CNS Admiral RH Tahiliani. Sundarji had direct access to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who was also the Defence Minister and Arun Singh, the Minister of State for Defence, Foreign Secretary A K Venkateswaran and the then Defence Resarch and Development Organisation (DRDO) chief, Dr M V Arunachallam.
Admiral Tahiliani even called it ‘Sundar’s War’ as Navy and Air Force Operations and Intelligence were not invited to the Army Ops Room when Sundarji took military decisions, as he took over Command and Control even from Gen Depinder Singh.
To avoid such situations, the CDS will have to bring in Jointness and many challenges will then ease in his big task of tri-Sevice training and procurement and operations.
The CDS will hopefully end replication of the past events when one Chief objected to other Chief being made the CDS.
The past indicates that Manekshaw almost became CDS but then IAF Chief ACM Pratap Lal had objected (as per Lal’s autobiography). Manekshaw also suffered because of a quip in jest during a media interview that had he been the Chief in Pakistan, that nation may have won. That was not taken well by some ministers in the government of Mrs Gandhi and perhaps, by her as well. Jest is not liked by Indian politicians who correct themselves by saying they have been misquoted!
When Admiral Nanda who was visiting Naval Dockyard in Bombay was told by Defence Secretary on phone that Manekshaw was going to be the CDS, he remarked, “make any one anything as long as you do not remove a star from me”, or words to that effect, he told a gathering when giving a Forward to my book “A Nation and Its Navy at War” (Lancers). Rest is history.
Over the last 50 years hundreds of articles have been written about appointment of a CDS. Admiral Sushil Kumar almost became CDS but for IAF objection.
There are some points to ponder.
As per the official announcement, no Rules of Business have so far been specified for the new CDS.
Department and the MOD remains intact in its original form, but CDS will be the single point advisor to the RM and also stating that the Service Chiefs will continue to remain advisors to the RM about their own Services seems contradictory.
The CDS, it says, “Will Implement Five-Year Defence Capital Acquisition Plan (DCAP), and Two-Year roll-on Annual Acquisition Plans (AAP), as a follow up of Integrated Capability Development Plan (ICDP) but financial sanction may remain with Defence Secretary that would entail lengthy procedures.
Gen. Rawat has worked closely with NSA and PM If he does become the CDS, he is the best choice in seniority and experience. I can only wish him well for his three-year tenure, till he is 65.