Where is India’s Second CDS? by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)



Late Gen Bipin Rawat was a determined and resolute driver of Theatrisation and Jointness, even if it meant ruffling some reluctant feathers.   He was also very clear that the way forward was Atmanirbharta and was a very committed driver of indigenization. He was at the forefront in rendering valuable operational advice to the Government during the crisis in Eastern Ladakh. We were making steady progress under the first CDS of India.  He had, in his own inimitable way established that there was no way India could go ahead without a CDS.  The tragic air accident and his untimely demise more than two months ago in the Nilgiris, left India without a CDS. It was a big blow. It was widely expected that the government would soon announce who would be the next CDS. Rumors abounded, options enumerated, and names were even bandied. Nothing came of it despite the established importance of the post. The government is yet to name the second CDS of India. It is understandable that the government is being deliberate and is taking its time to appoint the next CDS. However more than two months have passed. Hmm. Some issues it seems. 


In the meantime, the India’s geostrategic landscape has become even more complicated.  China’s gray zone and hybrid actions are looming larger than before on the Indian horizon. Every vestige of getting to a normal Sino Indian relationship is getting farther by the day. Pakistan is entering into serious instability- economic and political. This summer will be crucial in Kashmir in the post ‘Afghanistan’ period. India is on the horns of a dilemma in the Ukraine fracas and is walking a tightrope between USA and Russia. A new China- Russia axis is emerging. It is a troublesome development for many reasons especially for the QUAD, which is steaming ahead. The situation in Myanmar one of crucial neighbors is worsening. As the Indian economy has started to recover and fire on most cylinders, the threats and efforts by China and Pakistan to disrupt it are already underway in the information and influence domains. At home, jointness and theatrisation has taken a palpable break with hardly any thought-provoking news coming through or discussion taking place. It is very evident that India needs a CDS now, than ever before. However, the government seems to have some issues in making any announcement. What could these be? 


There is no doubt that when late Gen Bipin Rawat was appointed the CDS, he was more of a political appointee rather than one on purely professional grounds. To that extent, he was politically compromised and followed the government line without rocking the boat. In certain instances, his actions were more politically aligned rather than being professionally appropriate. While it is to the credit of the government that it created the post of CDS, it also simultaneously diluted it by making the appointment equivalent to a secretary to the Government of India. The fact that the first CDS could push his way through despite this was in equal measure due to his professional acumen and political connections. Will the second CDS be so politically aligned with the government. Should a person be made a CDS on political grounds once again? I do not think so. The Government might have a different take altogether. 


The Government has been clear from the beginning that the CDS would not have any operational responsibility. However, the overall experience and logic suggests that the CDS would eventually have to have some degree of operational control over the joint theatre commands in future. That much is clear in the evolutionary paradigm also. The requirement of a CDS, born out of ‘Op VIJAY’, was always operational.   The intent of the Kargil Review Committee when it made its recommendation that India must have a CDS, was based on operational necessity. It is also clear that the political class of the nation has been traditionally hands off on operational and strategic matters. Mutatis-mutandis, any future CDS will have a larger role in the affairs of the nation. Hence, a straight-talking professional but apolitical CDS might be an uncomfortable person to deal with as far as the government is concerned in the larger scheme of things. I leave it at that. Rest is best unsaid. 


The expectation in some quarters would be that the post should be rotational in nature between the three Services. This will lead to Inter Service balance. While a certain amount of merit is inherent in this almost status quoist thinking, it is flawed. The CDS must be appointed on assessed merit and capability to deal with the threats faced by the nation. The vectors of the threat, conventional and hybrid, faced by the nation immediately and in the foreseeable future is from its land borders. That should be the focus. We must have the best man for the job irrespective of the color of uniform he wears. Once appointed, I am sure that the person will do what is good for the Armed Forces from a national perspective rather from his Service perspective. The job will drive the person into balance. However, at present, one does not see how any person other than from the Army can be a CDS, in the current operational paradigm. This is a contradiction which must be weighing heavily on the Government. Also, it is ok to talk that a serving GOC-in-C or equivalent can be made a CDS directly, it is practically impossible to do so on professional grounds. In our system, GOC’s-in-C rarely interact directly or closely with the Government. Most are quite junior to the Chiefs. Making such a person a CDS is fraught with risk. Ultimately the CDS is really the first among equals. So, the pool available is made up of the current Chiefs, Vice Chiefs and CISC only. However, taking it a step further, the post of CDS does require a person who has been a Chief for some time to acquire higher vision and perspective. It narrows down the pool further. These issues must be weighing on the Government also. Unless of course, the decision is to have an out and out political appointee. 


A few other issues pop onto the screen. It is obvious that the Government did not have a succession policy for the CDS. In such an event, it has not been able to take a quick decision to appoint a CDS. That is understandable since the vacancy was most unexpected and it took the nation by surprise. It is also probable that the government felt it had time to put a policy in place and really did not bother about it. It begs a question. Will the government not nominate a Service Chief if such a similar situation arises? Is the importance attached to the CDS less vis a vis a Service Chief? Appears so. 


The appointment of a new CDS could have political overtones and become an election issue in the ‘forever campaigning mode’ of Indian politics. It is also possible that the government wanted to avoid any controversy and hence desisted from making any appointment till after the current round of state elections. It is highly likely that winning elections has more weightage than appointing a CDS in political calculations. Hence, the appointing of new CDS  can wait till after elections. The possibility that the government is waiting for the right time to make an appointment is also on the cards so that the issue becomes a case of natural succession rather than a selection of choice. The worst-case scenario is that – has the Government given up on the CDS experiment altogether? The answers to some of these must be doing the rounds of the ‘Gossip and Whisper’ circuits in the Delhi corridors of power. However, the media and twitterati are strangely silent about it. In fact, the silence is eerie, unless I have gone deaf. Overall, it seems that the government seems to be in no hurry to appoint the next CDS. Whatever its reasons. 


The delay in appointing the second CDS of India was initially ok. It has now reached a stage where this stretched deliberation has not only broken the momentum but is about to become retrograde in nature. The concept of a CDS and Jointness has started fading from public discourse. That is not good for the nation.  Further, as the delay in decision making stretches, India’s image starts taking a hit. Afterall how can a rising nation not have suitable and matching structures? How can the expanding military footprint of a regional power not have its Armed Forces functioning optimally on a joint basis?  This government takes pride in reforms and decision making. It needs to rethink the whole issue quickly and give an answer to the nation – Where is India’s second CDS?



5 responses to “Where is India’s Second CDS? by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)”

  1. Koi desh bechta hai to koi deshbhakti.. National priorities always take a back seat. For our polity what matters is the purse and vote

  2. When you create an appointment without clarity and vision and it's attendant ramifications, there is bound to be hiccups and continuity..first get a very clear role and responsibilities defined with associated infrastructure, then appoint a CDS..militarisation of the MOD is the first step..ajb

  3. A political appointee CDS is always conveniently used by the government to exploit the people's sentiment for political gains.We deserve a CDS who will keep professionalism ,national security goals, war fighting preparedness of the three services ,welfare of serving as well as veterans above the petty domestic political interests of his political masters.

  4. Difficult decision particularly if politics also comes in

  5. Eventhough the Govt is dragging the issue, all are aware of the needs of this Appointment.The delay leads to many speculations which can damage the morale of the Forces.The one such is ” the Govt has someone in mind,though junior and waiting for the seniors to fade away”.

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