On 15 August 2019, our Prime Minister announced, from the ramparts of the Red Fort, that India will have a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). It was truly a historic announcement. Ever since the Kargil Review Committee recommended establishment of the post, no government took the decision on appointment of a CDS. No Government brought this significant reform in the country’s Higher Defence Organisation. The decision and the announcement by our PM was the symbol of the self-confidence of a new India. Earlier governments lacked the political will to implement this important defence reform. It needed strong determination and leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to effect such a transformational initiative. It is pertinent to note that many major countries of the world have created the post of the CDS to bring more ‘Jointness and Integration’ in their Armed Forces. These include Italy, France, China, UK, USA, Canada and Japan. By creating the post of CDS, India was elevated to being one of those countries in this rarefied elite. On 24th December 2019, the Cabinet Committee on Security took the historic decision to create the post of the CDS to enhance the quality of Military Advice to Political Leadership through integration of Service inputs. This historic step aims to develop and foster expertise in defence matters for better and more informed decision making. All this is contained in a document released by the PIB. I fully endorsed the sentiment then and do so now, despite there being no CDS being at present. The document is at @ https://static.pib.gov.in/WriteReadData/specificdocs/documents/2021/oct/doc202110501.pdf
When late Gen Bipin Rawat was appointed as the first CDS of India, there was great hope and expectation. When he passed away in an unfortunate accident, I mourned more at the loss of a personal friend and a little less at the loss to the nation. The reason was simple. In the affairs of nations, the principle of ‘God save the King…the king is dead…long live the King’ always comes into force. A successor takes over and the nation moves on.
On 19 Feb 22, I had written “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. Rumours 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”. Eight months have passed. A CDS has not been appointed and despite the churning waters of the Taiwan Straits.
The 75th Independence Day looms ahead. Will the PM appoint a new CDS or is the concept dead? In any case, let us first examine if the CDS is still relevant. The world has been thrown into turmoil by two significant military events this year – The Ukraine War and the Taiwan Crisis. The Taiwan crisis saw unprecedented military drills by the PLA. It was not all sound and fury. The PLA was actually practising their operational concepts pertaining to ‘System Destruction Warfare’ which I have outlined in my article @ https://www.gunnersshot.com/2021/11/fire-power-and-artillery-futuristic.html. This has been widely reported. The entire operation was carried out by PLA’s ‘Eastern Command Theatre’ and not by individual Services. It was a Theatre based operation. The emphasis was on Jointness, Integration and a national approach. If India is to execute a similar operation in the near future, it will be back to our Kargil days of individual disjointed plans with each Service bragging of their central role in victory or finger pointing at the other in case of a reverse. In recent days, Jointness and theatre commands have started fading away from our national strategic, operational and tactical discourse. At this rate we will be soon asking ourselves …‘CDS kis Chiriya ka naam hai’? The Ukraine War teaches us that Jointness and Integrated approaches are mandatory for victory. Lack of politico-military clarity and poor joint planning led Russia to commit to operations prematurely and withdraw troops unsuccessfully from Kyiv. If we are to benefit from others experience, can we do so without a CDS providing single point advise to the nation? Let me put forth another issue. Everyone – military experts, diplomats, politicians, non-experts and outright eyeball seekers, articulated glibly on national media, 24×7, that our supply chains for military equipment from Ukraine and Russia will be disrupted. The major lesson was that we would be in a dire situation since we are dependent upon them. We needed to focus on ‘import substitution and reverse engineering through Atmanirbharta’ to wean ourselves away from our historic over-dependence on Russia. This is a national necessity to attain geostrategic autonomy. It needs focussed integrated, coordinated and joint approaches. Today, I can say with a lot of confidence and dismay that most of it has been big talk. Individual Services are floundering disjointedly. One Service even refuses to acknowledge the problem! A driving force and focus is missing. To my limited understanding that missing force is the CDS. Our national preparedness is fragmented and once again at risk of aiming without aiming.
It is also my opinion that the entire focus on Atmanirbharta and jointness was hijacked by overemphasis on the ill-conceived ‘Agnipath and Agniveers’ scheme by some financial witch doctors. The absence of the single point professional advise by the CDS to the government was sorely apparent then. In the past few months, the fact that our defence planners at national level have been out of balance was exemplified by a haranguing speech from a senior military officer from the IDS, extolling the virtues of the poorly planned Agnipath scheme more like a politician at the hustings, than a military officer making a logical case based on facts figures and analysis. I still maintain that the ‘Agnipath’ as it stands is detrimental to national security. Nothing better than the 75th Independence Day to remind ourselves of this fact. The faster this scheme is reviewed and made implementable the more secure will be our nation. I have written enough about this. However we need a CDS to set right our listing boat. There are too many self-serving wheels in this creaky machine without oil.
Something very serious has been marginalised. India does not seem to have an officer suitable for the post of a CDS! Many Chiefs and many more three star officers have been promoted or retired in the past eight months. It is indeed strange that the government has not found even one of these officers, either serving or retired, fit enough to be a CDS! To jog public memory the Government notification stated “The Central Government may, if considered necessary, in public interest, so to do, appoint as Chief of Defence Staff, an officer who is serving as Lieutenant General or General or an officer who has retired in the rank of Lieutenant General or General but has not attained the age of sixty-two years on the date of his appointment: Provided that the Central Government may, if considered necessary, in public interest, so to do, extend the service of the Chief of Defence Staff for such period as it may deem necessary subject to a maximum age of sixty-five years” or something to that effect. Three months after this notification , the search does not seem to have ended. What are the QRs for this appointment? Are they political or military? If a Chief or a three star general cannot handle the appointment, for which a pool of about three hundred officers is now available, they should not have been promoted in the first place. Are we a nation which does not have the capability to produce even one CDS from amongst the huge talent pool at our disposal ? Further, when an appointment goes on leave or on duty ex India or if there is a death, there is always another person who assumes that appointment in an acting capacity. That is the Government norm. For the past eight months we do not even have an acting CDS!
Another factor has escaped attention. I had recently opined in a discussion that the Service Chiefs should have spoken up on the obvious infirmities of the ‘Agnipath Scheme’ or at least acknowledged that deficiencies had been noted and indicated that changes would be implemented in due course. I was admonished by senior veterans that the military ethos was to back the government once a decision was made. Accepted. In the same vein, it is the decision of the Government of India that Joint Service Theatres need to be established. Once a decision is taken it is the solemn duty of every Service Chief to back that decision for implementation notwithstanding individual or Service views prior to taking that decision. Yet one finds Service Chiefs voicing their misgivings and airing conditionalities three years after a decision was taken to establish Theatre Commands. It is either a poor sense of discipline or poor Service ethos or bureaucratic meddling/prompting. I do not know the background facts at play, but it is detrimental to national security. It is even more troubling that the Government is keeping quiet about it. There is something more amiss than merely a missing CDS.
In the current international milieu, India’s role and centrality in global affairs is expanding as fast as its economy. It is matter of pride. At the same time it is also a matter of concern that we are besieged by troubled nations around us. These include two of the most revisionist nuclear nations on earth who are our lifetime adversaries. They will do everything in their power jointly , to keep India down. I am talking of China and Pakistan and that is not rocket science. As we transcend from being a nation with armed forces merely capable of defending our integrity and sovereignty to being a regional power we need great structural changes in our higher defence organisations. The start point was establishment of the post of CDS and appointing someone to it. Need to do something beyond that.
All what I have written above is not criticism of the government or anti-government tripe. It is the anguish of seeing a giant step being taken forward only to slide back two steps. I have faith in my Prime Minister and Defence Minister. I do hope the PM and RM read this or at least someone apprises them of the sentiment of this article. The PM had the political will to establish the post of CDS when all before him succumbed to imaginary political fears and real bureaucratic machinations. He has done much more than many PMs have done before him. I have hope and confidence that he will sooner or later appoint a CDS. The sooner the better. The rest as they say is up to him.
Jai Hind and Happy Independence Day
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