The Agni Path Ahead For India’s Second CDS by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)

Published in The Indian Express @ The Agnipath challenge for India’s new Chief of Defence Staff

P R Shankar writes: Converting poorly-planned and flawed scheme into a success will be General Anil Chauhan’s acid test

Written by P R Shankar 
Updated: October 6, 2022 7:13:20 am

The appointment of Gen Anil Chauhan as the second CDS of India is welcome news. Though delayed, this appointment has the potential to brings sanity back into a system which has gone off rails. The officer assumes his appointment on the back of a solid professional reputation. There are voices which mention that re-commissioning a retired officer is not the best thing to do. There are also views that the second CDS could have been from another Service. While there is some merit in such discussion the need is to look ahead. The second CDS has a few challenging, and complex tasks cut out ahead of him. 


In my opinion, the first major task of major national concern is to modify the ill-conceived and poorly planned Agnipath scheme being executed with indecent haste. Interaction with those who are executing Agnipath from the lowest to the highest levels indicates that the flaws of this scheme are surfacing at a fast clip. The road ahead is potholed. The system is at constant risk of disappearance into one of the potholes. If the Agnipath is not modified, India will not need China to defeat it. Very simple. As part of NSCS from May 21, Gen Anil Chauhan was part of the flawed process which visualized Agnipath. In such a situation, he represents both, an opportunity, and a danger in the Agnipath roll out. It will be interesting to see what tack he takes hereafter. Converting Agnipath into a success will be his acid test.  


Capability development is adrift as I have opined earlier. For reasons beyond comprehension, the MOD and the Government have lost focus. Those in the know of things feel that the acquisition and procurement pipelines are getting clogged. The propensity to resort to use the emergency route in acquisition is worrisome. Capability development is at national risk since the Russian and Ukrainian lifelines are paralyzed. The ‘import and rebrand’ trick of defence atmanirbharta has entered a phase of diminishing returns. Stasis is in the air, and we have a CDS who does not have much experience in defence acquisition. In fact, he has no track record whatsoever in this complex business. How he approaches and handles defence modernization will be interesting to watch. 


The next priority is to bring jointness and theatrisation back to life. From Dec 21 onwards, each Service has been steadily propagating and ploughing its lonesome path. India’s rise cannot be on the back of disjointed armed forces. Ever since the untimely demise of Gen Bipin Rawat, the only vestige of jointness was symbolized in a long and moralistic speech by the Addl Secy DMA during the Agnipath opening ceremonies. That speech would have done politicians proud and made servicemen cringe. Leaving that aside, theatrisation and jointness is often a chicken and egg story. Which comes first? However, in this disjointed situation, theatrisation can wait for some time. Focus must be on enhancing jointness in my opinion. However, the optics of theatrisation make it a political mandate and expediency will rule. Our second CDS has difficult choices to make.               


In the past year or so, I have often heard comparisons drawn between the times of Prime Minister Nehru and now. Many old timers feel that the hubris of those times bears resemblance to the present. To some extent, it is borne out by the fact that India’s rise and status in global affairs is largely being projected through the PM, the EAM and the NSA. They are doing an excellent job. I have no doubts about it. However, a rising power like India needs to back such moves with matching military credentials. The challenge for Gen Anil Chauhan is that he has to emerge from the shadows of his last appointment in the NSCS and create greater space for military diplomacy. While he must adhere to and follow government policies, his office should not be a echo chamber of the government.   


Gen Anil Chauhan has been chosen over and above the Chiefs. Does it indicate that the government does not have confidence in the Chiefs of Services to appoint one of them as a CDS?  This issue will not be lost on the serving Chiefs. It has its own ramifications. More significantly, Gen Anil Chauhan has been in NSCS since May 21. Yet he has been appointed as a CDS after a 10-month delay and not as the obvious first choice. His appointment seems to be premised on political comfort. Hence the process adopted by the government raises its own issues. 


Overall, our military has been wallowing in doldrums in recent times. It is hoped that the professional in Gen Anil Chauhan trumps all other peripheral issues and steers the Indian Armed Forces into fair winds. India wishes its second CDS all the best.

P R Shankar

The writer is a retired director general of artillery


15 responses to “The Agni Path Ahead For India’s Second CDS by Lt Gen P R Shankar (R)”

  1. “Gen Anil Chauhan has been chosen over and above the Chiefs. Does it indicate that the government does not have confidence in the Chiefs of Services to appoint one of them as a CDS? This issue will not be lost on the serving Chiefs. It has its own ramifications”. Therein lies the crux

  2. Wonder why Gen Narvane (R) was not selected as CDS on retirement? He would have been an ideal choice as per my personal view.

  3. It is now faith accompli.

  4. Bang on. Hope the CDS proves his critics wrong.

  5. God save the Armed forces

  6. I hope so too!

  7. The day that senior officers refuse to take up out of turn promotions will be the day that sanity will get restored in the forces. I don’t think there has ever been a similar case of recommissioning with a promotion like this one anywhere except perhaps in some African country run by despots. Service Chiefs, who have reached their present ranks in the normal course, are bound to feel disturbed by getting usurped like this.

  8. My name is Col P S Sangha

  9. Sir, just wanted to point out – whosoever is selected, there will ALWAYS be a disagreement. Even a disagreement in the cut offs decided.

  10. Your expectations fron senior officers particularly the general cadre is a littletoo high.If they had that worth of integrity, they wouldnot have been in those the firstplaceWell you must be aware of the fate ofGerman Army (Abwehr)chief for resistingHitler.He was falsely implicated for Homosexualityby SS intelligence.”The night of the Generals”Indian Generals are smart. They haveat least learnt this thing from history ifnothing else

  11. There is no doubt that the NSA picked Gen Chauhan as an advisor abetted by late Gen Rawat, all being from the same region of Pauri Garhwal. Gen Chauhan will not go hell to ensure Agnipath becomes a reality. It is unbelievable that all the top bosses think it is a brilliant scheme without it having been tried out experimentally. Does the AF Chief really think that an Agniveer with 4 years of service will be able to maintain the Rafaels. Or does the Army Chief from Engineers believe that a dozer, motor grader operator etc will be experts in operating them as well as be proficient in blowing up bridges with explosives or lay and clear minefields with just a few years experience. Does the Naval Chief really think an Agniveer with 4 years experience will be able to handle the engines of a submarine or air craft career. Our NSA who was brilliant in intelligence and spying hasn’t a clue about operation of all modern weapons. God help our country!

  12. Let the new CDS do his job , Shankar. Did you participate in all the discussions on Agniveer ? We retired years ago and we think we continue to be the only knowledgeable people in the country. How many of you know that Gen McArthur was brought back into service after retirement as Chief ? It wasn't an African country. Our successors are not dumb as you seem to think.

  13. And what mess McArthur createdin Korea.Interesting isn't itEven Napoleon truthfully admittedthat he had reached his peak atthe time of Austrlitz. He was just34 at that time

  14. Re: the statement, “Stasis is in the air, and we have a CDS who does not have much experience in defence acquisition. In fact, he has no track record whatsoever in this complex business. “The above resonated with me. I believe that for any promotion to levels of Principal Staff Officers, and above, at service HQs, the officer should have done at least one stint which involved acquisition and induction of indigenous equipment. His performance should count towards his selection for the post. From what appears in the press evertime a high post is filled, it seems, counter-insurgency experience is what matters.

  15. Gen McArthur was brought back in the same rank as when he retired as chief of the US Army staff. As the commander of the pacific land forces he did not report to the Gen Marshal, who was then the chief of staff. He reported to secretary of defence and the president. The situations are not comparable.I wonder if Gen Naravane would be willing to come back and serve as a theater commander?

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