General Bipin Rawat, India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, died tragically and untimely in a helicopter crash, leaving a void at the top of the military hierarchy. The ambitious transformation of the armed forces into integrated theatre commands, for which Gen Rawat set lofty goals, remains unfinished.
On December 31, 2016, Gen Rawat became the 27th Army Chief of Staff, and on January 1, 2020, he became the first CDS. His time as CDS was to last till March 2023. The age restriction for the CDS position is 65 years, and there is no set tenure.
Unlike military structures, where the second-in-command to every officer, whether in the field or as a service chief, takes over if the lead officer is ill, sources say there is no immediate line of succession planned for the CDS, despite the existence of an unofficial Vice Chief of Defence Staff, who is a three-star officer.
For example, if a sitting chief of the Army, Navy, or Air Service is unable to perform his duties, the Vice Chief of that force serves as the acting leader until the government finds a full-time chief. However, it is not required that it be the Vice Chief.
According to sources, the CDS/DMA Secretary’s position is more equivalent to that of a secretary than that of a service chief. In the absence of the CDS, there is no deputy who would have immediately assumed his duties.
It is up to the government to decide who will take over his responsibilities, whether temporarily or permanently. According to sources, the Cabinet Committee on Security, which met on Wednesday evening, would finalise the decision.
According to a Defence Ministry official, the CDS is a military officer who works as a secretary in the bureaucracy, which is why there is no “line of succession.” It’s a decision made by the political establishment.
He is “not in active military service, but parts of bureaucracy related to the military, which were looked after by the civilian bureaucracy, was handed over to the DMA and the CDS as its secretary”.
There was confusion among military and bureaucratic officials on Wednesday as to who could officiate as CDS now. The CDS was the permanent head of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), which includes the three service chiefs. Before the post of CDS was created, the senior-most service chief would be the chairman of CoSC.
WHO MIGHT BE THE NEXT CDS?
On December 31, 2019, Army General M.M. Naravane succeeded Gen Rawat as the 28th Army chief. General Naravane, who has a term till April 2022, is the military’s most senior officer behind Gen Rawat. Admiral R. Hari Kumar assumed command of the Navy on November 30 while Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari assumed command of the Air Force on September 30. The Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) is commanded by a three-star military officer known as Chairman IDS to the Chairman COSC (CISC), who holds the rank of a Vice Chief of a service. When the office of CDS was formed, it was believed that the CISC would be promoted to VCDS. That, however, has yet to be confirmed. Air Marshal B. R. Krishna is the current CISC.
Although the CISC can fill in for the CDS in ceremonial functions when the latter is unavailable, he does not have executive powers. Officiating over the CoSC with four-star officers can be a challenge for the three-star CISC. If the government does not choose from among the serving chiefs, it can promote a three-star officer to the equivalent of a General and appoint him as the CDS.
Gen Rawat was attempting to reach an agreement among the three Services on integrated theatre commands, which would be the most significant reorganisation of the Indian armed forces since independence. While Gen Rawat had outlined an ambitious plan for the deployment of the theatre commands, the process was hampered by disputes between the Services and objections from the Indian Air Force on certain points.
To fine-tune the modalities, detailed research has previously been conducted, as well as tabletop war-gaming in the recent past. Additional research has lately been commissioned in this area by Gen Rawat. The next CDS now has the challenge of achieving consensus and moving the reorganisation forward.
—The writer is a law student at Galgotias University & Associate Editor at LASDES e-journal. [email protected]