Narendra Modi's announces post of CDS on 73rd Independence Day: Officer must represent armed forces, not become Centre's mouthpiece

  • The decision spawns a whole office and set up staffed by at least three or four support officers of the three and two-star rank as well as others of lower rank.

  • The US has a much sharper totem pole and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford is also a four-star.

  • There may be some passing concern that the CDS in India will be a teacher’s pet and gradually shift from representing the forces and their priorities to being the voice of the government.

The announcement of a Chief of Defence Staff by the prime minister is largely the addition of another step in the military hierarchy. Rather than be advised on matters in the armed forces by a civilian the prime minister has, as they do in the UK and US, elected to position a shepherd in uniform to oversee the three chiefs and co-ordinate the army, navy and air force, which sometimes tend to be engaged in inter-service rivalry. That is not a bad thing in itself since this rivalry keeps everyone on their toes but to be accountable to a peer with the power can and should be an effective relationship.

 Narendra Modis announces post of CDS on 73rd Independence Day: Officer must represent armed forces, not become Centres mouthpiece

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets people from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort on the occasion of 73rd Independence Day. PTI

The official British diktat which moulded the current Indian Army culture says:

It is the duty and responsibility of the CDS to formulate and execute policies, programmes towards the highest attainment of National Security and operational competence of the Armed Forces namely; the Army, Navy and Air Force. The CDS is assisted by the other Service Chiefs.

“Such an officer is seen as the equivalent of the Chief of the Defence Staff is the British equivalent position of what in NATO and the European Union is known as the Chief of Defence.”

Clearly, for now, the CDS will be a four-star General, (or Admiral, Air Chief Marshal) his rank the same as the three chiefs who, however, will defer to him as do three-star Corps Commanders to the Army Commander who is also a three-star.

In the UK until 1997 there was a fifth star given to the CDS, among these luminaries Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir William Dickson GCB, KBE, DSO, AFC, Admiral of the Fleet, The Earl Mountbatten of Burma KG, GCB, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO, DSO and Field Marshal Sir Richard Hull. Now it is four-star General Sir Nicholas Carter. While India has given the fifth star to three officers but it was more ornamental and Field Marshals SHFJ Maneckshaw, Field Marshal KM Cariappa and Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh were not given any authority except an extra star on their cars and the singular honour.

The US has a much sharper totem pole and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford is also a four-star. But he has a whole retinue working for him and has profound independence of thought and action. It is not window dressing and he has the clout. Even the president won't mess with the CDS.

There may be some passing concern that the CDS in India will be a teacher’s pet and gradually shift from representing the forces and their priorities to being the voice of the government and imposing its will as well as keeping an eye on the frontline and forwarding recommendations based on his assessment. One has to understand that this officer will have nearly 40 years of service under his belt and will be thorough professional so the favoured son theory should be put on hold and this new rank is given a fair chance. The success will depend on the choice of this person. Whether it is done by seniority, is selected by rotation from the three services will be important because such a person must know the intricacies and special needs of each of the arms.

A good CDS listens to the three chiefs and then advises the government, not vice versa. Herein lies the rub and only time will tell how this otherwise pretty common upgrade in most armies works out in India. He must have stature, the goodwill of his forces, a reputation that is enviable and forged in a strong career, not a fawning lickspittle who echoes his master’s voice and worries more about ‘what after retirement’, a sad trend that has taken root in the higher ranks of the services.

Also, it is not an appointment in isolation. The decision spawns a whole office and set up staffed by at least three or four support officers of the three and two-star rank as well as others of lower rank.

To that extent, it does open up more promotional opportunities in the bottleneck which exists at the top but the efficacy will depend on the government taking the position of the CDS seriously.

Updated Date: Aug 15, 2019 15:00:10 IST