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Govt delays naming new army chief: will it create Chief of Defence Staff post?

Catch Team | Updated on: 14 December 2016, 22:21 IST

Why is the Central government delaying the appointment of General Dalbir Singh Suhag's successor as the Chief of Army Staff?

Defence circles are rife with speculation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi may finally appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) - a first in the history of India.

However, informed sources suggest that the decision may have been held back in order to define the roles and responsibilities of the new position, and if it will lead to a devolution of the power of the service chiefs.

There are multiple complexities which need to be thrashed out before the government takes this important decision, even though PM Modi is seen as someone who would walk the talk on the issue of carrying out reforms in the defence establishment.

Creating the new post of CDS has been in the works for a while now, and all three arms of the services are said to be on board with this proposal.

However, there is a good chance that this may take a while yet, and that the government will have to appoint a new army chief in the interim.

File at the PMO

Defence Minister Manohar Parikkar said in an interview to a daily that the appointment of the CDS would be a political decision, and would only be taken once he studies the Shekatkar committee reporton defence spending and combat readiness, submitted in October.

Parrikar has already stated that the file for the appointment of the new army chief is with the PMO, and the important Appointments Committee of the Cabinet will decide on the name of the new chief.

The government has also reportedly claimed that it may have been deferring the decision for it did not want to create alternate power centres by announcing the name much in advance. However, this suggestion does not seem to cut ice.

Tradition suggests that the name of the successor is announced about two months in advance. At this time, the army chief-designate takes over as the vice-chief to allow a smooth transition, and not to create alternate power centres.

The question of seniority

Appointments have mostly been based on seniority. By that logic, Lt General Praveen Bakshi, the head of the Eastern Command, should have been the obvious choice.

However, the appointment of the Southern Command's Lt Gen Bipin Rawat (who is junior to Bakshi) as the vice chief has added fuel to the rumour mills on whether seniority will be overlooked this time.

However, Rawat's appointment as vice-chief has also led to speculation that Bakshi will be named the CDS.

While Bakshi belongs to the armoured corps, Rawat comes from the Infantry division, which has given the army many of its recent chiefs, including the outgoing General Suhag, who retires on 1 January.

On the question of seniority, recent moves by the government in other appointments are being seen as a signal. In the case of the Central Bureau of Investigation, for example, Rupak Dutta was moved to the Home Ministry, allowing Rakesh Asthana to take over as interim director.

However, it is unlikely that the government would like to take too many liberties with the army, lest it become a reason for resentment - that too at a time of heightened hostilities with Pakistan.

Also, there are other important appointments on which the government is yet to decide, like in the case of the Director of the Intelligence Bureau, and the Chief of the Research and Analysis Wing, which, in the past, have been named well in advance too.

The need for a joint command

Since taking over as PM, Modi has talked about the need for reform for better management and decision making.

The post of CDS already exists in most modern military set-ups, including the US, where it came about during the term of President Ronald Reagan.

Moreover, the Indian defence establishment is due for more reforms, especially in the light of K Subramaniam's Kargil Review Committee report.

Lt Gen Ata Hasnain, in a recent article, wrote about how, "in 2001, as an interim acceptance of the Kargil Review Committee recommendations, the Government of India created the HQ Integrated Defence Staff or HQ IDS."

While "planning, procurement, doctrine, intelligence, training and even joint operations came under its purview, service-specific issues in the same realms continued to dominate the organisational narrative".

Former senior military personnel point out how, in today's day and age, when traditional warfare has given way to newer forms, including the new threat in the cyber world, a joint command is a necessity, and that no single service can claim primacy.

"The problem is that 2001 to 2016 is a long period to experiment and not act in the true and honest interest of jointness," Lt Gen Hasnain wrote.

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

First published: 14 December 2016, 22:21 IST
 
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