It has been 270 days since General Bipin Rawat’s death, but the post is vacant.
New Delhi: Almost 270 days since the passing away of General Bipin Rawat, India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), the said post is still lying vacant.
The post of CDS, which is the highest-ranking uniformed officer on active duty, had come into being after decades of the idea being stuck in the discussion and deliberation stage, but never making it to the execution stage, primarily due to the turf war among the three wings and arms of the military.
It was only after Prime Minister Narendra Modi stepped in to remove the age-old blocks and announced his intent on 15 August 2019, that the country got its first CDS in January 2020. The tenure of Rawat could have, if the government decided to, been till March 2023.
The post of CDS has in recent times become more vital in view of the much discussed “two-front” war that India is engaged in with adversaries at its western and eastern borders. China has had a system of having a CDS equivalent officer since January 2016, while Pakistan has a similar system in place since March 1976.
After the untimely death of General Rawat in a helicopter crash, no immediate movement in appointing the next CDS was initiated which suggests that the mandarins at the South Block had not worked on and institutionalised a succession plan for such a vital post. Facing questions from multiple quarters, the defence ministry, in June 2022, came out with a set of new eligibility criteria for the post of CDS which put the maximum age at 62 years and included all serving and retired three-star officers which, according to officials, means that now the decision-makers have a pool of at least 150 officers to choose the next CDS from.
Shortly after this, defence minister Rajanth Singh announced that the process of selecting the new CDS was going on and an announcement in this regard will be made soon. More than two months have passed after this statement by Singh and the government is still in the phase of shortlisting the names for the CDS.
According to sources, the government had to consider multiple factors while deciding on the next CDS which is not just limited to appointing the best man for the job, but also entails taking into consideration the points raised by the army, navy and the air force. The fact that many more options are available now, after the new rules were announced in June, has made the task more challenging.
One factor that the government is being asked to consider from certain quarters is that since the previous CDS was from the army, now the next one should be from either of the two wings (Navy and Air Force) as this will bring in “balance” as far as the combined priorities of the defence requirement are concerned, something which the CDS has to take into account.
“Someone who comes from the army will have more knowledge of the requirements, internal challenges and the solution that the army needs and will use that experience in a broader way to enhance the capabilities of the army. Similar will be the case with the officer who has served in the air force and the navy before chairing the CDS. Hence, it is more prudent for the military as a whole if the said position is filled rotation-wise so that each arm is equally strengthened in different ways in the long run,” an official source said.
Official sources indicated that the deliberations over the next CDS were in its final stage, but refused to give a deadline regarding the announcement of India’s next CDS.