In a move that flings aside nearly two decades of agonising indecision, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi today formally announced that the country’s first ever Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) would be appointed. Modi used the occasion of India’s 73rd Independence Day to make the announcement from Delhi’s Red Fort, a podium that has come to represent a platform for significant policy guidances and future-focused decisions.
“To further sharpen coordination between the forces, I want to announce a major decision from the Red Fort: India will have a Chief of Defence Staff- CDS. This is going to make the forces even more effective,” the PM said as part of a 93-minute speech.
It was in 2001 that a Group of Ministers (GoM) recommended that India create a position for a Chief of Defence Staff. The recommendation was borne from troubling lessons gleaned from the 1999 Kargil conflict between India and Pakistan, a skirmish that India finally won, but not without significant cost. One of the many trouble areas identified was the lack of cohesive interoperability between the three armed forces, and the inability to coordinate fast and effectively. The post-Kargil years resulted instead in the creation of an Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) and the position of Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee — the latter a largely ceremonial position that befell the seniormost of the three chiefs.
It is not clear at this time who the country’s first Chief of Defence Staff will be, or whether the new appointment will follow the terms of reference and powers recommended by the original Group of Ministers, as well as successive committees. Whether the appointment will be a 5-star or 4.5-star post is also unclear at the moment, though the MoD is likely to lay out the details in the coming days.
While the current Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee is IAF chief Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa, he will be succeeded to the appointment at the end of next month by Army chief General Bipin Rawat. Rawat retires at the end of the year.
“The crucial question is where will the Chief of Defence Staff figure in the Indian warrant of precedence. I’m guessing Cabinet Secretary equivalent or MoS equivalent,” says Ashok Malik, who recently completed a term as Press Secretary to the Indian President.
Today’s decision by the Indian PM, coming shortly after the historic move to abrogate Article 370 and bifurcate the erstwhile state of Jammu & Kashmir into two fresh Union Territories, has been in the works for months, with defence reforms a stated priority.
General Ved Prakash Malik, who was Army chief during the Kargil War, said, “This step will make our national security more effective and more economical. It will ensure better jointmanship and multi-disciplinary coordination.”
Lt Gen Satish Dua, Corps Commander in the Kashmir Valley during the decisive 2016 trans-LoC strikes in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir welcomed the announcement today, saying, “One single step that will be a game changer, a great force multiplier.” Lt Gen Dua, who headed the Integrated Defence Staff following his command in the Kashmir Valley had earlier said, “The existing structure for cross-service cooperation is weak and efforts for jointmanship in the military are proceeding slowly, resulting in duplication of efforts, wastage of resources and delay in decision making.”
The original idea for the post of Chief of Defence Staff — the idea that fructified into the recommendation in 2001 — came from the Kargil Review Committee headed by K. Subrahmanyam, whose son S. Jaishankar is now India’s External Affairs Minister.