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Modi gives India CDS, its biggest defence reform — what it means & how it’ll work

CDS will be the point person for govt on the three services. He will also drive the acquisition & modernisation process. Army chief Rawat is frontrunner.

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New Delhi: Army Chief General Bipin Rawat is the front-runner to become India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), a new position announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi that is the biggest defence reform in independent India.

The move will pave the way for an integrated military, with the CDS being the prime minister’s point person on national defence issues.

“Our forces are India’s pride. To further sharpen coordination between the forces, I want to announce a major decision. India will have a Chief of Defence Staff. This is going to make the forces even more effective,” Modi said in his Independence Day speech Thursday.

Top sources in the defence and security establishment told ThePrint that the PM’s announcement is more like an “in-principle approval”, and that modalities to create the CDS post are being worked out. They said the decision had been pending for two decades, since the Kargil conflict in 1999, but the process could now be completed in one to three months.

Sources said Rawat is the front-runner even though Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa is the senior-most of the three service chiefs. Dhanoa is set to retire on 30 September, while Rawat will superannuate on 31 December.

Sources said the National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), headed by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, had been working on this for the last three months, and had briefed the PM multiple times.

Also read: PM Modi pushes $5 trillion GDP goal but doesn’t talk about addressing slowdown

Question of seniority

It is not yet clear whether the new CDS will be a five-star officer, or a four-star officer who is first among equals since the service chiefs are four-star officers.

It is also not clear whether the CDS will be at par with or above the Cabinet Secretary, the senior-most civil servant in the country. Sources said in all likelihood, the two posts would be at par.

What it means for the Indian armed forces

The CDS will act as the sole adviser to the government on all the three services. While exact modalities are yet to be firmed up or made public, sources said all procurement matters will come under the CDS, as will budgetary allocation for the three services.

“The modernisation process will be driven by the CDS. The picture will be clear once the prime minister approves the modalities,” a source said.

The CDS is aimed at bringing integration, which PM Modi has stressed on multiple times. Chairing the Combined Commanders Conference in 2015 on board the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, Modi had rolled out his plan for the military, which he said should be agile, mobile and driven by technology, not just human valour.

“We should promote jointness across every level of our armed forces. We wear different colours, but we serve the same cause and bear the same flag. Jointness at the top is a need that is long overdue,” he had said.

20-year-old demand

The CDS post was first recommended after the 1999 Kargil conflict to ensure better coordination between the three services.

A high-level committee headed by K. Subrahmanyan, which was set up to examine the gaps in the country’s security structure, had recommended a CDS-like structure.

A Group of Ministers formed in 2001 and headed by the then Deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani studied the recommendations of the Kargil review committee and proposed the CDS, which it said should be headed by a five-star officer.

In 2012, the Naresh Chandra Task Force had recommended creating the post of a permanent chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC), which comprises the Army, Navy and Air Force chiefs. The senior-most among them would act as chairman.

In 2016, then-defence minister Manohar Parrikar told reporters that he was in favour of the CDS, and said a proposal would be made to the prime minister.

A question on whether the government plans to create the post of CDS also came up in Parliament in February 2018. The government, in its reply, had said: “Creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) was recommended by Group of Ministers in 2001. A decision in this regard was to be taken after consultation with political parties. Subsequently, Naresh Chandra Task Force on National Security recommended creation of the post of Permanent Chairman Chief of Staff Committee in 2012. Both the proposals are simultaneously under consideration of the government.”

Currently, major countries like the US, France, the UK and China all have a Chief of Defence Staff.

Also read: Did in 70 days what others failed at for 70 years: Modi cheers Article 370 move on I-Day


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  1. The Supreme Commander Ram Nath Kovind is right person. He will do what govt wants with no question asked.

  2. This is a great move but the CDS must have teeth
    This will be against the interests of the IAS and be scuttled by the bureaucrats.
    The IAS wants to rule the roost over all services it will not loosen its grip so easily.
    The appointment of an RSS man without the intellect and vision to reform is a mistake.
    A young General should be appointed to the post with tenure of at least 5 years he must be above cabinet secretary rank and have the power to make unpopular Changes.
    These reforms will take at least ten years as jointness and integration must go right down to junior levels.
    Radical steps must be taken the army must be cut in half.
    You need a powerful CDS to carry out such drastic reforms.
    I don’t see that happening.
    Be prepared for the IAS to fight to maintain the status quo
    The appointment may turn out to be just cosmetic, with nothing changed and the bureaucrats still obdurate, self serving and controlling the defence services from their desks.

      The Defence chiefs always during the British times outranked the Cabinet Secretary, the British set up the institution of the Indian army.
      Secretaries as the name applied originated as a scribe to the King in the United Kingdom, a letter writer who would convey the wishes of the king, a pen pusher who kept records and looked after the administration.
      So there is nothing sacrosanct about the cabinet secretary.
      The IAS exam is not a scientific selection for leadership and merit, the cadre should be abolished. Western countries do not have a powerful equivalent to the IAS, the actual leaders are taken on the basis of past performance in various fields, the most distinguished doctor can become the medical advisor, the most distinguished academic become the economic advisor to the government..
      In the UK the various secretaries look after departments, it’s a respectable profession but hardly high status, they are in the true sense civil servants with the emphasis on Servant. Power is with the people through representatives in local government and via MPs and Ministers.
      It’s our colonial legacy that has given the IAS such high status and power, the clerks have taken over, they wield power by the imposition of rules and permissions. Their interest lies in blocking. To unblock the citizen has to beg the IAS via paperwork, the bureaucracy sit on files, because delay means desperation which only these elevated clerks can ease.
      There should be lateral entry in all ranks of the IAS by people who have proved by their track records are able to deliver policy, promotion should be strictly on merit, like any co orporation it should be easy to dismiss an IAS Officer.
      The country should be run by specialists not generalists, we are not administrating a colony and a subjected people, we are now a democracy.
      Sardar Patel caused a grave injustice he failed to abolished the whip of power used to enslave Indians, the Indian Civil Service.
      Instead politicians handed the whip hand of colonialism to the IAS. Along with the sense of entitlement and lack of responsibility to the people. Rules that made this cadre unsackable and its promotion system not measured against performance.

      • Correct analysis. In fact the IAS and the lower bureaucracy not only act as blockers but also end up doing a lot of unnecessary work, thanks to our convoluted laws, rules and regulations. Time to get rid of the IAS. Other than getting ranked as the worst bureaucracy on the planet, it hasn’t achieved much. India needs deep rooted administrative reforms.

      • Perfectly stated in both your comments, and especially your statement “The country should be run by specialists not generalists, we are not administrating a colony and a subjected people, we are now a democracy..”

        Governments are typically slow whatever be the country, but this is much more true for India where any attempt to reform well entrenched legacy power centres is rife with political intrigue due to huge stakes. The fans of Raghuram Rajan must shed their hypocrisy and acknowledge that the current system is corroded and must be transformed with lateral entry.

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