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CDS Finally Coming

August 22, 2019 By Lt. General P.C. Katoch (Retd) Photo(s): By PIB
The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army


The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi addressing the Nation on the occasion of 73rd Independence Day from the ramparts of Red Fort, in Delhi on August 15, 2019.

In his characteristic style, Prime Minister Narendra Modi surprised the nation on August 15 by announcing India will have a CDS to head the Army, Navy and Air Force. This has set off speculation in scholars, strategists and defence circles. But the IAS lobby appears in tizzy; who have conveyed they would not accept dilution of the appointment of Defence Secretary and IAS would not work under the military. IAS arrogance can be gauged from the fact that of the posts of two joint secretaries (one each for IFS and IAS) in HQ IDS since 2004, IAS has never filled up that post till date. The perception that the services didn't want CDS and ear of military coup, are both wrong. Chairing a tri-service meet at HQ IDS on September 8, 2005, Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee was told by the Chairman COSC & Naval Chief, the Army Chief and the Officiating Air Chief unanimously that CDS is essential and must be given full operational powers over the military in order to make him effective. If any service chief in following years made a statement to the contrary, it was on behest IAS and looking at post retirement benefits, which governments could have easily ignored.

As to bogey of military coup, successive defence ministers have ruled out such possibility. Appointing CDS had to be a political decision, which has now been taken. Government has appointed an 'Implementation Committee' for CDS which is to submit its recommendations by November. Whether members of this committee are all IAS is not known. However, government must acknowledge past IAS machinations associated with CDS. The CCS note under which HQ IDS was raised has a mischievous line stating, "As and when a CDS is appointed, he will have equal voting rights as Service Chief, and in case of disagreement by two Service Chiefs, arbitration will be done by MoD". There are no dissent notes by Army Commanders and equivalent within the Army, Navy and Air Force in sending their recommendations up to HQ IDS / MoD. Then why is such provision for the CDS? Obvious aim of IAS is to dilute the CDS and retain control. The basis of raising HQ IDS was for it to be part of MoD but the IAS lobby succeeded in preventing merger; retaining it like a separate Service HQ. MoD remains unique in the world; manned exclusively by generalist bureaucrats and even remained untouched with Modi government's lateral induction of joint secretaries in ministries-departments.

Military integration must include total reorganisation of MoD Mohan Guruswamy, Chairman and Founder, Centre for Policy Alternatives, recommends that CDS must be Principal Military Advisor to government and government's sole point of communication with military, the three Service Chiefs should report to CDS, Defence Secretary should be Secretary to COSC chaired by CDS, and CDS should be MoS rank. These sound recommendations, in addition to merging MoD and HQ IDS, merit serious attention by the Prime Minister even though the 'Implementation Committee' may recommend only cosmetic changes. The CDS must be permanent member of CCS and must have direct access to the Prime Minister, in addition to parallel reporting to the NSA. This is not a reflection on the present Prime Minister Modi-NSA Ajit Doval equation, but necessary due actions of NSAs in the past, examples of which are: stonewalling appointment of CDS in concert IAS; not forcing MoD-HQ IDS merger; India caught unawares when royal massacre in Nepal occurred despite HQ IDS sending detailed study to NSA three months in advance how events in Nepal would likely unfold in five phases; not entertaining presentations by HQ IDS to two different NSAs how military can help draft National Security Strategy; asking Afghanistan wish list for assistance and then arbitrarily cutting 50 per cent without discussion; inserting reference of Balochistan in India-Pakistan declaration at Sharm-el-Sheikh despite no such mention in the draft forwarded by our High Commission in Islamabad, and; perception building for India to vacate Saltoro Range despite great strategic disadvantage to India. In latter two instances, NSAs concerned were obviously obliging Islamabad and Beijing. NSA heads both the DPC and the SPG, holds cabinet minister rank but is not answerable to Parliament. But the CDS must also have direct access to Prime Minister for abovementioned reasons and because he would execute mandatory revolution in military affairs emanating from the political apex; Prime Minister. Creation of Integrated Theatre Commands and Integrated Functional Commands plus horizontal and vertical military integration would be natural fallouts. Injection of synergy between Services in doctrinal, planning, procurement and operational matters would require CDS to be given full operational powers, leaving 'staff' issues with Service Chiefs, as designations of COAS, CNS and CAS denote.

The CDS should reduce the burden of NSA who should focus more on policies like that for sub-conventional warfare capacity building at the national level rather than getting involved in issues like defence procurements. Our adverse strategic asymmetry vis-à-vis Pakistan and China in sub-conventional capacity should not be brushed aside with 'surgical strikes' and 'Balakot'. The IAS would want CDS to simply replace the rotational Chairman COSC, keeping the MoD untouched. CDS may report to NSA, Theatre Commands may be formed, but the CDS, with current CIDS Secretariat, will be an enlarged version of the old Military Wing of Cabinet Secretariat which earlier was under COSC, who in turn was under MoD. The CDS, therefore, will remain a toothless tiger even though media propaganda would showcase it as comprehensive reform. IAS in MoD has held governments to ransom due reasons like: privy to skeletons and scams; money making (individual, collective and for party funds to finance elections) through imports and governmental defence-industrial complex, and; appropriation of defence land for vote-bank politics. Prime Minister Modi has emphasised many times that his government has had no corruption cases. That being the case, he should be able to fend off the IAS lobby and provide the nation with a CDS that is truly effective. He must also amend the Allocation of Business & Transaction of Business Rules Act 1961 by making the Defence Minister responsible for defence of India, instead of the Defence Secretary; continued British era legacy.