By Cecil Victor
The idea of a post of Chief of Defence Staff for the Armed Forces has been with us since the creation of India as an independent sovereign nation in 1947. Since then it has been mooted -- and shelved -- by all political entities at the helm in New Delhi.
The “deep selection” of the current Chief of Army Staff raised speculation that finally the National Democratic Alliance led by the Bharatiya Janata Party will take the plunge on an issue that it has itself sanctified through the Group of Ministers appointed to vet the Kargil Review Committee Report.
In 2001, the Group of Ministers, consisting of Home Minister L.K. Advani, Defence Minister George Fernandes, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh and Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha, removed one of the perceived major roadblocks to the creation of the post of CDS by equating the post of Defence Secretary and the proposed CDS within the Order of Precedence (the official pecking order of government personnel).
This was supposed to bring about the much-talked-about “synergy” between the Army, Navy and the Indian Air Force which was a lesson learned during the World War when Gallipoli became a disaster because of absence of synergy between the three Services within the Allied Command. “Synergy” in the modern battlefield concept is a dovetailed military effort by the Army, Navy and the Air Force to achieve the destruction and defeat of the enemy in the shortest of time. Ditto between the civilian and military bureaucracy.
India learned that lesson with abundant gratification during the Bangladesh campaign of 1971 when General Sam Manekshaw first sought and obtained more time to prepare for the impending war and then finished it off with the liberation of Bangladesh in 13 days flat.
Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, it is believed, was ready to appoint as CDS the man she chose as the first Field Marshal of India for his great victory. There could have been no better choice both within the seniority matrix or in the merit framework. But it was Manekshaw’s famous ebullience that soured the pitch when he was quoted as saying ‘my Air Force’ which raised the hackles of the other participant in the Bangladesh victory – Air Chief Marshal P.C. Lal who opposed the CDS on grounds that the IAF would be reduced to the coat-tails of the Army instead of being an equal partner.
In its attempt to break the logjam, the Group of Ministers sought to create a “synergy” between the civilian and military bureaucracies equating the Defence Secretary and the proposed CDS. Its formulation was: “The Defence Secretary will function as the ‘Principal Defence Adviser’ to the Defence Minister in a manner similar to the role to be performed by the CDS as the ‘Principal Military Adviser' and both will enjoy the equivalent status in terms of their working relationship as distinct from the Warrant of Precedence….The purpose of this arrangement is to ensure that the aspect of Warrant of Precedence does not vitiate the working environment of the Ministry.”
That was as neat a way of avoiding the pitfall of the already enacted Curzon-Kitchener controversy where the British government in Whitehall gave precedence to General Kitchener -- the ‘jangi’ (war) ‘Laat’ (Lord) or Military Member in the Cabinet in India -- over the civilian arm of the British government in India – Governor General Lord Curzon -- thereby setting a precedence for military superiority that, understandably, worried the Indian political leadership in the runup to Independence.
Moreover, as an experiment in “jointness”, a unified command was created by upgrading the Fortress Command, Andaman and Nicobar Islands to that of a tri-Service Command with the helm occupied by all the three Services in rotation.
Created in 2001, it remains the only joint command in the Indian military pantheon largely because the crawl to the CDS has been interrupted by the suggestion for a Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. It is supposed to be a sort of half-way house between the Chiefs of Staff Committee (in which the three Chiefs share pre-eminence in rotation) and the CDS.
In hindsight, the Group of Ministers may well have shot themselves in the foot by suggesting in its rationale for the CDS post “To provide single-point Military Advice to the Government”. Included is the formulation for collegiate confabulations to cater to the interests of the respective Services. It is now being pointed out that where does all this fit in with the concept of “Single point advice”
The other reasons for the creation of the CDS were:
-- To administer the Strategic Forces (Nuclear)
-- To enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning process through intra- and inter-Service prioritisation.
-- To ensure required jointness in the Armed Forces.
The rationale for the creation of a Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (as suggested by the Naresh Chandra Committee) is to bolster the creation of the Hq Integrated Defence Staff. Things have not changed at all given the comments of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar as recent as 2015 that “There is no integration mechanism that exists between the three services and there is a lot of infighting amongst them. I will recommend a mechanism for the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS.)
When he took the unusual course of a “deep selection” to appoint the next Chief of Army Staff it was to be expected that he would keep his promise. May be he will do it when the Chief of the Naval Staff (who currently holds the seat of Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee) retires in February. May be.
(Cecil Victor is a veteran journalist and security analyst)