The recent announcement by the Ministry of Defence, that India would not appoint a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), or what the media referred to as a ‘Super-General’, has come as a surprise considering the fact that this is a long standing need, and now more so, as India is perhaps the only nuclear weapon state that doesn’t have a CDS or its equivalent. More so as it was recommended by the Kargil Review Committee and more recently, so did the Naresh Chandra Committee, on National Security. The official reason was that the current system – under which each service chief gets a chance to be CDS on a rotational basis – is working well enough. But this is far from the truth. The reality is that the bureaucrats continue to play on the fear of India’s politicians that a CDS could be another step towards the military consolidating its hold on national security matters. In fact, the military brass has lived with their petered down role , ever Pandit Nehru – fearing a coup – had made the bureaucracy supreme, made all three armed service chief’s as chief’s of staff, and went on to appoint a series of unimpressive defence ministers – Sardar Baldev Singh, Mahavir Tyagi, Kailash Nath Katju – perhaps to consolidate his own hold over the military, which eventually saw the embarrassing fallout in the 1962 conflict, under Krishna Menon , Nehru’s friend and intellectual comrade.
In fact, as per the Govt. of India’s rules of business, it is the defence secretary who is responsible for the defence of India, and not the service chiefs! He is thus the de-facto CDS. And though some of them have expressed their frustration with the current system, none in recent memory have spoken out against the existing system. The odd one has in fact echoed the views of the ‘babus’ and thus have supported the bureaucratic view, that the forces are a divided lot with each service keen to have its chief as the first CDS! And even though the armed forces have enjoyed considerable operational freedom, India – despite being a nuclear power – has a situation quite unlike anywhere else in the world, where all major decisions on the use of force including nuclear weapons and defence procurements rest with the civilians, whether it is the political leaders or the generalist bureaucracy.
Even well thought through recommendations of the Service Headquarters are questioned by the civilian bureaucracy, whose knowledge of matters military leaves a lot to be desired. But the ‘Babus’ in the MoD won’t let go. What India desperately needs is a full time CDS, a four star level officer from any of the three services, and not necessarily senior to the three service chief’s, who’ve opposed a CDS in the past for fear of losing their importance. The CDS would then be the one point of constant military advise to the defence minister, just like the National Security Adviser (NSA) is to the prime minister. For a country that is expected to play a global role – and the US certainly needs India’s help in Afghanistan and in the Indian ocean – we cannot bumble along without a serious understanding of what India’s hard currencies of military power are. India has tough neighbours – China and Pakistan – who will continue to spring surprises.
Today, while India’s Ministry of Defence calls itself the ‘Integrated Headquarters of Defence’, in reality the three services having adopted and published their separate war fighting doctrines – though their roles do differ a great deal – to project their importance, but we have no joint doctrine! A possibility could be to have the CDS, be the Chief of Integrated staff ( currently held in rotation by a three star officer) with a four star status, and he could then provide the military inputs to the Defence Minister without stepping on the toes of the service chiefs. Until then, India’s ability to play a bigger role would continue to be questioned.
Maroof Raza is a commentator on strategic affairs. To know more about the author visit: www. maroofraza.com