The recommendations of several bodies and committees advocating the setting up of a CDS are well known. In August 2001, when the then Defence Minister Jaswant Singh tried to get going with instituting the post of CDS, the Indian Air Force (IAF) formally conveyed to the Defence Ministry its serious misgivings. It had doubts about the restructuring exercise being conducted under the aegis of then Special Adviser (Defence), Arun Singh, who was reportedly keen on hastening the appointment of a CDS, on which the Finance Ministry and the Cabinet Secretariat had expressed some reservations. IAF top brass were allegedly apprehensive that once restructured, it would erode the identity of the IAF.
In the recent past Defence Minister AK Antony wrote to political parties to get their views on creating a post of CDS and also sought the advice of a committee headed by National Security Adviser (NSA) Shivshankar Menon on the issue. As per the recommendations of the two Committees, the CDS or the permanent Chairman of the tri-services was to be the single-point of advise on military matters for the government. While Mr. Antony has made the move, it is reported that Defence Ministry –at least its civil bureaucracy itself – has some reservations on the issue of giving sweeping powers as proposed for the CDS by the two committees.
According to Lt Gen Prakash Katoch writing in the latest Indian Defence Review, the recommendation of a Permanent Chairman of COSC was obviously meant to put the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) as recommended by the Kargil Review committee in cold storage for next few years, if not decades. But the bureaucrats had foreseen and catered for that eventuality also. The official document under which Headquarters Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) was raised, says that as and when a CDS is appointed, he will have equal voting rights in all matters at par with the Service Chiefs and if two Service Chiefs disagree with the CDS the arbitrator will be MoD, latter construed as the bureaucracy. The mere fact that such a clause had to be inserted by MoD bureaucrats implies they have debarred in perpetuity the CDS from being a single point advisor to the Defence Minister (read political authority).
Obviously, the Permanent Chairman of COSC will be far less effective. For such a post or the current one continuing with the senior most of the three Chiefs appointed as the Chairman COSC can only succeed under prime ministers like Indira Gandhi, who was quite clear, about how to respond to the Chinese at Nathu La, Sikkim in 1967 and then the way she interacted with the military leadership during the build-up and conduct of the 1971 India- Pakistan War. If ever post Independence India came anywhere close to the Kautilian/Chanakyan modes, it was then.
When Israeli sportsmen were captured and killed by Black September in Munich, in 1972, Israel responded to the killers’ release with Operation “Spring of Youth” and Operation “Wrath of God” during which Israeli intelligence agency Mossad and special forces systematically tracked down and killed Palestinians suspected of involvement in the massacre. It took the US ten years after 9/11 to kill Osama bin Laden, but they did. In India, whether it is the attack on Mumbai or beheading of soldiers on the LoC, all that emanates from our political leadership are pathetic platitudes.
How more heinous and how much more attacks will India have to face from within, from across borders or externally directed etc, to straighten its political spine and structure its military machine to be considered a force to reckon with, despite having the potential of that capability.