Unlike the posts of commanding officers of Indian Army, Indian Air Force, and Indian Navy, the line of succession is not drawn out for the CDS. This means there is no second-in-command to Bipin Rawat who can officiate in the interim period in his absence.

India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, passed away on December 8 in a tragic helicopter crash in Tamil Nadu. His untimely and sudden demise shook the nation and also created a vacuum that needs to be filled at the earliest.

The post of the Chief of Defence Staff was created by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government at the Centre and by the end of December 2019, the country had formally got its first CDS, General Bipin Rawat.

Unlike in the case of the commanding officers of the three defence services—Indian Army, Indian Air Force, and Indian Navy—the line of succession was not drawn out for the CDS. Meaning, there is no second-in-command or vice-chief to Bipin Rawat who can officiate in the interim period in his absence. So, while the tenure of the CDS has been outlined (Rawat's ended in March 2023) by the Centre, the line of succession hasn’t.

Therefore, with no fixed rules in place, it will be the government’s task to decide who would succeed Rawat. The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which is headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will pick India’s next CDS. The CCS convened an emergency meeting last evening after General Bipin Rawat’s death news broke and according to a News 18 report, the decision will be made within one week.

People familiar with the development have said that the government will draw up a small panel comprising senior commanders from the Army, the Navy and the Air Force. The panel will be finalised based on recommendations from the three services in the next two to three days and then it will be sent to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh for approval.

Following the approval by the defence minister, the names will be sent for consideration by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet that will take the final decision on India’s next Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), those familiar with the development said.

The commanding officers of the Indian Army, Indian Air Force, and the Indian Navy will be eligible for the post and the final decision will be based on both merit and seniority of the officers. By that logic, Army Chief General MM Naravane could become India’s new Chief of Defence Staff.

A PTI report quoted a host of retired military commanders as saying that it would be prudent to appoint Army Chief General MM Naravane as the next Chief of Defence Staff. Naravane is set to retire in five months.

They said the Chief Of Integrated Defence Staff to the Chairman Chiefs Of Staff Committee (CISC) is likely to coordinate the process of drawing up the panel of prospective candidates for the post of the Chief of Defence Staff.

The other possibility is that the Chairman IDS (Integrated Defence Staff) to the Chairman COSC (CISC) – in this case, Air Marshal BR Krishna -- whose rank is equivalent to that of a Vice Chief of service (not officially) succeeds General Bipin Rawat as the new CDS.