India’s first Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, his wife Madhulika and 12 other military personnel died in a helicopter accident on December 8, 2021. The office of CDS has been vacant for nearly three weeks even as the government has announced its intention to appoint a successor. Managing Editor Sandeep Unnithan spoke to Vice-Admiral Pradeep Kaushiva, former Commandant National Defence College (NDC), on the delays and determinants in the appointment of the second CDS.

1. Why The Delay?

In all likelihood, this has nothing to do with the selection process and everything to do with politico-administrative expediency. Any choice exercised by the government would probably have dominated all parliamentary proceedings for the remainder of the ongoing Winter Session. Besides bringing all legislative work to a stand-still, the parliamentary exchanges may not have been beneficial for rank and file of the nation’s defence services. Gazing at the crystal ball, perhaps the most suitable time to make the announcement would be between Christmas and New Year so everybody can get on with work. In any case, the defence forces’ stand-in arrangements innately ensure that the nation is never ‘less defended’ during any gaps in government announcements.

2. What Are The Factors That Will Be Considered In The Selection Of The Second CDS?

Selection of the chief of the nation’s defence services is an exclusive preserve of the nation’s Chief Executive. The bureaucratic procedure to do so is relatively easy to outline but, given its very nature, the process is complex and determinants, though mostly intangible and indefinable, are vital contributors. Choosing the successor to the very first CDS would need to be very carefully calibrated, not only for itself but also for the precedents that it would set. It is a given that the contenders for the topmost leadership of militaries would all be professional top notchers. Each one of them may bring different experiences, exposures, personal attributes, interpersonal relationship and leadership styles and, indeed, visions but, in sum, there would be hardly anything to differentiate one from the other. Public listing, attribution and comparisons of these factors among the possible contenders is not only speculative but also outright irresponsible because nobody outside the system knows all the facts about everyone.

The Government does not owe an explanation to anyone for the selections of top military leadership that it makes or does not make. Announcement of its choice itself is a complete and comprehensive statement because any rationale or justification that is given, becomes subject to entirely unwarranted discussions while also inherently downplaying the attributes of other contenders. This is an entirely unacceptable undermining of military leadership at the apex level.

3. On The Speculation That The Government Is Possibly Trying To Identify The Most Compliant Candidate

This can only be termed puerile if not outright laughable for two reasons. Firstly, it presupposes the Government’s predisposition to receiving professional advice from less than the best military leader available. Governments may hope for comfort levels in working relationships but no responsible government would seek it at the cost of the very best military advice, in its own assessment, that it can get.

Second, it underestimates the patriotism and professionalism of the stable of thoroughbreds, one of whom will make the final cut. To a military man, patriotism goes far beyond mere waving of the flag or slogan mouthing. He unexceptionably does everything that would defend, protect and project the nation’s military interests while remaining steadfast within the boundaries of the Constitution to which he swears allegiance. At the top rung of the professional ladder, Indian military leaders in the 21st century will not make concessions, real or imagined, that could remotely undermine the tiniest strand of the nation’s military capability only to return even real favours.

The political leadership knows it only too well and draws confidence from it. Some of them may play occasional politics with military matters and choices but that can be generally disregarded. The man on the street can draw comfort that whoever the Government chooses as the next CDS will perform second to none in delivering the established charter.

India Today