Author : Manoj Joshi

Originally Published 2020-01-02 08:15:57 Published on Jan 02, 2020
CDS Rawat to face hurdles & sabotage unless rules are rewritten

Being the first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) gives General Bipin Rawat two great advantages. First, he will be writing on a blank slate and can therefore leave his own imprint on the office that comes with onerous and multi-faceted responsibilities. Second, he has the trust of the current political establishment and has been hand-picked by the National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval.

But, even so, he will need enormous will, bureaucratic guile, and a generous measure of good luck to succeed.

Some of the areas of responsibility given to Rawat, listed in the 24 December notification, are new, but most of what he is being asked to do is currently the responsibility of others. So, he will have to systematically prise them out of their hands and reorganise the manner in which they are done.

First Among Equals

At one level, the issue involves his erstwhile colleagues – the chiefs of the Army, Navy and Air Force. At another, they relate to the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), which currently runs the Ministry of Defence.

While the Service Chiefs have long been used to being their own bosses on matters military, and the powerful IAS babus have kept military expertise at bay in the MOD, things will have to change and that will not be an easy process.

At each stage, he will face obstruction and even sabotage. And there will be limits to the extent he can run to Doval or the prime minister to get help.

The CDS, who will also be the Permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (PCCSC) does not have a higher rank; he is like the other Service chiefs, a four-star general.

But as the government notification details, there are a myriad of little ways in which he is very much primus inter pares or the first among equals, something the existing chiefs have not been used to.

When it comes to their own Service, the chief’s word is law, but now the government has clearly ordered the CDS/PCCSC to wade in and change things in the interests of jointness and “reducing wasteful expenditure.”

Role of Department of Military Affairs

The new Department of Military Affairs (DMA), which he will head, is tasked with dealing with the “armed forces of the Union”, the army, navy and air force HQs, the territorial army, works relating to the three Services and the procurement arising out of the revenue budget such as rations, ammunition, spares and POL (petrol, oil and lubricants).

The new DMA has also been inserted into the civilian MoD. Just what kind of shape the DMA will assume is difficult to say. But you can be sure it will have a significant component of uniformed personnel and expertise.

This will not be easy for the babus, because till now, they have been used to dealing with uniformed personnel at a distant, through their principal weapon – procedure and process, though not substance.

The 24 December press release is not clear on whether the CDS/PCCSC will be a Secretary of the Department in the formal sense, just as the Defence Secretary, Secretary Defence Production and the Secretary, Research and Development are.

The notification speaks of the CDS being the “head” of the Department of Military Affairs, not Secretary.

If he were Secretary, it would create an anomaly since the CDS as well as the army, navy and air force chiefs already outranks the Defence Secretary in protocol terms. The three Service chiefs are supposed to be the equivalent of the Cabinet Secretary and get the same remuneration.

Ideally, the current Chief of Integrated Defence Staff (CISC), who is of a Lieutenant General rank, ought to be designated the Secretary. Currently, the CISC serves the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Now, the CDS will be the Permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee and the CISC will be his deputy of sorts.

Under Direct Watch of NSA

Besides his fellow chiefs and secretaries, the CDS/PCCSC will also have to contend with the ‘shadow CDS’ – National Security Adviser Doval. It may be recalled that in early 2018, the government had constituted a Defence Planning Committee (DPC) under the NSA.

The DPC was given widespread powers relating to the country’s national security strategy, the defence production base, boosting defence exports, prioritising capability development plans and so on.

Though these are areas of a wider remit, there could be places where the CDS’ responsibilities create friction with those of the NSA. There is no protocol problem here though, since the NSA, who has a Cabinet rank, clearly outranks the CDS/PCCSC.

By appointing the CDS/PCCSC, the Modi government has gone where others feared to tread. No one, in any case, would accuse the government of pusillanimity on any issue. What remains to be seen is just how serious it is in the steps that it has taken.

To be frank, till now, barring the use of armed forces to promote its own hyper-nationalistic agenda, the government has done little for them. Budgets have been drifting downwards and key acquisitions have been languishing. On the other hand, there has been a disturbing tendency of military officers to hold forth on political issues.

So, the sincerity of the government to restructure and reform the defence system will become apparent only if we see them push ahead with changes in the Allocation of Business Rules (AOBR), Transaction of Business Rules (TOBR), and the Civil Service (Classification, Control & Appeal) Rules.

Rules and Responsibilities

Under the AOBR, the Department of Defence of the MoD has been given the responsibility of the “defence of India and every part thereof including preparation for defence and all such acts as may be conductive in times of war to its prosecution.”

The accompanying TOBR makes it clear that the “Secretary” of the Department of Defence “shall be the administrative head thereof and shall be responsible for the proper transaction of business.”

These rules, issued in the name of the President, are the core algorithm on which the defence of the country rests. Indeed, the AOBR is silent on the responsibilities of the three chiefs.

This is where the IAS babus derive their authority from. Changes are needed, too, in the CCS (CCA) Rules if civilian babus are to work under military officers in the new Department of Military Affairs.

Unless these rules are rewritten to reflect the letter and spirit of the government’s Christmas eve notification, Rawat will find that his hands are tied. At every turn, he will confront the rule-book.

On the other hand, if suitable changes are made, his path will become that much easier.

This commentary originally appeared in The Quint.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.


Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow at the ORF. He has been a journalist specialising on national and international politics and is a commentator and ...

Read More +