Institutional reform with smart budgets is way forward

There has been flurry of reactions, on appointment of General Anil Chauhan as the second Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). The most notable aspect is that government has overcome inertia, determined detractors and queuing effect, to restore faith in this concept. In the intervening period of 10-odd months, speculation was rife. It was even rumoured that lobbies have convinced government to scrap CDS and revert to erstwhile Chairman Chief of Staff Committee.

Yet, another theory was that delay was in effect, designed to rule out few ‘unsuitable’ aspirants.

The stark reality is that there is noticeable lag and large gaps in appointments in apex slots. It will be realistic to assume that combination of factors — opposition, suitability and queuing, in varying proportion, contributed to delay. However, latency was most avoidable, specially with unresolved crisis, on LAC. It is indeed worrying that our system in its 75th year is unable to orchestrate seamless transition. The old maxim, ‘King is no more, long live the King’, should be enforced, specially in security forces. Ideally, we should adopt ‘deep selection’, based on welldefined qualitative requirements, enabling right exposure to short-listed candidates.

The only saving grace is that new CDS with experience of military advisor to National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS), headed by National Security Agency (NSA), does not need any familiarisation. He can hit the track, running hard. His intricate knowledge of China and counter-terrorism, are his key attributes.

In the intervening period, eligibility criteria for CDS was revised to include all Lt Gens. Retired ones, below 62 years of age, were also made eligible.
Such defining changes should be driven by rational criteria, dictated by system requirements. Ideally, CDS should have minimum two years tenure, extendable by another year. The same logic should be applied to make all retiring Chiefs, below 63 years eligible for consideration.
Superannuated officers, unless appointed in role like Gen Chauhan, lose currency in one year. Hence, age for Lt Gens needs to be brought down to 61 years, i. e. within one year of superannuation. It will also be appropriate to restrict the panel to operational Army Commanders and equivalent in Navy and Air Force.

It may seem discordant, but wars are seldom won by risk averse and compliant commanders. In our context, victories have been anchored by non-conformists and mavericks like FM Sam Manekshaw, Gen Harbaksh and Gen Sagat. The most relevant question is: are we even trying to breed such military leaders?
It was indeed path breaking that Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi appointed the first CDS in 2020. It was nearly two decades after initial recommendations by Kargil Review Committee. A lesser-known fact is that he pointedly rejected recommended designation of Permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee (PCCoSC) and went beyond all expectations to empower CDS, with powers of secretary. Despite ill-informed criticism, this has been game changer, in processing of cases. However, since CDS is work in progress, red rag like rank insignia, which is much derided, could be refined.

One voluble China afflicted expert has alleged that new CDS was selected, as part of planned conspiracy. He further postulated that implied message is that India has opted for counterterrorism expert, discarding conventional wars and also the very concept of theatre commands. He surprisingly alluded that India, unlike his role model-PLA, has not yet matured in war fighting concepts, to even strive for jointness.

He has further speculated that Gurkha General will be expected to literally sell Agnipath scheme and assuage miffed Nepal.

There has been spate of other articles spelling out sort of check list for new CDS. They expect him to unveil his magical wand for modernisation, fielding disruptive technologies and building sci-fi type of forces.

Having been key functionary of system, he knows the priorities and fiscal constraints. At best, he can expedite and refine transformation process. The foremost expectation of columnists is jettisoning of Agnipath.

My take is, scheme having commenced, open minded and objective trial of scheme will be pragmatic. Itis unfair to describe reforms as personal agenda of late CDS. Macro contours of these would have been discussed and evaluated. It is imperative that reforms are based on consultations and institutionalised. For this, correctives in terms of net assessment, war games, test-beds and pilot projects should be applied post haste. It is time that top hierarchy clarifies its stand on theatrisation. Consensus is difficult to achieve and push like Nicholas-Goldwater Act, in USA has to come from top, with defined time lines and broad contours.

Turf centric agenda of centralised utilisation of limited force, within service, needs to be discarded. It bears recalling that Air Force split into more commands than Army, leading to Army catching-up by creating South Western Command in 2005. In lighter vein, bar banter referred to Spare, Extra and Cool Commands, based on their fleet size and roles. It bears reiteration that Strategic Forces Command (SFC), starting with rundown barracks and near zero assets, boasts of being the most well organised and potent joint command.

Let us not lose the momentum for integration. SFC model can be replicated with support from top hierarchy and funding. The lament for CDS being rotated with other services, would amount to disregarding operational dynamics.

In sum, challenges are multifarious but an institutional approach, backed by smart and assured budgetary support within ‘whole of nation’ format, is the way forward. It is often said CDS is one among equals in Chiefs, but he is the primus inter pares. Our best wishes to the new CDS, at the helm.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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