The CDS Debate: Confronting Issues – II

Following the first two parts of this debate, there have been several views received on email from some who have had personal experience in dealing with the CDS question. As they are too lengthy to be put as comments I felt it would be better to post relevant extracts as separate topics subsequently. For now, we continue with the second  part of Groupie Bhargava’s email on the CDS debate:

“My second reservation is that a CDS would be unable to prevent turf wars of which the Services are always accused. There is little doubt that the CDS from any element would tend to view the case for its demands more favourably than others. Not only is this human nature but is also very easy to rationalise.

My last (at present) reservation is that the appointment of a CDS does not seem to promote or enhance inter-Service cooperation. A typical example is Britain. Despite a head of all armed forces being around, the RAF says that the Navy is superfluous and the Navy wants RAF to be totally disbanded and its tasks handed over to the highly competent Royal Navy. Even in the USA, we see much inter-Service rivalry and non-cooperation. In short good and honest Jointness seems to be our only viable answer to me.”

As regards terminating turf wars, while there is no denying the basic logic of that argument, allow me to play the Devil’s Advocate here. In all probability the CDS, or whatever is decided upon, would be someone who is no longer a part of any service and out ranks the Chiefs. He would not be burdened with divided loyalties and the responsibilities of commanding a particular service. He would perhaps be better able to take an unbiased and balanced view, as compared to the current system of the Chairman of the COSC. He would be able  facilitate a joint view to be projected to the political authority. In the absence of a joint view, he could dispassionately put forward all divergent views and also give his own opinion. This would help the political hierarchy get a better and larger picture, rather than just receiving divergent views from the services with no firm recommendation.

Groupies point about eliminating unhealthy rivalries is harder to counter, with my negligible experience and knowledge. I have been involved in these rivalries at comparatively lower levels, like almost all of us, and have often revelled in them. Being part of the problem it is difficult to be part of the solution! However, as I see it, an alternate authority is not visualised as an instrument to eliminate or act as a cure for turf wars and internal rivalries, but to create a more operationally efficient and well oiled system than what exists at present. Inter Service tug of wars are perhaps a necessary evil that the system will  just have to live with. Admiral Bansal’s comment in the earlier post is equally pertinent when he talks of ” ……indian character of ego more important than the good of organisation.”

Air Mshl Vaidya in his comment in the earlier post, also makes another salient point when he mentions that most seem agreeable to change but have a not-on-my-watch attitude. Whatever it be, the fact remains that change is needed, everyone seems to want more time, everyone agrees on the diagnosis but they all seem to differ on the treatment.

Post Kargil, a committee headed by  the late Mr K Subrahmanyam had recommended that there was a drastic need to reorganise India’s higher defence organisation to make it responsive to modern day operations. Following that, the Arun Singh Committee  was tasked to follow up and make recommendations and one of them was for a CDS to be appointed. This was then approved by a Group of Ministers.

The idea of introducing the CDS is sometimes mistakenly attributed to K Subrahmanyam. In fact he merely suggested that a change was necessary.

In an interview published in Pragati of May 2008 he is reported to have said:

“Modernisation is a complex process. I have said in the Kargil committee report that we have not modernised decision-making process ever since Lord Ismay prescribed it in 1947. Our military command and control have not changed since the second world war. While we are talking about buying modern equipment, the force structure and philosophy go back to the Rommel’s desert campaign and Mountbatten’s South-east Asia Command. Nobody has done anything about it.”

It was the Arun Singh Committee Report, which has not been made public, which reportedly specified the need for a CDS. In fact Mr Subrahmanyam had other ideas. As mentioned by Nitin Pai in his blog The Acorn, Mr Subrahmanyam has reportedly opined:

“The term CDS is an inappropriate one in the Indian context. It is British terminology. CDS in Britain commands all three (Service) forces. This is what made the Indian politicians resist the concept of CDS.

What is called for is a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who will be the primary and senior-most military adviser to the Prime Minister and Defence Minister but without command over any troops. Therefore the reform of Chiefs of staff shedding their command should precede the emergence of CJCS. While this will not be possible to carry out in respect of the Airforce immediately this should be planned for in the longer run.”

Be that as it may, the fact remains that change has been on the table since 2001. Surely, at least in 2011,  the military should have moved beyond just saying that we need a change, but we need to study it in more detail? If 10 years in not enough, what will ever be?

It is,  however, just not the Services who are to blame. They have undoubtedly been dragging their feet, or sort of groping in the dark, because of a lack of a firm political directive. Bureaucratic and political indifference or resistance is a relevant factor to be discussed briefly next time.

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