The appointment of Indian Army chief, General Bipin Rawat, as the country’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) was more than expected
The appointment of Indian Army chief, General Bipin Rawat, as the country’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) was more than expected. The Ministry of Defence issued a notification on December 28 amending Army Rules 1954 to allow the CDS to serve till 65 years of age. Rawat’s proximity to National Security Adviser Ajit Doval is well known, both being from Uttarakhand. He endeared himself to Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on issues like opening of military cantonments to civilians.
Furthermore, in Sitharaman’s avatar as Finance Minister, it is understood that Rawat as Army Chief voluntarily recommended that disabled army personnel who continued to serve should not be exempted from income tax, which was available to all injured/disabled security forces personnel and civilians since 1922. This has caused considerable dismay in the army.
Successive governments have taken no action to address the anomalies of various pay commissions that have eventually brought the military below the police forces; yet the military hierarchy has remained submissive. Disenchantment with General Rawat among the retired fraternity is widespread. In a recent media article, a former vice chief has warned of the adverse impact of senior military officers making statements in media, cautioning that a politicized military is one that exercises loyalty to a single political party. The article significantly has a picture of Gen Bipin Rawat.
Other commentators including newspaper editorials have noted that Gen Rawat’s recent comment on the student led anti-CAA protests is not an aberration but throughout his tenure his political and moral orientation reflect those of the government. The CDS is to head a new Department of Military Affairs (DMA) of Secretary rank and also be the Permanent Chairman of COSC (Chiefs of Staff Committee). CDS is supposedly the Principal Advisor to RM (Raksha Mantri/Defence Minister) but the Service Chiefs will continue to advise the RM on issues related to their respective service. So the CDS is not going to be a single-point military advisor to the Defence Minister, leave aside the government.
Protocol-wise, the Service Chiefs are ranked alongside the Cabinet Secretary but senior to Secretaries to the Government of India. CDS, heading the DMA in Secretary rank, will be one among the other Secretaries heading other departments like Defence, Defence Production and ex-servicemen welfare. Is this a masterstroke by the bureaucracy in downgrading the four-star rank? Only time will tell what Rawat will achieve as CDS. There is also speculation that given his government links, he may even get an extension beyond 65 – till he enters politics in the 2024 general elections.
(The writer is a retired Indian Army veteran)