The CDS: The Man Of The Moment

The larger-than-life image of the first CDS, created mainly by media houses with little knowledge of military affairs, has created a precedent that would leave the subsequent incumbents at a major disadvantage.

The CDS: The Man Of The Moment

A new CDS has finally been appointed. After nine months, the suspense is over, the die has been cast, and Gen Anil Chauhan is now firmly in place.

And in the wake of the appointment, the inevitable fallout has occurred. Equally loud voices on both sides of the fence are either lauding the decision or being bitterly critical of it. To a great extent, this was expected, going by the delay on the part of the government, and the sudden shifting of the goalposts caused by the announcement of throwing open the field to retired officers holding a rank lower than the Chiefs, thereby unleashing the potential for backdoor manoeuvrings, rumours, allegations and mud-raking. As always, veterans have taken the lead in questioning, criticizing and, sadly, even indulging in character assassination.
While healthy debate is always good and is a prime characteristic of a vibrant democracy, there is a time and a place for this. That time, in as far as it pertains to the selection of the CDS, is over. The way to look now is ahead, not behind. It is time to get on with the job and to allow the new incumbent to settle down, roll up his sleeves and prove the detractors wrong.

It has often been said that the CDS is the first among equals. It is also well known that in the Armed Forces, only one person can make it to the top of the respective Services, and except for an odd exception here and there, the principle of seniority has stood up to the test of time. What we need to remember is that the “first among equals” principle means exactly that. It means that those peers who could not make it to the top were equally competent. Therefore, it is obvious that Gen Chauhan and other Army Commanders would have the same skill-sets as the Chief and would, therefore, be eminently fit for the position of the CDS.

The appointment of the CDS is obviously best left to the government, notwithstanding the fears of manipulations, political compulsions and favouritism. Since it is an inter-Services appointment, this is the only way to ensure that there is no loss of bonhomie between the different Services. The incumbent is an advisor to the government. He does not head the individual Services. The parent Service of the incumbent CDS should not therefore be assumed to be a point of dissent for the other Services.

The larger-than-life image of the first CDS, created mainly by media houses with little knowledge of military affairs, has created a precedent that would leave the subsequent incumbents at a major disadvantage. He would need to first shed that image, establish himself as his own man, and while moving forward the strategic initiatives already in hand, he would need to clearly establish his own road map. Without a doubt, this would be an extremely challenging job, and he has his task cut up ahead of him. Not only would he have to strike a balance between political/bureaucratic pressures and military wisdom, but he would also have to carry all three Services with him. This cannot be done by antagonizing a particular Service or a particular Arm, as Gen Bipin Rawat was wont to do, but by establishing consensus while firmly putting down any attempts at one-upmanship.
The veteran community must not, under any circumstances, do or say anything that would weaken the image, the status or the importance of this position. Getting the government to approve the position of a CDS has been the culmination of a long struggle. The nine-month hiatus after the passing of the first CDS has already provided the nay-sayers with a handle to question the very need to have one. The shrill tirades of many veterans will certainly not help.

Veterans need to get some things clear. The CDS is not, by any stretch of imagination, the “Director of Veterans’ Welfare”. This is not a part of his charter of duties. Therefore, to expect him to lock horns with the government for veterans’ issues would be gross injustice. He has an extremely sensitive job to do, and it would be criminal to divert his attention to things that would not only be a distraction, but could also compromise his standing with the various organs of the government. While it is true that one does not want a “yes-man” heading the Services, one would also not want a nit-picker or rabble-rouser in this position.
The constant refrain of “Generals are not what they used to be in our times” must stop. How many such Generals can they name? And how much is truth and how much is a myth? Every generation has had its share of the good, the bad and the ugly. Every generation has faced a different set of challenges and handled it in accordance with the conditions existing at that time.

Nobody outside the system, and that includes the veteran community, is qualified to comment on the capabilities or the suitability of the individual who has been chosen to hold this office. The best thing that the veterans can do is to show their solidarity with those who are serving. This is something that the military can learn from the bureaucrats.

The CDS has inherited the mantle at a very difficult time. The situation all along the border remains uncertain. The economy shows little signs of picking up. The balance between the imperative need for modernisation of the Armed Forces and maintaining a high degree of preparedness, against the equally important need for maintaining fiscal control is going to be his major challenge. Getting the three Services amicably on the same platform without trying to micro-manage would be a priority task for him.  In short, his unenviable position is best summed up by the immortal lines of Rudyard Kipling in his poem “If” that is displayed in each cadet’s cabin in the National Defence Academy:

“If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;”

So, is Gen Anil Chauhan the best man for the job? Yes, he is, unless he himself proves otherwise. For the rest, keep the faith and hold on to the conviction that the Indian Armed Forces and the security of the nation are in safe hands.

Col. Ghosh is an ex-NDA, Infantry veteran & ex-NSG presently working in the field of aviation emergency response in India & the Middle East as Director, IndiGo Airlines

(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)

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