[Lt Gen Naravane, Admiral Karambir and VCAS Air Marshal Arora on Navy Day]]
There’s a lot of head-banging going on in PMO over the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) issue. With the economy plummeting and bad news marching in in battalions with another self-inflicted wound — the Citizenship Amendment Bill (CAB), which the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo decided is worth the short term costs — escalating turmoil, including unrest in Delhi, because it would beget perennial political payoffs in terms of polarizing the electorate along religious lines every time general elections and major state level polls come into view. There’s, however, a felt need to take the people’s eye off the extant troubles and on to some “achievements” the BJP government can showcase.
One such issue on the platter is CDS, a decision that’s acquired a certain urgency if the first person to hold this post, the current army chief General Bipin Rawat, who retires end of December, is to be the man. So there’s not much time. Rawat’s “elevation” has been rumoured for a while now. This appointment would be least disruptive because he is the senior most among the current serving chiefs anyway, even though a four star CDS isn’t much of an elevation and will not prevent the coming functional friction with the three services chiefs, including the successor army chief.
There are other options the PMO may be considering that military circles are agog about. Among these is appointing the Vice Chief of the Army Staff Lieutenant General Manoj Mukund Naravane, who is the presumptive COAS, as the first CDS. It will bring the next senior army man, Lt. Gen. Ranbir Singh, Northern Army Commander, into the succession picture. Except the navy head Admiral Karambir Singh and Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria may baulk at serving under a junior — Naravane, as the “first among equals”. So, this too is problematic.
If the Modi regime shies away from making Rawat the first CDS, it may be politic, say many senior military officers, to appoint Admiral Karambir to the position as single source military adviser to the government. The present Chief of Naval Staff is a thorough professional, and a straight arrow. Especially helpful is the fact that Karambir is a naval aviator (helicopter pilot) and an air force brat to boot, his father being a retired Wing Commander. And so he’s a person who absolutely appreciates air power and will not shortchange the Indian Air Force, the fear of which motivated its 40-year rear-guard action against the establishment of the CDS system.
In fact, the IAF’s opposition to CDS is the cover behind which the government has advanced the idea of a 4-star CDS, and not a genuinely senior person as a (5-star) Field Marshal, something the civil bureaucracy has violently opposed and which development the political class too has felt queasy about (owing to the old fear about an all-powerful military officer staging a coup).
It will be interesting to see if Modi prefers a non-Rawat choice for CDS and who it will be.