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Military shy of staff chief post

New Delhi, Nov. 18: Defence minister George Fernandes’ effort to revive a recommendation for a single-point military adviser for the government by creating the post of Chief of Defence Staff has led to a disconnect between the ministry and the services.

Army chief General .C. Vij is understood to have been sounded for the post but he has politely turned it down. The offer to Vij — if he agreed and accepted the post by December — would have led to the hunt for a new chief of army staff.

Lieutenant General S.S. Mehta, chief of the Western Command, would have been the frontrunner.

But Mehta is due to retire in January and unless he is elevated, he cannot get another two years in service.

Vij’s reluctance to be CDS is symptomatic of the doubts the services have cast on the office even though the defence minister has expected it to be in place within two months.

“Yes, I am in favour of CDS. I intend moving a paper on this,” Fernandes had said in an interview earlier this month to Force, a journal dedicated to covering military and security issues.

Even formally offering the post of CDS to Vij can run into trouble. The post sounds like it would vest in the person taking the responsibility of the entire military, including the three services and the Coast Guard. But that is not how it has been envisaged.

Second, General Vij is junior to both the chief of naval staff, Admiral Madhvendhra Singh, and the chief of air staff, Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy. By virtue of his seniority, Admiral Madhvendhra Singh is the chairman, chiefs of staff committee.

Moreover, the CDS is likely to be taken by a four-star general, as suggested by the group of ministers that reviewed the military in the wake of 1999 Kargil war.

The service chiefs are four-star generals — as would be the CDS. There are two five-star generals — honorary Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw and Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh. The CDS is envisaged as the head of an integrated military structure.

The Indian military, unlike the US’, is not integrated bottom-up but only to an extent at the level of defence headquarters.

In an attempt to bridge this gap, the ministry had created the post of chief of integrated defence staff (to the chairman, chiefs of staff committee) that is actually removed from a combat and command role. Senior service officers suspect that like the CIDS, the CDS, too, can become a weak post compared to those of service chiefs.

As a single-point military advisor, the CDS is expected to be a perspective planner and strategist, rather than a commander. With the institution of the Chiefs of Staff Committee continuing, the rationale for creating the post of CDS is still unclear, as is the need to revive the recommendation of the group of ministers that was shelved for two years.

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