Better late than never aptly reflects the appointment on 28 Sep of former Lt Gen Anil Chauhan the diminutive and hard-as-steel Gorkha officer as the second CDS 10 months after Gen Rawat’s death, just when the grapevine was suggesting that the government would let the post expire following proddings by defence bureaucracy and sections of the IAF unhappy with it. In June, when the government enlarged the eligibility to include retired three stars, it became apparent that Lt Gen Chauhan was the government’s choice. Meanwhile, Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar has retrieved some of his turf ceded to CDS who is senior several notches senior to Defence Secretary as a four-star and head of DMA. Mr Kumar was appointed as Military Advisor, former Lt Gen Khandare who was earlier NSA AjitDoval’s military advisor. Subsequently, Lt Gen Chauhan became MrDoval’s military advisor for nine months where he was nurtured for CDS..
A very senior General informed a veteran journalist that the next CDS would be from Uttarakhand. This followed a blog by strategic affairs commentator Bharat Karnad where he quoted sundry sources including the NSA to affirm the appointment of former CNS AdmKarambir Singh as the CDS. He said it was proper to appoint an officer from a service other than the Army to be CDS to assuage fears of the other two services. Last week, Indian Express Delhi Confidential mentioned about “uniqueness of Uttarakhand” as one district, PauriGarhwal, has produced luminaries like Gen Rawat, serving NTRO chief Anil Dhasmana, NSA AjitDoval, former Coast Guard chief Rajendra Singh and now Gen Anil Chauhan. What is the secret, it asks.
Still, it is curious that Gen Chauhan’s appointment was “until further orders’ and not till attaining the age of 65 – the age limit for CDS. This injects an element of uncertainty about the longevity of his tenure. Relevant are comments by defence experts about a “government in a hurry” for the transformation of higher defence structures when it patiently waited ten months to find the right man for the job while he was available in NSA’s secretariat. The selection of Lt Gen Chauhan follows the government’s practice of carefully choosing service Chiefs.
Much has been written about his life in 11 Gorkha Rifles following the pattern of his regiment’s senior, Gen Rawat. He has authored two books ‘Aftermath of a Nuclear Attack’ and the ‘seminal Military Geography of India’s Northern Borders’ making him unarguably, India’s China expert. Editor of Force magazine, Pravin Sawhney said that as DGMO he endorsed the uniqueness of surgical strikes repudiating the Congress party’s claim that six similar strikes had been conducted during his time. According to Sawhney, Gen Chauhan while Eastern Army Commander, strongly endorsed the government’s intent to promulgate CAA and NRC as it would enhance national security. Sawhney contends that he has been appointed CDS for his expertise in counter-terrorism and for implementation of Agnipath.
Ten days before he became CDS, Gen Chauhan made an impassioned inaugural speech at Bharat Shakti’s defence conclave on Collaborative Approach to National Security and outlined its three key ingredients: territory, people and ideology, and values. He emphasized that national security was the responsibility of each and every citizen, civil society organization and think tank. While the government was responsible and accountable for national security others were part of the collaborative approach that he called ‘extended scope of national security. Earlier this year, Mr Doval had stirred a hornet’s nest when he extended the scope of national security.
The debate furiously engaging veterans about defence reforms have turned into sequencing: among capability building, jointness and theatrisation. The absence of a National Security Strategy which the DPC or IDS was to make and which the government thinks it already has unwritten, is the singular void troubling the strategic community. No White Paper or SDSR or even a Capability Review has ever been done. At present jointness is equated with upending or joining plans rather than joint planning. The IAF continues to grieve about the dilution of airpower after theatrisation, given it is stuck at between 28 and 31 fighter squadrons for the last two decades instead of the self-authorized 42 squadrons. The capability gap with China is increasing as we delay epochal defence reforms and make believe that Make in India is made in India. Without political intervention, which must include guidance, Gen Chauhan’s task of curating consensus is formidable. A review of Agnipath is vital and eradicating the colonial legacy must start within government including the police. Modernisation needs technology, which needs money.
As a fellow Gorkha and well-wisher of national security, I wish Gen Chauhan a full and fruitful term as CDS to complete Gen Rawat’s unfinished mission. I trust and am sure he will remember unique to India, the military’s three ideals: being professional, secular, and apolitical.