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Suspense Continues, Who Will Be India’s Next Chief Of Defence Staff?

The Union government is yet to name the next Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) three months after the tragic death of the country’s first CDS, General Bipin Rawat. General M.M. Naravane, the Army Chief of Staff, is the most senior of the three service chiefs, whereas the Navy and Indian Air Force have only recently appointed their respective leaders. Air Chief Marshal V.R. Choudhary, the Chief of the Indian Air Force, and Navy Chief Admiral R. Hari Kumar, the Chief of the Indian Navy, took office on September 30 and November 30, respectively.

Because Gen Naravane is retiring at the end of April 2022, he is the front-runner for the CDS position. In addition to Gen Naravane, former Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria is viewed as a likely contender for the country’s top military official, as he made earnest efforts to resolve conflicts among the services over the construction of the proposed threatre commands for the Indian military.

Gen Rawat began discussing ways to streamline coordination between the Army, Navy, and Air Force shortly after taking over as CDS. He began preparing for India’s largest-ever military reform a few months later, reorganising the forces into theatre commands (similar to the US and China) for synchronised operations in future battles. By the end of 2022, Gen Rawat hoped to have five primary commands: northern, western, peninsular, air defence, and marine.

Gen. Rawat, his wife Madhulika, and 12 others martyred in a helicopter crash near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, on December 8, 2017.

According to sources, the decision to finalise the name of CDS has been delayed because the BJP-led Union government is engrossed in election campaigns in five states. The election results will be out next week, and we should expect some movement in the selection process. Furthermore, because the CDS has no operational responsibilities, the government has no need to disclose the identity.

A list of potential candidates is being compiled and will be presented to the cabinet appointments committee. The CDS is both a military commander and a bureaucrat, with the primary responsibility of providing objective advice to the political leadership. There is no direct line of succession for the position of CDS, unlike in the military. It indicates that the government can appoint anyone to the position regardless of seniority. According to the guidelines, any officer with the rank of Army Commander or flag officers of the armed services is eligible for the role.

Apart from CDS, the next army chief must be appointed by the end of the month, as Gen Naravane’s term is coming to an end. Gen Naravane’s successor is expected to be Lt Gen Manoj Pande, who took over as the new Vice Chief of the Indian Army in February. Pande was promoted to Army headquarters after leading the Eastern Command in Kolkata. Pande, a graduate of the National Defence Academy, joined the Corps of Engineers in December 1982 and commanded an engineer regiment during Operation Parakram in the Pallanwala sector of Jammu and Kashmir’s Line of Control.

In December 1982, he was commissioned into the Corps of Engineers. After Gen Naravane, Lt Gen Raj Shukla, who heads the Army Training Command, is the most senior army officer, although he will retire on March 31. When Lt Gen Naravane retires, Lt Gen Pande will be the Army’s senior-most commander, and he will be a strong contender for the position of Army Chief of Staff. Lt Gen Pande has commanded an engineer brigade in the Western Theatre, an infantry brigade along the Line of Control, a mountain division in the Ladakh region, and a corps in the northeast during his 39-year military career. Before taking leadership of the Eastern Command, he was the commander-in-chief of the Andaman and Nicobar Command.

According to official sources, the seniority principle will be used in selecting Lt Gen Pande as the next army chief, which is regarded the safest method of selection. In appointing Gen. Rawat as army chief, the government disregarded the seniority of two army officers.

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