The manner in which India has created the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) in its Ministry of Defence (MoD) befits a case study. DMA, headed by CDS as Secretary is separate from Department of Defence (DoD) headed by the Defence Secretary. The new Rules of Business of Government lay down that Defence Secretary is in-charge of defence of India and defence policy including in war; continuation of British-India legacy though then defence secretary was also Defence Minister. Post Independence, defence ministers have largely been used by ruling parties to consolidate party position, money and votes included.

Apart from being in-charge of defence of India and defence policy, the Defence Secretary’s charter also includes capital acquisitions, military cantonments, veterinary and military farms, land acquisition for defence, border roads organization, purchasing food items for defence, and even canteen stores department (CSD). The simple logic is that all these are money spinners. Capital acquisitions are big money on which CDS will have no control but he will implement their induction, becoming easy scapegoat in the event of a scam. The Defence Secretary in conjunction with the Department of Defence Production (DoDP) procures public sector products, even if they are termed sub-standard and with inflated prices by the comptroller and auditor general (CAG).

Cantonments, farms, land acquisition provide gold nuggets. Sale of defence land mostly in prime locations must substantially increase votes and boost coffers, not ‘wasted’ for augmenting defence budget. Border roads construct roads on Home Ministry’s priorities based on population density that add to vote-bank. If initial estimates go wrong, quality of construction is poor, alignments and suitability for military traffic is found wanting, there is always more money with attendant benefits. Food supply to armed forces implies big contracts and consequential benefits. For the same reason contracts for minting medals for armed forces personnel is under Defence Secretary.

CSD is a money spinner as well. For any new item to be introduced, an under the table handshake is inevitable. Yet every item in CSD is more expensive than any BSF canteen, which too benefits certain quarters. Strict limits have been introduced for serving and veterans for drawing CSD items but there are no limits for 7,00,000 plus specified civilians using CSD, who can service CSD items to bureaucrats or for that matter anybody, and whose number is increasing. With all the power and money accumulated in the Defence Secretary including in conjunction DoDP, what is left for CDS with DMA having a mix of military and civilians?

CDS is Principal Military Adviser to RM on tri-Services issues but Service Chiefs continue to advise RM on respective Services. CDS will facilitate restructuring of military commands and bring about jointness in operations including establishing joint/ theatre commands. CDS is also Permanent Chairman of COSC (PC COSC), responsible (as earlier CISC was) for preparing long-term Integrated Capability Development Plan and assign inter-service prioritization to capital acquisition proposals based on anticipated budget, and implement various acquisition plans. CDS will not exercise any military command over the three Service Chiefs albeit the tri-service organizations will continue to be under HQ IDS less the Strategic Forces Command though CDS will act as advisor to the Nuclear Command Authority.

Above makes it clear that as PC COSC, CDS could have also performed all the functions assigned to him as Secretary DMA including Principal Advisor to RM, given that service chief too have direct access to RM. If the government was serious about ‘military affairs’ DMA should have replaced the DoD with bulk of HQ IDS merged with MoD but that would have diluted aura of the Defence Secretary which was more important to the government. After all who would like to disturb the goose that lays the golden eggs? The slick subterfuge is being covered up with media blitz about the uniform, rank badges and accouterments of the CDS. The paid ones are also shouting hoarse about impending organizational changes including a China Command which need not have waited for the past six years and can well be executed by the CDS as PC COSC.

In establishing the feeble DMA, the ‘deep state’ has achieved the following: first, persistent demands for reorganizing MoD are killed; second, power and moolah remains with Defence Secretary; third, military is euphoric getting another four-star and entry into MoD without realizing DMA is more like stand-alone department with little authority; fourth, demands for a CDS raised since the Group of Ministers report of 1999 are shut forever, and; fifth, Service Chiefs till now were above Secretary level in protocol but now the CDS is one of the Secretaries heading different departments of MoD.

Charter of CDS does not include defence R&D, defence production, veteran welfare, AFHQ and civilian defence services, and he must plan on “anticipated budget”. Personnel services and connected policies are under respective Service Chiefs.. CDS will remain hampered in bringing about required revolution in military affairs (RMA) because (DoD) holds most aces. Someone has tweeted: “Strange that civilian can be part of DMA but military cannot be part of DoD”. Others seek comfort that some start is better than no start – but this is the precise reason why we are decades behind China and no more changes can be expected on the issue. An interesting comment is: “Toothless Granny being kept busy playing mahjong in reorganizing commands.”

We have landed up in this soup because of the NSA-headed committee with the Cabinet Secretary, Defence Secretary, Expenditure Secretary and the COSC (who would hardly contest the bureaucratic coterie) recommending the above. For an important issue like this the clear requirement was to appoint a Parliamentary Committee, followed by an Act of Parliament to institutionalize the CDS and the PC COSC – something like the Nichols-Goldwater Act of 1986 that transformed the US military, not a mere government order that is hostage to the bureaucracy.

General Rawat was the first serving Service Chief awarded PVSM. But since the Defence Secretary is in-charge of defence of India including in war, wonder how the government slipped up in not awarding him SYSM and Bar for the surgical strikes and Balakot?

The author is veteran Indian Army. Views are personal.