Meet The New CDS
Lt Gen Anil Chauhan is from the same regiment as General Bipin Rawat - 11 Gorkha Rifles
On September 28, the government appointed veteran Lt General Anil Chauhan as the second Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). He is also to function as the Secretary, Department of Military Affairs (DMA).
There was criticism why the post of CDS was kept vacant since December 2021, despite the continuing standoff with China in Eastern Ladakh albeit Defence Minister Rajnath Singh's claims that we have not lost "even one inch of territory" in China's 2020 aggression.
Sun Weidong, Chinese ambassador to India, recently said that the phase of emergency response that started with the Galwan clash in June 2020, is over and the border situation is now switching to normalised management and control.
China continues to blame India of aggression, but Sun Weidong's statement implies everything is hunky dory and it is time to chant 'Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai again'. President Xi Jinping will get his third term in October, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2024 with his 'no war' concept in exchange to Beijing's assurance of no 'major' mischief till then?
Social media kept debating who will win the "Battle of Anils" in the race to become the CDS. On one hand was Lt General Anil Puri, officiating Secretary DMA (in absence of a CDS) prompted by Rajnath Singh, who brought Puri into the DMA. Puri went overboard in extolling 'Agniveer' publicly as the path breaking concept of Independent India, in a presentation chaired by Rajnath Singh.
On the other hand was Lt General Anil Chauhan who retired as Eastern Army Commander in May 2021. He was appointed Military Advisor in the National Security Council Secretariat headed by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval in September last year.
Minister Rajnath Singh would probably join the 'Marg Darshak' category in 2024 but the outcome of the race to CDS was more than evident when the government announced in June 2022 that the search for CDS would include retired three-star rank officers.
The nine-month delay to appoint the next CDS is possibly to show that extensive research was on to find the most suitable (or rather pliable) candidate.
Puri banked primarily on his links with the Defence Minister and extraordinary plaudits for the 'Agnipath' scheme. However, Chauhan had already caught the fancy of the hierarchy when serving as the DGMO he stated that never before was a 'surgical strike' done prior to the one in September 2016. Technically, he cannot be faulted because cross-border raids conducted earlier were never termed "surgical strikes".
For some reason, the government is shy of mentioning Chauhan's tenure in the NSCS, this is a mystery. Chauhan's predecessor in the NSCS was Lt General VG Khandare who is now advisor to the Defence Minister. The CDS is also an adviser to the Defence Minister (not to the Prime Minister). So Rajnath Singh has two military Generals wearing the hat of military advisor, while he himself goes about wearing his own hat over a dhoti or pyjama.
Chauhan is from the same regiment as General Bipin Rawat - 11 Gorkha Rifles. Possibly, Rawat had recommended Chauhan as the Military Advisor to Doval on the 'Garhwali' net. The government exercised deep selection in appointing Rawat as the Army Chief.
But the elevation of Chauhan from three-star veteran to four-star CDS is unprecedented. Serving till the age of 65 as the CDS, he will see through the present and possibly the next lot of Service Chiefs also.
Anil Chauhan is well decorated, has vast experience and has authored books titled 'Aftermath of a Nuclear Attack' and 'Military Geography of India's Northern Borders'. But the moot question is will he meekly follow diktats of the hierarchy and go out of his way to please the politico-bureaucratic dispensation like Rawat did? Does his unprecedented selection leave an option for him to stand up to the deep state?
In his recent article 'Angling for top posts: Rot in IAS has set from within' published in The Tribune, Avay Shukla, IAS and former Additional Chief Secretary to the Himachal Pradesh Government writes, "One can understand the politician trying to fracture the service into manageable parts, but our own acquiescence to this is less comprehensible. It's every officer for himself and the devil take the hindmost……If you sup with the devil at his table, you can hardly criticise the food he dishes out: you must not only eat it, but must also praise it."
What Avay Shukla wrote is equally applicable to the Armed Forces, particularly the military hierarchy. Anil Chauhan may not have "supped with the devil' (as Shukla describes), but he has supped with Doval, same as Kandhare.
During their service in the Army and the NSCS, Chauhan and Kandhare have been witness to the following:
Loss of control over 1,000 sq km territory in Easten Ladakh to China amounting to abject surrender.
Withdrawal from Kailash Range – signalling it is not Indian Territory.
Silence over a new Chinese village established at Longju in Arunachal Pradesh.
Usurping of defence land and recent move of giving defence land to private players to generate money with not a single rupee coming to the defence budget.
Political campaign of Agnipath: 45,000 Agniveers annually being inducted into the military against Army's recommendation for an experiment with 100 officers and 1000 soldiers.
Agnipath scheme affecting military-to-military relations with Nepal.
Army to slash 200,000 manpower – copycatting China despite mobilisation all along the LAC.
Elevating police forces above the military.
Proposal for ITBP to man the frontier along the LAC.
Spectre of killing military traditions under the garb of Indianisation.
Plan to target Regiments of the Indian Army – as stated publicly by Doval in support of Agnipath.
Failure to define a national security strategy despite Doval officially tasked to do so in 2019.
Can Khandare and Chauhan indicate why a national security strategy cannot be defined? Isn't this to avoid accountability?
Theaterisation will naturally be a priority for the new CDS. This should not create much turbulence considering the China threat, which is very much alive. Hopefully, he would stem further demonetization of the Army, especially in terms of regimental spirit and traditions – the 'Sab Ka Sath, Sab Ka Vikas' should not add "Aur Fauj Ka Satyanash".
Media has recently said that the name of the Regiments will not change, which is hardly enough, given the tactics used by the deep state to flood the environment with lies and half truths while quietly going for the jugular. A recent example of this is SPARSH.
Lt General Prakash Katoch is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal.