CDS Bipin Rawat: A disquieting appointment

PTI photo

The much-discussed and much-awaited post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) has come into being with Gen Bipin Rawat as the first incumbent. He took over as the CDS on his retirement as the army chief. Gen Rawat’s appointment was not unexpected ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on August 15 that he would create the office of CDS. Yet, the formal announcement of the position came suddenly last week, and Gen Rawat’s appointment followed just in time for his retirement as army chief. Gen Rawat has had a long career in the army and his experience and knowledge of the working of the armed forces are indeed qualifications for the CDS. But he was known to be a favourite of the Modi government and had been made army chief superseding an outstanding officer.

Gen Rawat has said, after taking over as CDS, that the armed forces stay away from politics and work as per the directives of the government of the day. While this is well said, and is as it should be, he has not been seen keeping a great distance from politics. No other service chief in history has waded into politics and made so many controversial statements as Gen Rawat did as army chief. Some of them have also been considered to have communal overtones. In the latest of such statements, he made an unwarranted critical comment about the ongoing protests by students against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). The army or its chief has no business to meddle in such matters. It has not gone unnoticed that the opinions he expressed were in agreement with the views of the government and the ruling party, and came at times convenient to them.  

Gen Rawat should have been censured or otherwise punished for many of his transgressions but has been rewarded now. The CDS should be above politics, but a most political officer has been appointed for the position. His usefulness as the CDS will be limited, as such political appointees tend to give only opinions that the government wants to hear. The CDS is a new position and one of great responsibility, which has to create its own space and traditions for those who are to follow in the coming years. It deserved a person who was not so closely identified with the government of the day. The Prime Minister, who will be taking his advice on matters of grave importance, should have thought about this deeply and sought out a person capable of giving him unpalatable news and views when those are called for.

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