Explained: No clear line of succession, CCS to decide on next CDS

Bipin Rawat dies in chopper crash: Unlike the structures for the military, where the second-in-command to every officer officiates if the lead officer becomes indisposed, sources said there is no immediate line of succession envisaged for the CDS.

Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat and his wife died in the IAF chopper crash.

The creation of the post of the Chief of Defence Staff had come after the demand had been made for decades. So, when the country’s first CDS, General Bipin Rawat, died on Wednesday with another year remaining in his tenure, it created an unforeseen situation for the security establishment: filling a dual-hatted vacuum. The CDS is also the Secretary of the Department of Military Affairs (DMA).

No line of succession

Unlike the structures for the military, where the second-in-command to every officer, whether in the field or as a service chief, officiates if the lead officer becomes indisposed, sources said there is no immediate line of succession envisaged for the CDS — although there is an unofficial Vice Chief of Defence Staff, who is a three-star officer.

For example, if a serving chief of the Army, the Navy or the Air Force becomes incapable of holding his position, the Vice Chief of that force officiates as the chief until the government appoints a full-time chief. It does not necessarily have to be the Vice Chief, though.

Sources said the appointment of the CDS/DMA Secretary is more akin to that of a secretary than that of a service chief. There is no deputy to the CDS, who would have automatically officiated in his role in his absence.

Chief of Army Staff, General Bipin Rawat at the Amar Jawan Jyoti, India Gate in New Delhi on the occasion of Infantry Day. (Express photo by Amit Mehra/File)

It is up to the government to take the call on who would handle his responsibilities, whether temporarily or taking over completely. The call, sources said, would be finalised by the Cabinet Committee on Security — which met on Wednesday evening.

Dual hats

A Defence Ministry official said the CDS is a military officer, but is a bureaucrat like a secretary, which is why there is no direct “line of succession”. It is an appointment made by the political leadership. He is “not in active military service, but parts of bureaucracy related to the military, which were looked after by the civilian bureaucracy, was handed over to the DMA and the CDS as its secretary”.

There was confusion among military and bureaucratic officials on Wednesday as to who could officiate as CDS now. The CDS was the permanent head of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC), which includes the three service chiefs. Before the post of CDS was created, the senior-most service chief would be the chairman of CoSC.

Gen. Bipin Rawat, as Army chief, takes the salute during the Army Day Parade in New Delhi. (Express photo by Tashi Tobgyal/File)

In the absence of Rawat, Army Chief General MM Naravane would be the senior-most among the three service chiefs.

There is also the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS), headed by a three-star officer from the services called Chairman IDS to the Chairman COSC (CISC), who enjoys the rank of a Vice Chief of a service. When the post of CDS was created, the CISC was expected to be made VCDS. However, that is yet to be made official. The current CISC is Air Marshal B R Krishna.

General Bipin Rawat during a GRSE programme in Kolkata. (Express photo by Partha Paul/File)

Although the CISC does stand-in for the CDS if the latter is unavailable for ceremonial roles, this is not for executionary powers.

For the three-star CISC, officiating over the CoSC with four-star officers can be an issue. The government can decide to elevate a three-star officer to the equivalent rank of a General to make him the CDS, if it does not pick from the serving chiefs.

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