New Delhi: Lt Gen. Praveen Bakshi, the senior-most army officer in terms of service, may take over the as the country’s first chief of defence staff (CDS) in the coming weeks.
Bakshi, along with Lt Gen. P.M. Hariz, was superseded when the central government named Lt Gen. Bipin Rawat as the next army chief on Saturday.
The CDS, first proposed after the 1999 Kargil war, will function as the sole point of reference for the defence minister in matters of warfare and nuclear issues.
“Lt Gen. Bakshi was not appointed as the new army chief because he will likely be appointed as the next joint chief of staff of the defence forces. The CDS has to be from the army and the senior-most person in service, by rotation," a member of the National Security Council, which is tasked with advising the prime minister’s office on matters of national security and strategic interests, said on condition of anonymity.
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A defence ministry spokesperson declined to comment.
Defence experts said that once the Cabinet Committee on Security approves the appointment, Bakshi will take over as CDS—possibly within the next 10 days.
“The appointment of CDS is separate from the appointment of the service chiefs. It has to be approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security. Bakshi is still the senior most in the Army and his appointment may be cleared within the next 10 days, before Gen. Dalbir Singh retires on 31 December," said Brig. (retd) Gurmeet Kanwal, an expert with the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA).
However, Kanwal warned that such selections may lead to the politicization of the armed forces.
“This kind of appointment could well lead to a situation where the chief of staff has to cosy up to members of the polity. If the appointment is done according to seniority, then there is no risk of politicization. However, it is the government’s prerogative on whom they appoint as the chief of staff," he added.
Defence minister Manohar Parrikar has reportedly been in favour of appointing a CDS, who will be a single-point military adviser to the government on matters of military and nuclear issues, although the navy and the air force were said to be in disagreement on the matter.
While defence ministry officials did not comment on the selection of CDS, they said Rawat was a fit candidate to take over as the new army chief, despite noises from the opposition claiming that “favouritism" had been exercised in the appointment.
The last time the senior-most officer of the Army was superseded for the appointment was in 1983, when Gen. A.S. Vaidya took over instead of the then senior-most officer Lt Gen. S.K. Sinha.
“All three officers have an exemplary service record. However, given the challenges that we face, Rawat is a suitable candidate for the post. He has great experience in counter-insurgency operations, has served in combat areas and other levels of the military," said a senior defence ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The CDS will report to Parrikar on matters of warfare and defence strategy for all three forces, taking stock of available nuclear technology and its financing in the prevailing geopolitical climate.