Arow of Indian Air Force (IAF) C-17s, Indian Army tanks in the Himalayas and a naval landing ship tank in the Andamans. Three large photo frames hang on one wall of General Bipin Rawat’s spartan office in South Block, a daily reminder of his task at hand. As India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Rawat has to get the army, air force and navy, the world’s second, fourth and seventh largest, respectively, to work together as one unit.
“Some years ago, we used to ask, ‘Why do we need a CDS?’” says General Rawat, with a smile. “Now, there is acceptance and acceptability all around and structures are being created for integration.” (See accompanying interview.)
The idea of creating the post of CDS, a single-point military advisor to the government, was always a political one. It was first proposed in 2001 by the Group of Ministers appointed after the 1999 Kargil War, reiterated by an MoD (ministry of defence)-appointed committee of experts in 2016 and finally announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from the ramparts of the Red Fort on August 15 last year. The armed forces were opposed to it for reasons of inter-service rivalry. The post of CDS is independent India’s single-biggest military reform, one that will over the years change how the armed forces are structured.
Apart from being the CDS and the single-point military advisor to the government, General Rawat wears two more hats. As the permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, he is first among equals on a panel that includes the three service chiefs.