On 1 January 2020, the Narendra Modi government initiated the most significant defence reform since Independence by appointing the Chief of Defence Staff or CDS and establishing the Department of Defence.
But more than that, the government gave a cryptic political direction to the CDS, which made him responsible for “Facilitation of restructuring of Military Commands for optimal utilisation of resources by bringing about jointness in operations, including through establishment of joint / theatre commands.”
Logically, through the National Security Council/Ministry of Defence, the Modi government should have given directions on the process and timelines to be followed to implement the above reform. An empowered steering committee with all stakeholders and a parliamentary committee to oversee the execution should also have been formed.
Unfortunately but predictably, this does not seem to have happened. Consequently, a bottom-up military-driven approach to tri-Service integration and creation of the theatre commands seems to have hit a wall due to lack of consensus.
Theatre commands proposal hits a wall
After the cryptic, but clear ‘political’ directions, it was left to the CDS and the Chiefs of the three Services to work out the detailed modalities for establishment of the theatre commands. This again brought to the fore the decades-old inter-Service rivalries.
No wonder that after the presentation to the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on 10 June, a number of issues were raised, necessitating a review to strive for a “broader consensus” with all stakeholders.