Death of general Bipin Rawat in a helicopter crash in Tamil Nadu has created an unprecedented void in the Indian military hierarchy. General Rawat also served as the secretary of newly created department of military affairs. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi chaired a meeting of the cabinet committee on security on 8th of December. PM Modi and other CCS (Cabinet Committee Security) members were briefed about General Bipin Rawat’s death. Some reports suggests that the succession issue was also discussed in the CCS meet.
General Rawat was chosen as India’s first chief of defense staff and assumed office on January 1, 2020. Reports suggests that there is no immediate line of succession mapped out to choose the next CDS. Military chiefs of the army, Navy, and Air force have vice chiefs who can officiate if the chief is not available. However General Bipin Rawat had no deputy although there is an unofficial vice chief of defense staff. As per any commanding officer or flag officer of the armed force is eligible for the position.
It is assumed that the cabinet committee on security will take a final call on who take over as the next CDS. According to the reports, General Manoj Naravane is the favorite to occupy the post of Chief Defense Staff. COAS General Manoj Naravane is senior to his counterparts in the Navy and the Air force. Like General Rawat, General Naravane has also played a highly active role in counter insurgency operations in J&K and the Northeast. He is the 27th chief of Army Staff, previously served as vice chief of the army. General Naravane had also headed the Eastern command of the army which takes care of India’s borders with China. General Naravane, who is slated to retire next year in April, could be the perfect fit for the three year CDS role. A CDS can serve till the age of 65, while the three service chiefs can serve till the age of 62 or for three years in the post.
Another front runner for the CDS role is former IAF Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria. He is the architect of two mega fighter aircraft deals, which included Rafales and 83 Mark1A indigenous Tejas jets. Bhadauria has clocked over 4,250 hours of flying and has experience on over 26 types of fighter jets. During his tenure as chief of the air force, India and China were locked in a bitter dispute on the eastern border in the Ladakh region.
Other senior officers after General Naravane include Lt General CP Mohanty, Vice-Chief of Army staff & Northern Army commander Lt General YK Joshi.
Several challenges are waiting ahead for the upcoming CDS. General Rawat was presiding over the most significant transformation of the defense architecture of India. He was the single point of advice to the Defense Minister and chair of the Defense policy group. Adding to these, he was supervising the move to combine 17 single service commands into just four geographical commands. Therefore, the next CDS will have to make important decisions pertaining to formation of theatre commands that are at a crucial juncture. He will also have to take over General Rawat’s unfinished target of modernizing India’s armed forces. adding to these, he will have to lead the forces in tackling Chinese threat and guarding the borders. The new CDS will have to take up large responsibilities of implementing huge defense reforms planned under General Rawat.