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Watch | CDS Rules 'Flawed'; If Superceded, Serving Chief May Resign: General V.P. Malik

The former Army chief tells Karan Thapar that if a serving Lieutenant-General level officer is chosen as the CDS, it could open a can of worms.

In an outspoken interview where he pulls no punches, General (Retired) V.P. Malik – one of India’s most highly regarded and illustrious former Army chiefs – has said that the new rules determining the eligibility of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) are “flawed” and agreed that potentially they could open a can of worms. General Malik, who served as Army chief during the Kargil War, said: “The CDS selection process should be credible, it should consider experience, it should consider exposure to politico-military affairs, and the functioning of the armed forces. If these parameters are met it should be alright. But I feel that in these new rules these parameters have not been convincingly met.”

In a 23-minute interview with Karan Thapar for The Wire, General Malik commented on the fact that if a serving Lieutenant-General level officer is chosen as CDS, he will be junior to the three service chiefs but as CDS he will be the permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and therefore, in that sense, senior to them. General Malik said: “This will cause uneasiness and affect their functioning”. More importantly, he said: “Some Chief may choose to resign,” adding that would be “very embarrassing” for the government.

General Malik said that rather than open the eligibility criteria to all serving and retired officers of Lieutenant General rank equivalent, provided they are under the age of 62 on the date of appointment, the selection should have been limited to the three serving chiefs and, under them, the Vice Chief, the army commander equivalent officers and, possibly perhaps, one or two Corps Commanders. He fears that by opening it to all serving and recently retired Lieutenant General equivalent officers you could see what he called “court cases” for not being considered.

The former Army chief said that the possibility that a Lieutenant General could be appointed CDS at the age of 60 but permitted to serve till he reaches 65 i.e. over 5 years is “far too long”. He said serving Chiefs (of all three services) and the CDS should be appointed for a maximum term of 3 years.

Asked if the fact that the rules governing the appointment of the CDS were being changed fairly drastically just three years after they were created suggests that the original structure was less than perfect or even flawed, General Malik agreed and said “indeed, it does gives that impression”.

The Business Standard, in an editorial, commented that whilst the three Service Chiefs are senior to the defence secretary, the CDS is also secretary of the Department of Military Affairs and, in that capacity, is the equivalent of the defence secretary. Yet as the permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of the Staff Committee, he’s senior to the Service Chiefs and, this, therefore, creates a messy and confusing situation.

Commenting on this, General Malik replied bluntly: “It’s flawed and not just messy and confusing.” He hopes that now that the rules have changed the new CDS will no longer be the secretary of the Department of Military Affairs and that responsibility will be passed to the Chief of Integrated Staff, who works under him.

General Malik was also particularly critical of the long delay of over six months in appointing a new CDS after the tragic death of General Bipin Rawat. As he said: “It’s not understandable that such a long delay should have happened after General Rawat’s death.” He added it has “not created a good impression”.

These are some of the important issues discussed in Karan Thapar’s interview with General V.P. Malik. Please see the full interview to understand both the depth of General Malik’s arguments and the strength of his analysis.