April 1, 2023

The rules of detachment

General Studies Paper 2


  • The recent debate in the US on keeping the armed forces apolitical has resonance in India. Some recent decisions of the government like deviating from the “seniority-cum-merit” principle for promotion from the pool of C-in-Cs to the post of chief risk exposing the forces to political partisanship. The events of January 6, 2021, in Washington were the first occasion in the USA, when an orderly post-election transfer of political power faced a serious threat.

Chief of Defence Staff (CDS):

  • CDS acts as the permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee which will also have three service chiefs as members.
  • Function: foster greater operational synergy between the three service branches of the Indian military and keep inter-service frictions to a minimum.
  • HeadDepartment of Military Affairs (DMA)in the Ministry of Defence.
  • Single-point military adviser to the Defence Minister on matters involving all three services
  • Service chiefs will be obliged to confine their counsel to issues pertaining to their respective services.
  • CDS is vested with the authority:
    • Prioritizing inter-service procurement decisions as Permanent Chairman-Chiefs of Staff Committee.
    • Provide directives to the three chiefs.
  • CDS is first among equals: He enjoys the rank of Secretary within the DoD (Department of Defence) and his powers will be confined to only the revenue budget.
  • He will perform an advisory role in the Nuclear Command Authority (NCA).

Military control in US:

  • American ethos does not require the military to remain “apolitical”, but demands a commitment to being “non-partisan” in their professional conduct.
  • Regardless of personal political inclinations: military officers, while upholding the constitution, must give the elected civilian leadership their best professional advice and execute their lawful orders.


  • The US President:
    • Commander-in-chief (C-in-C) and approving authority for general-rank promotions
    • He could manipulate the process to fill senior military leadership positions with party/personal loyalists.

Suggested rules and best practices of civil-military relations:

  • Urgent need to counter forces that threaten the military’s nonpartisan ethos
  • Veterans and the media to call out offenders who violate norms of non-partisanship.

Military control in India:

  • Active-duty military personnel are prohibited from engaging in any kind of political activity by Acts of Parliament and service rules.
  • Conduct is circumscribed by the solemn oath of allegiance to the Constitution that each serviceman swears on recruitment/commissioning.
  • India’s armed forces: preserve with the “seniority-cum-merit” principle for promotion from the pool of C-in-Cs to the post of chief.
    • Promoting the “senior-most of equals” obviated the possibility of political interference or nepotism in military promotions.

Risks of politicization:

  • A selectee who considers himself beholden or indebted to the political establishment, for his out-of-turn promotion, could become a political “echo chamber.
  • Latest rules framed for selection of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Apart from serving and retired chiefs, to serving and retired officers of 3-star (Lt. Gen/equivalent) rank which makes room for political interference.

Way Forward

  • In most of the countries: CDS, as the highest-ranking military officer who presides over the chiefs of staff committee, is chosen from amongst the serving chiefs.
  • If the government wanted to enlarge its choices, it could have included recently retired chiefs in the pool.
    • But the age limit of 62 years (at which chiefs retire), has eliminated this option. At the same time
  • Placing serving/retired 3-star officers (some who possibly missed promotion to C-in-C rank) in the same candidate-pool as serving chiefs.
    • It not only ignores the inherent merit and vast experience — military as well as politico-strategic — of the chiefs, but also casts into doubt the credibility of our promotion system.
  • With a mixed bag of serving and retired officers to choose from, and no methodology available for assessment of professional competence, selection will have to be based on spoken reputation, political loyalty and personal preference.
    • Such subjective and problematic criteria are an invitation to arbitrariness and politicization.


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