Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat on Wednesday denied reports that the armed forces were being politicised, PTI reported. “We keep ourselves away from politics,” he said. “We act according to the directives of the government of the day.”

Rawat was in the middle of a controversy last month after he commented about ongoing protests against the amended Citizenship Act. Rawat had said at an event in Delhi on Thursday: “As we are witnessing in large number of universities and colleges, students the way they are leading masses and crowds to carry out arson and violence in cities and towns. This is not leadership.” He added that true leaders lead people in the right direction.

On Saturday, Congress leader P Chidambaram hit out at Rawat, saying “you head the Army and mind your business”. He added that it was not the business of the armed forces to tell political leaders what to do “just as it is not our business to tell you how to fight a war”. Several other leaders from the Opposition also criticised the Army chief, with many reminding Rawat of the limits of his office.

Rawat retired as the chief of Army staff on Tuesday and took over as the chief of defence staff on the same day. The Cabinet Committee on Security had last week approved the creation of the post of a chief of defence staff of the Indian Armed Forces. The 61-year-old was one the front-runners for the post.

He added that his focus as the chief of defence staff will now be to integrate the efforts of the three services. “We will work as a team,” he said. “Focus will be to ensure best and optimal use of resources allocated to three services.”

With this appointment, Rawat will be higher in rank than the chiefs of the Indian Army, the Navy and the Air Force. He will function as a single point of contact for different branches of the Indian Armed Forces and will be the military advisor to the Indian government. Rawat will also head the Department of Military Affairs and be paid a salary equal to a service chief. However, the chief of defence will not exercise any military command over the three service chiefs.

Outstanding officer, says Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday morning congratulated Rawat for his appointment and described him as “an outstanding officer who has served India with great zeal”.

“As the first CDS takes charge, I pay homage to all those who have served and laid down their lives for our nation,” Modi wrote on Twitter. “I recall the valiant personnel who fought in Kargil, after which many discussions on reforming our military began, leading to today’s historic development.”

He added: “On 15th August 2019, from the ramparts of the Red Fort, I announced that India will have a Chief of Defence Staff. This institution carries tremendous responsibility of modernizing our military forces. It would also reflect the hopes and aspirations of 1.3 billion Indians.”

Creation of the Department of Military Affairs with requisite military expertise and institutionalisation of the post of chief of defence staff is a “momentous and comprehensive reform” that will help India “face the ever-changing challenges of modern warfare”, the prime minister added.

Home Minister Amit Shah also congratulated Rawat and said he was sure that under his leadership the armed forces would collectively work as a team to secure India. Shah thanked Modi for creating the post. “I am confident that this decision will further strengthen India’s resolve to be among the best defence forces in the world,” he added.