National interest is something India needs to learn from America. Regardless of the provocation, national interest must always dictate the actions of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA). Though the frequency has reduced, we have looked so foolish standing on our high moral horse time and again at the cost of our national interests. Whilst it is true that the internal situation does colour our external relations, at one stage, the MEA had achieved the impossible. We have had poor relations with all our neighbours. This is something we have to correct from the word ‘go’.
India remains vulnerable to the disturbances spilling over from her neighbours…
The euphoria of the epic general elections is over. As per statisticians, at least 33 per cent of the voters are absolutely thrilled at their sagacity. The mood in the country is upbeat despite El Nino and the economic slowdown. Although the average citizen knows in his heart of hearts that things cannot change in a hurry, the mounting inflation and the dismounting subsidies are already causing heartburn. Meanwhile, by all reports, the Prime Minister (PM) and hopefully, his team seem to have buckled down to putting in place a more responsive and hygienic system of governance (not government, mind you).
Today, the South Asian Region ranks as one of the three flashpoints in the world along with the Middle East and North Korea. Within this region lies a group of nations in troubled transition to modernity, their external discourse damned by internal contradictions. In a world moving towards integration, many of these nations remain torn by ethnic and religious strife, economic disparities and political instability. For obvious reasons, it is full of turmoil. Internal dynamics and external influences have led to increase in the degree of uncertainty.
As a member of this region, India remains vulnerable to the disturbances spilling over from her neighbours. India herself is at the crossroads. We witness this giant stirring into wakefulness, into an awareness of its power today. This rise in stature brings with it greater responsibilities and a larger role in regional as well as global affairs. This demands not only a change in policy, internal and external, but a fundamental change in our very thinking, ethos and value system. This then is the challenge before the Modi government that is in an unenviable position of having to balance the vast burden of public aspirations with some hard-headed, tough governance on one hand and boosting the sagging economy on the other. At the same time, convince the world that India cannot to be trifled with. What, then, should the priorities before the Modi government be?
The lack of strategic direction ultimately contributes to a lack of national character and a lack of national will…
Priorities: An Overview
The Modi government has been blessed with a massive mandate by the people of India. Public participation and media hype have perhaps been unprecedented in recent history. But therein lies the rub. Now everyone from a chaiwala to a CEO feels that he is a major stakeholder and is demanding the government begin delivering. Let us have a brief glance at the priorities.
Top Priority: Some of these are checking corruption, taming inflation, reviving economy, boosting manufacture and agriculture.
Power: These include de-nationalisation of the coal sector, corporatisation of railways and establishing a land bank.
Defence: Includes increase in budget, streamlining acquisition procedures and boosting indigenous capability.
Foreign Policy: This ranges from Indo-US relations to dealing with China and Pakistan to relations with neighbouring states and the ‘Look East’ policy.
We have laws, rules and regulations for every conceivable contingency; our problem is implementation…
I have merely tried to list a few illustrative priorities. So how does a government deal with such a massive number is the question, I am sure, on everybody’s mind. One way is to qualify them into Essential, Desirable and Routine. Many of them will have to be sounded out against the political sounding board. Some of them will be kept in abeyance as non-productive. Some will have to be dictated by the emerging international scenario. Whatever be the disposal, one common thread runs through the entire process. They all have to be measured against a common time base. Time is of the essence chiefly because this government has taken over the reins at a time when India is at the cusp of its political and economic power.
I am fairly sanguine that the PM and his cabinet are more than seized of all the nuances. Their efforts are already visible in Lutyen’s Delhi. Many of these efforts are specifically related to the Defence and Security scenarios.
One aspect that is conspicuous by its absence is National Strategy. Simply put, where we are and where we wish to be in, let us say, 20 or 40 years time. I am sure someone must have articulated some thoughts, someone must have worked towards a formulation, at least some of our leaders must be familiar with it. How come, then, that almost all our endeavours, be it foreign relations, arms acquisitions, bills/ordinances, internal security or key appointments, smack of ad-hocism? The lack of strategic direction ultimately contributes to a lack of national character and a lack of national will, two maladies we have been afflicted with for decades.
National strategy comprises many disciplines. To name a few, defence, security, economy, agriculture, industry, diplomacy and foreign relations. Once national strategy is drafted, debated, modified and enunciated, it defines the broad path to follow, regardless of who is in power. All other strategies such as military, economic, industrial will flow from it. The process of formulation must start now. A group of experts from as many fields as practical should be tasked to present the first draft in a time bound period. Let it first be debated within the government and then publicly. Media must be taken onboard at a predetermined time. Thereafter, we need to publish a White Paper for the benefit of the world so that others are also privy to our thinking. March 2015 could be the target date.
The Nehruvian era witnessed the rise of the bureaucracy. This is one single group responsible for the poor governance that ails the country today.
We have laws, rules and regulations for every conceivable contingency; our problem is implementation. Effective implementation involves every citizen but more so, it is dealt with by the bureaucracy and the police.
The Police: Generations have been sent into paroxysms of laughter by the antics of policemen and women on celluloid. The public is contemptuous of them. The second emotion they evoke is fear. People consider them depraved, deprived and they are generally despised. This is partly a carryover from the colonial days when they were actively used to further the nefarious designs of British rulers. In the 67 years after independence, their lot has not improved. What can one expect of a policeman who is overworked, underpaid, under-housed, misused and abused by his political masters? The common excuse given is that it is a state subject and the centre can only suggest. If we want effective implementation, we have to immediately and earnestly improve their lot. Some suggestions are:-
- Amend the archaic Police Act, an issue that has been long pending.
- Improve their pay scales, their living and working conditions, their access to better technology and weapons. Insist on compliance by the states.
- Recruit to fill deficiencies.
- Control of the police must be with police officers and not with politicians. This is a sensitive issue and this is where the wheels of progress get stuck. Unless we overcome this resistance, we condemn the police to continued purgatory.
The Bureaucracy: The Nehruvian era witnessed the rise of the bureaucracy. This is one single group responsible for the poor governance that ails the country today. Their rise was aided and abetted by indifferent or ignorant ministers who preferred to let the bureaucrats run ministries. Rampant sycophancy was the direct result and national interest and governance were the victims. The BBC serial “Yes Minister” reflects the Indian milieu so beautifully. Of course, there are some excellent bureaucrats but they are few in number. The problem has always been a lack of accountability. The Ministers were so overly dependent on them that they could not make demands on them or take them to task. It is heartening to note that the PM has made it his first priority and if the media is to be believed, the results are already visible in North and South Blocks.
…Article 370 must continue to be discussed openly at regular intervals so that awareness is created about its nuances.
The dimensions are staggering. At one end is the individual security of citizens, especially women. The other end of the spectrum comprises Naxals, the North East States, Article 370 and outfits such as HUJI and IM. As far as individual security is concerned, policing is the only immediate answer.
Naxalism: Let me relate an interesting story. I had made a courtesy call on the then Home Minister. Over a cup of coffee when I asked him if the Naxals were a problem, he gave me a ten-minute talk explaining that there was no Naxal problem and isolated incidents were being cited to exaggerate the issue. He gave me a lot of pamphlets to prove the point. I then went to the Home Secretary’s office and lo and behold! He gave me the same spiel. Be that as it may, Naxals are a problem today born out of socio-economic and socio-political repression. These need to be addressed but this will take its due course. Of short term concern is the boots on ground, the killings and attacks on policemen and people. The Naxal movement for freedom must be controlled through the following measures:
- Para Military Forces (PMF) operations under a central planning agency involving all stakeholders. The socio-political/economic balm must be applied simultaneously. Synergy is the order of the day.
- Improved leadership, training, infrastructure and technology are the prerequisites to such endeavours. If the media is to be believed, some organisations may need restructuring and rejuvenating.
- Extensive use of air power in terms of drones, helicopters for recce and support roles.
I feel it has to be an ‘out’ to ‘in’ approach with PMF operating out of few, well-protected bases conducting operations and returning to safe homes, first securing easier areas, then venturing onto the more difficult ones.
The North East States must be brought into the mainstream…
North East States, HUJI and IM: The North East States must be brought into the mainstream. They have contributed significantly to national wealth and have been ignored. Build up of road/rail infrastructure should be a priority. I have clubbed organisations like HUJI to point out a salient difference. Naxals and Nagas are indigenous and rural. Their ire is against indigenous indifference, maltreatment or mis-governance. The ‘jihadi’ organisations on the other hand, project the agenda of external powers with separation from the Union as their prime objective. So while one needs to be resolved by winning the hearts and minds, the other needs ruthless eradication.
Jammu and Kashmir: A problem we have faced and fought over for decades and it is not likely to be resolved in the near future. However, it is equally vital for us not to forget that Kashmir is an integral part of our Union. I am of the opinion that Article 370 needs to be done away with. Obviously, it is too early to resolve this problem. However, it must not be forgotten and Article 370 must continue to be discussed openly at regular intervals so that awareness is created about its nuances.