The Indian State as it exists today is a consequence of the British presence in India. Prior to that, throughout history, the sub continental land mass was hardly ever a State in geographical terms. Culturally, there was a vast web of unity but it was not enough to make the people and the large numbers of rulers of the land mass feel that they all had an identity of interests in security also.
The three most important among these were the tribal incursions in J &K, establishing a foreign policy and determining the approach towards China.
In fact the concept of security in those days was confined only to the ruling elite and it only encompassed territorial integrity and pacification of the populations. Each ruler thought of his interests alone. The raiders from the North West found it easy to make forays into this land mass and eventually to establish footholds. Subsequently, the British and other Europeans came in with equal ease and an empire was created.
Thanks to various battles and wars in Europe, the British had a highly developed sense of national interests. Applied to the Indian subcontinent, it meant protection of the new acquisitions from other empire builders or expansionist powers. Much of their involvement in national security terms meant mainly keeping Czarist Russia and China at bay. Policies with this end in view were made in London by the British Government which now had a Secretary of State for India. This official depended for his inputs on the Governor General of India. The latter’s authority was principally concerned with the consolidation of British power in India. His prime interests were, therefore, of a military nature and his own advisers were, therefore, mainly the British military establishment in India, headed in the final stages, by a Commander-in-Chief, placed second in the Executive Council of the Viceroy.
The decision to refer the J&K issue to the UN, instead of driving the incursionists out of J&K which was militarily feasible at that time, has embroiled us in an unending stand off with Pakistan.
When the Empire was converted into a nation in 1947, the institutions and outlook inherited by the Indian successors were all colonial in nature. Very few had the vision that with introduction of Parliamentary democracy radical changes had to be effected and new thinking evolved. To be fair to the leaders of the day, their preoccupations were with matters which they considered to be of immediate importance such as making the state viable, establishing a respectable place for it in the community of nations and awakening the people to their new status and responsibilities. Strategic thinking was not a part of this matrix and, therefore, no questions arose as to what mechanism should take care of it, even though there were issues of national security which came up almost immediately after independence.
The three most important among these were the tribal incursions in J &K, establishing a foreign policy and determining the approach towards China. Though the decisions were to be made in the name of the Indian Cabinet, the actual policy maker was the Prime Minister who depended primarily on his insights and experience of dealing with a colonial power, the British. His stature was such that hardly anybody could question him. The bureaucracy, as it was constituted then, did not have the expertise to advise in the arena which was by and large a new area for them.
The decisions in each of these cases were, thus, adhoc and entirely individualistic. They did not follow structured long term or midterm assessments. They gave no indication that they emanated from an awareness of strategic imperatives for the country. What is certain, however, is that real-politic was not a consideration.
After 1955, with the rechristening of the C-in-Cs as Chiefs of Staff, the Chiefs no longer served as principal advisers for defence decision making. The field was left entirely to the civilians who themselves were ill equipped to take a holistic view of National Security.
Those decisions have had in subsequent years, traumatic effect on the body politic of the country. The decision to refer the J&K issue to the UN, instead of driving the incursionists out of J&K which was militarily feasible at that time, has embroiled us in an unending stand off with Pakistan. The policy on China saw the loss of Tibet as a buffer state. Only, establishing nonalignment at the core of our foreign policy, can be said to have the continuing approval of the country. The correct adoption of this policy was an outcome from the experience of the long freedom struggle against colonialism in India.
These early encounters with national security decision making brought no changes to the decision making institutions except that there was now a Defence Minister in the Cabinet in place of the C-in-C. The service Chiefs functioned with the title of C-in-Cs till 1955, providing inputs to the Government for decision making on defence matters through Chiefs of Staff Committees and Defence Minister’s Committee. The Defence Committee of the Cabinet considered their recommendations. After 1955, with the rechristening of the C-in-Cs as Chiefs of Staff, the Chiefs no longer served as principal advisers for defence decision making. The field was left entirely to the civilians who themselves were ill equipped to take a holistic view of National Security. Their organisations such as they existed were still to be Indianised in spirit.
This was evident in the episodes which led to the war with China in 1962 and which ended with the war with Pakistan in 1965. Misgivings about China had always been present and were on the rise after the discovery of the road built by them in Aksai Chin. The Indian response was the forward policy which just amounted to establishing checkposts on the Sino Indian border as far forward as possible. The checkposts represented no strength, just a symbolic presence. Their concept evolved part from wishful thinking, part from an acknowledgement that nothing more substantive was possible in the near future. The policy was not the result of brainstorming sessions because no mechanism for such brainstorming existed. The disaster of 1962 then followed.
The debacle in 1962 did lead to soul stirring within the country and it was realised that something was amiss.
The Tashkent agreement of 1966 which ended the 1965 war with Pakistan again saw India loose out. The Hajipir Pass, captured with considerable sacrifice, and which controlled infiltration routes into J &K was returned to Pakistan against no tangible gain.
In both situations, decisions were of individuals. More wide ranging coordinated institutional assessments preceded the decisions. There was no prior articulation of India’s national interests.