An article by a senior army officer on “Strengthening Our Strategic Culture” in an eminent weekly recently, lands one in confusion as the article rolls national unity, national education, accountability, national productivity, value-based conduct, nation building eco-system, national strategic culture and a lot of rhetoric all into one amorphous mix. One sorely misses a studied, cogitative, analytical examination and presentation of our strategic culture in a dispassionate assessment.
The strategic grasp of India’s political leadership at independence was weak, narrow, often indifferent. Pre-eminence of the idea of democratic rule and the idea of civil authority being supreme, the military advise was relegated, kept away.
National strategic culture, a socio-politico-psychological legacy bestowed by history to the people, distinguishes them, based on their character, thinking and life style, with particular reference to defending themselves and asserting their way of life and thoughts among other polities and societies.
Its two dominant facts can be said to be
- security evoked by nationalistic spirit (that includes people’s thinking, philosophy, aspiration, attitude, socio-cultural tradition and their glue of togetherness);
- territorial security, which in turn concerns with
- security outside the national border along outlying area (friendly/ inimical/ neutral/ weak/ strong/ susceptible/ sensitive)
- security of the border itself – border security – which affects the border area population; and
- security within the country –internal security.
A draw-up of our historical progress of national security is characterized by several realities;
• A debilitating diversity in most spheres.
• We became a nation politically only after 1947, though culturally, we had a national awareness before that – a geo-cultural identity.
• As A. L. Basham says, “the interstate relations and war were the weakest aspects of Indian polity; medieval India had large armies; were incapable of building firm alliances; …… could not withstand the Turks whose military science was not overburdened by ancient tradition” (and most importantly and strangely too, we did not learn from the wave upon wave of invaders from the Huns, Shakas and Kushans to the Islamic and Moghuls down to finally the British!)
Our national strategy all through history has been the strategy of survival. We have bent over backwards to accept foreign rule, accommodate and compromise our interests and hand over our security to the care of the conqueror…
• In the words of Sardar K. M. Panicker “India had till independence developed no doctrine of warfare with a corpus of theory. …… neither under the British nor under the Indian rule was there developed in India a proper military tradition….. with a coherent and effective doctrine of its own.” Here it is relevant to look at the strategic grasp of the British who held India as its jewel. In order to ensure its security they extended their hold or military influence on Afghanistan, Tibet, Burma, Sri Lanka, Nepal, even Iran. (We lost all of them!)
• The strategic grasp of India’s political leadership at independence was weak, narrow, often indifferent. Pre-eminence of the idea of democratic rule and the idea of civil authority being supreme, the military advise was relegated, kept away. The Indian Army Chief soon after independence, a British incumbent, on presenting a paper on security threat and national security to Nehru, is said to have been told that war, army and military matters to the new nation were irrelevant as the country had won through without armed struggle and that India had no enemies. (That apart, Nehru and his Govt., were afraid of army coup and did not trust the armed forces and their leaders; this Nehruvian neglect of armed forces and coup mania have continued!) Recent writings in this field have revealed the British plan to partition Indian sub-continent into India, Pakistan and Princistan; and retraining substantial clout and hold on Pakistan, which is strategically seen as a portal to Central Asian republics, rich in natural resources. The Indians are now waking up, late! This strategic neglect and neglect of the theory and practice of the use of armed force has resulted in the Chinese string of pearls around Indian land and sea borders.
• Pavan Varma says, ” Historically Indans have a very mediocre record of defending themselves against foreign invaders”. Hasan Javed, a Pakistani officer in his book “India, A Study in Profile”, quoted by Husain Huqqani in his book “Pakistan Between Mosque and Military” says the same thing more acidly. Also he is in agreement with Stephen Cohen who says “India is uniquely unassertive towards others.”
National education sadly misses the necessary space and emphasis on military awareness, awareness of causes, conduct, needs, fallout and management of warlike situations. Very few universities offer this subject at college and university levels.
• Our national strategy all through history has been the strategy of survival. We have bent over backwards to accept foreign rule, accommodate and compromise our interests and hand over our security to the care of the conqueror, thus virtually abdicating our responsibility of ensuring our own security. As Haqqani’s book reveals, “…. the Indian emphasis has always been on tenacious survival, not glorious martyrdom.” It also highlights, “Indian’s reluctance to go for the kill even when everything would point to that necessity. … The key element in India’s strategy is accommodation. …. Indian government will accede somewhat to the demands put forth of even the most extreme separatist group once the latter acknowledges the sovereign authority of the Government of India.” (Nagaland is the prime example; but at what cost?)
• We carry a heavy baggage of heartlanders (the Gangetic and Central Indian belt) and peripherals – territorial (J & K, NE states and, at one time even Punjab and unsteady Tamilnadu); social (Dalits); religious (minorities); and anthropological (tribals). Our internal security problems lie almost wholly in these peripherals confronting the heartlander’s negligence, alienation and exploitation of the former. Hasan Javed’s classification comes close to this analysis. Our peripherals approximate to his third circle, whose “states are seen as completely alienated from Indian mainstream; …. these alienated states with some encouragement (being likely to) dismember India or weaken its ability to seek regional domination.”
• Our unity, post independence has mostly come to the fore mainly during emergencies/ wars, not so much in the other prolonged periods, as it should have been if unity was to be called a cultural strength. And these emergencies (wars or political tsunamies) lasted a few months only, not enough to hard-test us. Our strategic preparation, necessarily time consuming and tough, needs, long periods of unity and peace too to strengthen us strategically.
• National education sadly misses the necessary space and emphasis on military awareness, awareness of causes, conduct, needs, fallout and management of warlike situations. Very few universities offer this subject at college and university levels.
Pakistan is sucking our blood through proxy war; China in cohoot with Pakistan is running circles around us; Nepal, Sri Lanka and even Maldives are coking a snook at us; this despite our million plus army, nuclear weaponisation and (wishful?) staking for world power slot!
• The situation becomes even more extended with the wide gap between civil government and its military wing, where the latter has far less say than needed in a healthy and effective jointness demands.
• To cap it all our national outlook and civilizational heritage of letting things sort themselves out somehow, sometime is the worst drag on our national strategy. J and K, NE states, AFSPA – they just hang on, perpetuate themselves, while everybody keeps on paying the price unmindfully, unconcernedly.
These factual statements seem to get brushed aside in our zealous efforts of wishing ‘Mera Bharat Mahan’ and expouding how strong our strategy has been in our survival for five thousand years and more. We have indeed survived, but have we grown? Grown enough to assert our eminence in the international arena of ruthlessly competing nations? Pakistan is sucking our blood through proxy war; China in cohoot with Pakistan is running circles around us; Nepal, Sri Lanka and even Maldives are coking a snook at us; this despite our million plus army, nuclear weaponisation and (wishful?) staking for world power slot! The reason, one can put the finger on, lies in our traditional baggage described in the above statement of facts that epitomizes our indifferent attitude and reluctance to use armed force in our interest, timely and effectively. This bold attitude and readiness to use forces is a high value coin, the use of which is dictated by a high value strategy, a strategy that shows clearly the intent, content and resolve to put it into effect, to achieve our assertion and interests.
For this our characteristic drags and foibles described above need to be shed, replaced and a new national security vision evolved with a suiting strategy built around it. The basic ingredients of that would be our ability and readiness to assert ourselves and our interests through unhesitating and timely use of force, with aggressive intent and boldness which create credibility.
We, continental landlubbers have a different mindset and our western influenced democratic choice has apparently stymied our progress and security paradigm.
Through countries of submission to subjugation we have lost the sharpness of purposeful cogitation and resolute execution that are generic to the safeguarding of our interest and self reliance. In particular the British influence has succeeded to mesmerize us to the extent of totally morphing our psyche and thinking to the way of the westerners (British, Germans, French, American, etc.) So much so that our brand of democracy today is the offspring of what the westerners led us to believe that elections are the basis of democratic system.
A deeper thought is likely to reveal it to be akin to a ship whose captain is chosen every week by a crew that results in the very uncertainty about the ship’s reaching its destination, simply because there is no guiding hand that helps the captains to maintain direction and destination. The British have the House of Lords as a guiding (even forcing) hand, nominated by the Crown. Have our constitutional makers failed to provide for this guiding hand while borrowing from so many western constitutions? The Rajya Sabha (House of Lords) is also elected (with a miniscule nominated, whose members are largely ignorant of their role and the system). Haven’t the constitutionalists played into the hands of the westerners who have succeeded in obstructing our smooth progress through elections without the guiding hand – like changing the ship’s captain periodically by the crew?
The western seafaring peoples know, as ship crew, that they have to stick together, come heaven or hell, till they reach their destination under the initial captain, as much as they know that they have to rely on their own once out on the open sec, without outside help. This self-reliance and urge to succeed helps them develop ingenuity, initiative and unity. We, continental landlubbers have a different mindset and our western influenced democratic choice has apparently stymied our progress and security paradigm.
To overcome this we have to come out of our mesmerized psyche of western influence, change it radically to reorient to our brand of democratic system and security network and evolve our strategic web. The foundation of the exercise will rest on our changing of mindset regarding our approach to deal with national security across, on and inside our national confines, giving necessary weightage to and necessity of weaving our defense strategy based on pre-emptive or proactive aggressive action as well as reactive response (as Gen. Sunderji used to call them ‘preventive’ and ‘persuasive’).
Nehruvian models of non-alignment, coup-mania, distrust of the armed forces, deprecation of military leadership, keeping away the military from participation in national security decision making…
It is of a very high priority now, that we re-examine our excessive harping and relying on “man behind the gun” and advert to the dire need of equipping and training him to interpret the vast and the galloping technology in his combat role. Our ‘brave action’, such favourite of our masses, has to become an equally noteable techno savvy soldier; so unimagined among the masses. Alongside, the people at large and their leaders in particular must shake off their ignorance of, indifference to and disinterest in matters military, for which our education policy must pay attention. At their independence nearly 250 years ago the Americans are said to have earmarked 30 per cent of their budget to education, while we allotted a measly 2 per cent!
Our politics and the politicians who play it in various personal and party interest must develop the necessary awareness of military related matters, a vision of the nation’s external as well as internal security jigsaw, and visible philosophy of solving political, social, religious problems expeditiously with the necessary binding of give and take, a spirit of equitable adjustment. The traditional attitude of letting the problem solve itself somehow, some time must be put to sleep. J & K, Manipur, Nagaland, AFSPA, Naxals and many others are suppurating sores so adversely affecting internal security and also adding to external security threat.
Nehruvian models of non-alignment, coup-mania, distrust of the armed forces, deprecation of military leadership, keeping away the military from participation in national security decision making and other such issues must be speedily resolved politically, socially rather than taking shelter under draconian laws like AFSPA, in what sounds like abdication of political and governance responsibility.
The strategy of survival must give way to the strategy of assertion, an aggressive, vigorous, convincing and forceful, demonstrable attitude among the people and their government. Else, the country cannot retain its legitimate place in the competitive world of striving nations. We have to change our western oriented psyche, resolve the debilitating interplay of our foibles, some of them encouraged by western obsession, choose a bold assertive path and accordingly shape and strengthen our national strategy from the survival to the assertive, even aggressive. In the present vibrant time of stem cells and genetic engineering, we have to change our very genes.