By end-May, a new government will be in power in India. Evidently it will be a NDA government with reinforced mandate in power for the 17th Lok Sabha. However, the wounded opposition is likely to be more aggressive. While in Opposition, the UPA has set a precedent of disruptions in the running of the Parliament during the last couple of sessions, there is a likelihood of such disruptions and walk-outs continuing in the future as well. The 16th Lok Sabha met for a mere 1,615 hours during its five-year term, 40 percent lower than all full-term Parliaments. It sat for 331 days, against a 468-day average for all previous full-term Lok Sabha and lost 16 percent of its time to disruptions. The Lok Sabha lost 33 percent of the time earmarked for the Question Hour while the Rajya Sabha lost 60 percent of its scheduled time of the Question Hour. The representatives of the People put their own petty parochial party interests above that of the Nation.
This trend of stalling proceedings of the Parliament and resorting to street agitations and ‘bunds’ is becoming the norm. Disruptions have attained a legitimacy which they had earlier lacked. Both the national parties, along with the regional outfits, have been guilty of disruptions on various occasions. The representatives of the people are mandated to serve and not obstruct the due process for some party agenda. Poverty alleviation will be the paramount focus of the government for the Party which comes to power. However, to take the country forward, the government will need to balance it with due attention to the overall development and well-being of the people of the country. The challenges that will need due intentness by the government are discussed in the succeeding paragraphs.
It is time now that Indian democracy is not measured by just the humongous voting process, but by the accountability to the people by those we send to the Parliament to represent us…
National security entails the State’s responsibility for the security of every one of its citizens. Building on this theme, a more holistic idea of national security emerges. Thus, besides ensuring the State’s territorial integrity, it would encompass security for the citizens from terrorism and violent crime while ensuring economic security, energy security, environment security, food security and cyber security. It, therefore, entails the optimisation of all elements of national power. In addition to hostile action by other nation states, risk to national security include action by violent non-state actors waging a proxy war, narcotic cartels, mining mafias, Non Government Organisations covertly funded by elements inimical to the nation’s security and even large multi-national corporations. Trans-national causes for insecurity also include climate change, environmental degradation by upper riparian neighbouring states and instability in a neighbouring country. Of the various aspects pertaining to national security, the two domains that are being discussed herein are Foreign Policy, and External and Internal Security.
India’s Immediate Neighbourhood. Political astuteness and nationalistic fervor in the smaller countries which have common land or maritime borders with India, are dictating the bilateral relations of these countries with India. India needs to act with maturity with due emphasis on its own interests in formulating its bilateral relations with these countries. A patronising or ‘Big Brother’ attitude should be replaced with one of ‘equality’.
Pakistan. India’s relationship with Pakistan is deeply fractured due to the proxy war it has been waging for the last 40 years. India’s firm stance of not subscribing for talks till Pakistan ceases all support to the numerous terrorist organisations it is harbouring and nurturing and brings to book those involved in the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, should be maintained. Trade and people-to-people contact can also be held in abeyance for the time being. Trade and movement across the Line of Control in J&K must also be suspended till there is a marked change in the attitude of the Pakistan government.
SAARC. Due to Pakistan’s recalcitrance, SAARC has regressed to becoming a dysfunctional entity. Reviving the grouping sans Pakistan needs to be undertaken and sub-regional cooperation under its various treaties should be reviewed afresh.
India’s relationship with Pakistan is deeply fractured due to the proxy war it has been waging for the last 40 years…
‘Act East’ Policy. The Chinese “Debt Trap” has made many countries of ASEAN wary of BRI. This opportunity in assisting ASEAN countries in developing their infrastructure needs to be given high priority. The Centre’s lackadaisical approach in seeing these projects through in friendly foreign countries has often tarnished the country’s image.
Role in Indo-Pacific Region. India along with ASEAN countries needs to draw out a more viable cooperative framework for the Indo-Pacific Region without it appearing as a grouping forged by an external power to contain China. Since India is reluctant to accept a leadership role, as was evident from the Prime Minister’s Key Note Address at the Shangri La Dialogue in June 2018, a collective leadership format can be forged.
Afghanistan. India has contributed immensely in building vital infrastructure in Afghanistan. These initiatives need to be built upon. Short term regional development projects should be continued to be planned and speedy construction ensured. Development of the Chabahar Port as also road and rail infrastructure connected with the strategic project, must be accorded highest priority.
Extended Neighbourhood. The development of Chabahar and its supplementary projects is strategically important for developing more robust economic relations with the Central Asian Republics (CAR). This should be a dominant focus of the new government.
Indian Ocean Region. With China having a string of bases from Gwadar to Djibouti, India’s joint port and airstrip development projects in Agalega island of Mauritius and Assomption Island in Seychelles should be addressed at the earliest. Leasing or use of existing facilities on the Addu atoll in Maldives also needs to be reinvigorated. With the change of guard in Male, which is favourably disposed towards India, this should be possible.
China. Through its three-decade, double-digit economic growth, China has emerged as a significant regional and even global player. India has much catching up to do. That notwithstanding, India being the fastest growing economy, gives it a considerable clout on matters pertaining to both regional and global issues. Backed by this economic growth and a strong military force, India can stand its ground vis-à-vis China on issues related to its interests and on the boundary question. India does not need to be aggressive or confrontational in dealing with China but it should continue to exert a principled and firm stance on issues that matter.
Japan and East Asia. Under the Abe dispensation in Japan, its relations with India have acquired an important strategic dimension in the region. The relationship has graduated to now even having joint military exercises. Japan is a leading technology innovator. If both countries can develop technology jointly, it would benefit India immensely. South Korea is also a technologically advanced country with major stakes in India and, therefore, important in as far as bilateral relations go.
Through its three-decade, double-digit economic growth, China has emerged as a significant regional and even global player…
Russia. India has had a long standing strategic relationship with Russia. In the current context, Russia needs India’s friendship to, sort of, mediate in its often vitriolic relationship with the West. India must maintain this steady and stable friendship and negotiate defence technology transfer deals under the ‘Make in India’ ambit.
France, Germany and UK. While relations with the EU are mainly confined to the economic sphere, bilateral relations with these three countries have a larger strategic dimension. These three countries are frontrunners in pushing technology into India under “Make in India”. Their support is also essential for India’s quest for a seat at the high table in the UNSC.
United States (US). Relations with US have grown by leaps and bounds. Currently, this relationship is mutually beneficial and undoubtedly needs constant attention and nurturing.
Israel. India and Israel have gradually built a strong mutually beneficial relationship over the years. With Netanyahu being re-elected as Prime Minister for another term, the areas of transfer of cutting edge military technology and electronic intelligence gathering should be the core focus.
West Asia. India has assiduously balanced its relations with the countries in West Asia and Israel. It has secured for India its requirement of oil and gas. That the External Affairs Minister was invited as the Guest of Honour to address the OIC meeting on March 1, 2019, was an indicator of India’s soft power influence in the region. This harmonious relationship deserves equal priority from the beginning of the tenure of the new government at the Centre.
External Security Dimension
National Security Doctrine. Global disorder and a decline in international rules-based order have increased the chances of volatility. The security environment in South Asia is deeply complex. For India, inter-state conflict will continue to be of concern over terrorism. Difficult choices are required to be made. To give direction for the modernisation of the military, there is need to formalise a National Security Doctrine. This will synergise the potential of all the elements of national power.
The voice of civil society may need to assert itself and make its representatives accountable to the people for their actions…
Race to Space. Strategic projects related to India’s capability to launch satellites in suitable orbit configurations; missile development programme and the recent anti-satellite weapon demonstration must remain as essential development programmes of the government in the future.
Line of Control (LC). India has long land and maritime borders. LC and Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) with Pakistan are live borders. There has been unabashed violation by Pakistan of the Cease Fire that was agreed to in 2003. That Agreement should be treated as null and void. The Group of Ministers report based on the Kargil Review Committee recommendations had recommended the concept of “one border, one force”. Considering this, replacing the BSF on the LC by RR should be actively pursued. The BSF so relieved can augment the deployment of forces on the International Boundary Fence with Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Line of Actual Control (LAC). The Northern borders along the International Boundary/LAC (IB/LAC) too are live and militarily active. Along the IB/LAC there is the deployment of the ITBP along with the Army. The ITBP is operating independently except for certain specified periodic joint patrols. The duplication of operational command and control leads to an unnecessary profusion of military activity along the LAC which is often misinterpreted by China. To add to the confusion, both Ministries of Home Affairs and Defence get involved with no coordination. Unlike in India, all Border Guarding Forces in Tibet Autonomous Region of China are directly under the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (Army). It is time India considered renaming the ITBP and designating it as BSF (Mountains). It will convey to China that India does not harbour any ambitions in Tibet.
Development of Infrastructure. Due to the extreme ruggedness of the terrain along the Northern borders the development of infrastructure has been extremely slow and remains woefully inadequate. To further complicate matters, there are multifarious agencies that are involved in developing roads in the region. This is of major concern as it affects India’s operational readiness and its ability to suitably respond to any belligerent action by the adversary. The Border Roads Organisation entrusted with this responsibility has not measured up to the task at hand. Placing it directly under the MoD will see it go the way of other DPSU’s – unresponsive and monopolistic. An Infrastructure Development Board under the National Security Adviser needs to be set up to oversee the development of all strategic infrastructure projects.
War Wastage Reserve. As India faces a threat on its Western and Northern borders which could become a ‘two-front’ war scenario. The war wastage reserves needed for a 20-day ‘intense war’ should be made up for the operational forces on both fronts. Making available land for construction of forward ammunition depots, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh needs to be taken up on priority. Needless to say, funds for construction of these storage facilities for this vast quantity of ammunition also need immediate attention. Presently, surge capacities in ammunition manufacturing factories are inadequate. Making funds available to the Vice Chief of Army Staff for urgent import of ammunition is not a solution.
The media should stop segregating society on the basis of caste, sub-caste, religion, language and the host of other sub-divisions they have got used to…
Attack Helicopters. The Army Aviation Corps by its direct affiliation to the Army is an asset at the operational and tactical level like in all armies. It was earlier planned to induct all Apache Attack Helicopters into the Army Aviation Corps. However, the first batch of 20 Attack Helicopters will be delivered to the Air Force. Having experienced the gross inadequacy of the Air Force operations in support of ground forces with the Mi-24/35 Attack Helicopter, this has been a retrograde step and needs immediate rectification.
Hollowness. In the process of modernisation of the Army, equipping the Infantry has been glossed over. Whether it is the Assault Rifle, Close Quarter Battle Carbine, Light Machine Gun, Automatic Grenade Launcher, Medium Machine Gun, Under Barrel Grenade Launcher, Sniper Rifle, Anti-Material Rifle, anti-tank rocket launcher, anti-tank guided missiles or the humble hand grenade, there has been no upgradation or induction of a new weapon system. Night sights for crew served weapons are inadequate in numbers and for personal weapons, virtually none exist. Night vision binoculars are deficient. Night Surveillance devices are not yet on the inventory of the Infantry nor any weapon to target enemy’s aviation assets – be they drones or attack/armed helicopters. This shortage of weapons and warlike stores of the force which is tasked to physically seek and destroy the enemy does not augur well for a fighting force.
Youthful Profile of the Army. The Army must maintain a youthful profile. In armies of developed countries, soldiers and officers are regularly side-stepped into the nation’s internal armed guarding forces akin to India’s Central Armed Police Forces. The government has to seriously look into this aspect. Such a move will synergise the potential of Army and the armed police forces for a more effective output.
Coastal Security. India’s has a long coastline measuring over 7,500 km with nearly 1,200 islands which gives it an EEZ of over 2.2 million square km. Maritime borders are vastly different from land borders. 95 percent of India’s energy requirement and 90 percent of its trade is conducted over the seas. Of the 16 major ports and 227 minor ports, 187 of them do not have basic security. To safeguard India’s economic security, it is imperative that priority action is taken to secure all the ports at the soonest possible.
Coastal Security Force. The Indian Ocean is the domain of the Indian Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Police of the States besides a host of other agencies. Maritime security needs a central force which controls all aspects of coastal security. A Coastal Security Force under the Central Government, like the BSF for land borders, needs to be actively considered.
QUAD and EX MALABAR. The Navy is conducting joint exercises with various like-minded countries. However, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) – informal consultative mechanism between US, Japan, Australia and India, must not be juxtaposed with Ex Malabar, which is a wholly Indian initiative unlike the QUAD.
Fourth Generation Aircraft. The strength of the Indian Air Force has been steadily eroding. Vintage aircraft on its inventory are being pitted against more sophisticated aircraft of the adversaries. Procurement of fourth-generation aircraft has been stymied due to extraneous reasons. Indigenous development and production by HAL has been tardy. The agency must be made more accountable.
Internal Security Dimension
Subversion of the Population. A divided, polarised society is susceptible to subversion by inimical entities. Over the decades, India’s internal fabric has been weakened for selfish political gains. Governance continues to be opaque and those in authority remain insulated from the common citizen. The automatic promotion policy and Non-Functional Upgradation (NFU) for civil servants is not conducive to good governance and needs to be changed.
Proxy War. Violence fuelled by Pakistan and separatists in Jammu and Kashmir has been dealt with by the Centre in a ‘fire-fighting’ mode. The government has been reacting to terrorist actions as and when they occur and then letting things be as they are, rest of the time. There will be no worthwhile outcome by talking to the self-styled leaders in Kashmir Valley or with Pakistan as there is no likelihood of them comprising on their demand of secession. Violence in the Kashmir Valley has held the region of Ladakh and Jammu hostage and they have not been allowed to develop. Articles 370 and 35A, which were not part of the Accession Agreement, but added later, have been instrumental in preventing the complete integration of the people of the State with the rest of the country. These two Articles should be done away with. As a further step, the State should be trifurcated into the State of Jammu, the State of Kashmir and the Union Territory of Ladakh.
The North – East. Insurgency in the North-East has been largely contained. Insurgent groups in Nagaland have entered into ceasefire agreements with the government. However, they continue to retain arms and are sustaining themselves through extortion. The NSCN (IM) runs a parallel government in the State. The Manipuri insurgent groups have their armed wings based in Myanmar. The underdeveloped terrain of the region favours the insurgent. The Centre, in collaboration with Myanmar government, should continue to employ the Army’s Special Forces, to strike at bases of insurgent groups in Myanmar as and when necessary.
Left Wing Extremism (LWE). LWE has been squeezed into an area which is approximately one-third of what it was a decade ago. More resources need to be allocated for the same. Junior leadership has been found lacking and Standard Operating Procedures are flaunted leading to heavy casualties. If there was the system of side-stepping from the Army as earlier mentioned, there would be greater likelihood of success in countering the menace of LWE.
Information Age. Cyber Security has acquired a strategic dimension in the highly digitalised environment globally. Fake news and social media are being used to incite violence and has accentuated the divide in society on the lines of region, ethnicity, language, religion and caste. The entire banking system, cashless economy and day to day functions depend on secure transactions at all times. Constant vigil of the cyber domain and aggressive defensive and offensive cyber security is of prime importance.
Police Force. Police reforms have been neglected by all governments in power at the centre till now. A competent police force along with an efficient criminal justice system is a benchmark of a developed country. These reforms cannot be allowed to languish just for votes.
National Intelligence Agency (NIA). The powers of the NIA, that was established post 26/1, were clipped soon after its inception due to the States being suspicious of its motives in opposition ruled states. That is a very myopic view. Bringing in the NIA after a major terrorist incident is akin to ‘closing the stable door after the horse has bolted’. This needs immediate rectification.
Non-Traditional Threats. India is complacent about the impact of non-traditional threats to its security, be it environmental degradation, over-exploitation of natural non-renewable resources, water scarcity, pollution or pandemics. No government at the centre can afford to treat this in a pedestrian fashion.
National Register of Citizens. Illegal migration and human trafficking have greatly altered the demographic profile of certain regions of the country in particular. The National Register of Citizens must be applied to all states in the North East and West Bengal too.
Skill Development. There has been much excitement over India’s “youth bulge and youth dividend”. Realistically, this segment of the population is unskilled to undertake the jobs that will be thrown up in an era of Artificial Intelligence. The right type of skilling and development of potential of youth is a major challenge ahead lest they end up becoming a serious liability and a national internal threat.
India is at the cusp of securing its rightful place in the global comity of nations. All can be lost if petty politics comes to the forefront and hijacks the agenda. It is time that the voice of civil society asserts itself and make its representatives accountable to the people for their actions. Probably, it is time now that Indian democracy is not measured by just the humongous voting process, but by the accountability to the people by those we send to the Parliament to represent us. Here, the Media too needs to pitch in by modifying its vocabulary and stop addressing the representatives as ‘rulers’ and forever eliminate undemocratic words such as ‘throne’ and ‘king maker’. In a democracy, there are no ‘kings’ or ‘thrones’ or ‘rulers’. Also the media should stop segregating society on the basis of caste, sub-caste, religion, language and the host of other sub-divisions they have got used to for dividing the people of this country. They will be doing a great service to democracy in India, if they can do so.