Military & Aerospace

The way to Regional Power status
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Issue Vol 25.1 Jan-Mar2010 | Date : 13 Jun , 2013

The Sin that is Committed by Killing One, Who Does Not Deserve to Be Killed, Is As Great as the Sin, of Not Killing One Who Deserves to Be Killed.

Mahabharat Udyoga Parva. Chapter 72, Verse 18

We entered the 21st century with Y2K bust. Visionaries who predicted doomsday had to redeem their stature and come up with something quite different. At that point in time, Indian Diaspora was flourishing, emails heralded monumental achievements of Indians, our girls had won most beauty pageants, Indian Armed Forces were unconquerable  – recollect Kargil of 1999 and shooting of the Atlantique – our economy was expanding; things looked hunky-dory for good old Bharat. Do we have the military, bureaucratic and most of all political courage to become the Regional Policeman? In this exuberant ambience we were told that the 21st century belongs to Asia and it caught every Indian’s imagination. Just imagine we said, Western intelligentsia looks at India with respect. India with China will decide international matters for a century? Finally our 5000 year old civilisation is getting its place in the sun. India has arrived.

The euphoria permeated the psyche of the Indian Armed Forces and ‘Think Tanks’ comprising mainly retired military officers. They started writing and expounding theories and critiques on why India must become a regional power, especially since the West is saying so. The source of this astounding deduction seemed to be the single Super Power, USA. Unfortunately we ignored that policies and doctrines emerging from USA on use and impact of military power, have failed consistently after the Second Great War, and that many American doctrines during World War II were utter failures too. But since the victor writes history, they were smothered. So here we were, in 2001 CE, basking in the assumed glory of becoming the Regional Power. No one asked why we should become a Regional Power. Strange? This article may be construed as a diatribe against preferred thought, and seems defeatist. On the contrary, it is time for the Indian Armed Forces, and their mentors in and out of Govt, to question favourite theories and pleasant conclusions based on unsubstantiated and easily demolished deductions that please the ego, but not the soul.

What Does It Mean to be a Regional Power

First it is pertinent to remind ourselves that we have essentially been branded as a Regional Power by the USA and her partners. So what does being a Regional Power mean in real terms? Are we to Police this region? If yes, do we have the capability to do it? Do we have the military, bureaucratic and most of all political courage to become the Regional Policeman? 

Has our infrastructure in transportation on land, air and waters been enhanced as befits a Regional Power? Have we come anywhere close to the energy demands that are imperative to be a Regional Power? Events from 2001 till now have proven otherwise. Does Regional Power mean that other powers should consult us before engaging militarily/economically/diplomatically in this region? But the USA and its allies never bothered to tell, let alone ask India, before they intervened in Afghanistan/Pakistan. Has China talked to us before their interactions with Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar? In fact does any nation of this region seek India’s advice before making agreements with other nations of or outside this region? The answer to each of these questions is a No. If we take the way ahead to become a Regional Power, will this change? Doubtful.

To be able to project power, we bought Groshkov and named her Vikramaditya. But where is the ship? Where is that power on high seas. And the horizon does not show the outline of a carrier. The Arihant has not been armed as yet and we do not have the indigenously manufactured fighter/bomber. We still do not have the Missile regime that makes the military might of a Regional Power credible. Our MBT is an utter failure. How then can we call ourselves a Regional Power? Who accepts or even believes that India is, or can be a Regional Power? No one. Is there not something amiss in this perception? How can there be ‘a way ahead’, when we do not have the means to pave the path? Readers may be probably getting annoyed at the direction this article is taking? It is intentional.

Governance in India

What type of governance have we shown since the dawn of the 21st Century? What reliability and continuance of policies, both internal and external have we demonstrated to the world? Who were the visionaries and planners that we showcased to buttress the mantle of Regional Power? All our luminaries are abroad. There has been much dismay at India not getting a permanent seat in UNSC, and we have blamed others for this. But we have never accepted that governance in India has been of consistent poor quality, and just being the second largest nation in Asia with one billion plus population, and about a million strong army, does not qualify for permanent seat in UNSC. Has our infrastructure in transportation on land, air and waters been enhanced as befits a Regional Power? Have we come anywhere close to the energy demands that are imperative to be a Regional Power? Has the Govt of the day, NDA or UPA, shown the tidiness and resolve of an aspiring Regional Power? Has our ability to educate Indians to behave as a Regional Power been honed and upgraded? Have Govts, both Central and State, taken appropriate actions to secure India and Indians? Once again the answer to each question is a sad No. Then how can we write so laudably and convincingly about the way ahead, when there is no one to tread that path? Just soldiers, sailors and airmen with some paramilitary thrown in for colour, do not make a Regional Power.

How has our Cabinet functioned under crisis? What quality of administrative advice is given by bureaucrats from Finance, Energy, Defence, Intelligence, Agriculture, Security, to the political leadership? Is that advice evident to Indians and other nations? How pliant is the Cabinet to political party bosses? How aware are the powerful ‘behind the scene’ actors of what a Regional Power means, or do they just parrot the jargon? There has been much dismay at India not getting a permanent seat in UNSC, and we have blamed others for this. But we have never accepted that governance in India has been of consistent poor quality, and just being the second largest nation in Asia with one billion plus population, and about a million strong army, does not qualify for permanent seat in UNSC. India herself is to blame for remaining just another member of UN. The basic cause for this embarrassment is poor governance over many years, with no visible signs of change for the better. How can there be ‘a way ahead’ as a Regional Power if we are unable to govern ourselves? 

Absence of Military Advice in Decision Making

Forget about a Regional Power, even an ordinary power keeps its military closely associated in their decision making process. Indian bureaucracy and its political patrons make sure that that faujis are the last to know about decisions that intimately and intricately involve military forces. This is not the hallmark of a Regional Power. The dictum that military must remain under civilian control does not mean keeping the military out of the decision making loop. It means closely integrating military advisers for all decisions that may or may not demand military action, and finally making a decision that is binding on all elements of Indian governance. The sad truth is that there is nothing vibrant about our democratic processes, nor about our parliamentarians and legislators. Media reports now talk of getting a military adviser to tackle the Naxal menace.

It has taken the Indian politico-bureaucratic-police establishment more than 30 years to realise that military advice on Naxals may be worthwhile? Is this how a Regional Power functions? Other nations observe the patterns of Indian governance, and decide whether India can be ignored, and we are disregarded. How can a civilian centric decision to engage in a military campaign succeed, if military advice is not taken from the start? But the disdain that bureaucrats and politicians have for the military, results in poor strategic military decisions like IPKF, Parakram, Cease Fire of 1947-48, the return of 93,000 POWs to Pakistan without any quid pro quo, the return of Haji Pir salient in 1965, non-use of the IAF fighters in 1962, and many more. What is frightening is that others know about it, but Indians are blissfully ignorant, and with more than 75 percent of the educated populace unaware of its military capability, such a nation cannot be a Regional Power. The military is prohibited from informing their civilian brethren about the gaping holes in the decision matrix, thus preventing public debate and outcry. This is not the hallmark of a Regional Power. How can we ‘go ahead’, there is no one to tread the path?

Indian Military Umbrella?

Which ‘umbrella’ is being alluded to? Is there a nation in this region that will accept Indian Military Umbrella (IMU)? When the Indian military hierarchy is surprised by its own Govt about the Course of Action, who will accept cover under this fragile and poorly administered arrangement? Even laymen know that when the military is screened from military decisions, the result has to be a failure, the umbrella becomes unreliable. A Regional Power does not get sucked into dead-end military adventures that are doomed to fail. When super powers are failing, we without the wherewithal, want to offer a tattered umbrella? Our airborne assault in Maldives in Nov 88, was successful despite civilian-bureaucratic, and to some extent military gung-ho attitudes. To be considered a Regional Power, by ourselves and others, a well educated, healthy, motivated, disciplined youth needs to be the bedrock of our strength. Just witness the way we have callously destroyed our education system with crass political interference, regular messing around with syllabi, poorly paid teachers, inadequate infrastructure. Lady luck played a greater role than strategic decision making. Notwithstanding that more than 20 years have elapsed, the process remains unchanged. It is pertinent to warn ourselves of the dangers of being overwhelmed by jingoistic jargon like ‘Study of Contemporary Conflicts’, ‘Comprehensive National Power’, ‘Hard and Soft Power’, ‘From Euro-Atlantic West to Asia’. Goldman Sachs says that India has 4th largest GDP, and she will be a developed nation by 2050. These are doctored reports, controlled by the host nation to place India on a pedestal, saying that the path we follow is correct creating a false sense of well being, though evidence shows otherwise.

We fail to remind ourselves that the very same West feared an undivided India and created a permanent schism in our sub-continent. Economic disinformation campaigns by super powers have caused untold misery across the globe, and we are falling into that trap. What kind of Indian Military Umbrella can we build without a strong, reliable, accountable, and efficient Defence industry? DRDO, PSUs and Ordnance Factories have floundered for ages. The world knows it, the regional nations know it, the Govt of the day knows it, the military knows it, but ordinary Indians are blissfully unaware that military hardware with the soldier, sailor and airman is unreliable and certainly not ‘state-of-the-art’ as befits a Regional Power. The equipment supplied to the Armed Forces, Paramilitary, Police hinders rather than enhancing their fighting capability. The INSAS rifle, Arjun tank. Indra radar, Aakash, Nag, Kaveri, LCA, Saras, armoured jackets, winter clothing, simple webbing, are significant failures in content, time frames, effectiveness, reliability, robustness. What military umbrella can India offer with unreliable design, manufacturing and maintenance from her Defence Industries? Where is ‘the way ahead’ for India to be a Regional Power, when her military might is poorly supported by indigenous industry?

The private sector can willingly take over defence production if we hand over most of our DRDO, Ordnance Factories and PSUs that have consistently failed India. Military umbrellas demand uninterrupted support by reliable, disciplined, innovative industrial capacity, not behemoths that exist as job creation cesspools controlled by self serving politico/bureaucratic powers.

Human Resources – Our Youth

To be considered a Regional Power, by ourselves and others, a well educated, healthy, motivated, disciplined youth needs to be the bedrock of our strength. Just witness the way we have callously destroyed our education system with crass political interference, regular messing around with syllabi, poorly paid teachers, inadequate infrastructure. Are these the hallmark of a Regional Power? It is no secret that our media is far from mature, and is unfailingly aping western media styles. Higher education is an uncontrolled disaster. IIM and IIT products seek avenues outside India, and we have encouraged this trend with gross salary in dollars as evidence of huge success stories.

There are no Mohans of Swades in real life, youngsters do not want to work towards making India a Regional Power. The dissatisfaction levels are scary, and politicisation of our under-graduate community is frightening. Who then will look at us as a potential Regional Power, and we want to remain so for another 90 years? The situation is comic. We want to be a Regional Power without the wherewithal in governance, military hardware, military inputs into decision making, educated and motivated youth, energy generation, food security, and to top it all, a political leadership that takes its cues from filial rather than professional unbiased advice. Central as well as State leadership is created on family contacts rather than political acumen. Why should other nations of this Region have faith in such a flimsy political frame-work without any genuine signs of the youth wanting to remedy it?

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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One thought on “The way to Regional Power status

  1. It’s really pity of us that we ask for a permanent seat in the UNSC even when we utterly failed in domestic as well as international problems. The writer has raised apt issues. It is expected from the common citizens to understand the implications of political think tanks on indian military. And of course the governance can be taken to task for its authoritative actions.

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