It needs no revelation that there is widespread consternation within the strategically committed community, the intelligentsia and the media over the growing obsolescence and declining operational capability of the ultimate cutting instrument of national power – the military force-structure. Thus in spite of maintaining the third largest military force in the world, there is imposition of only a fractional deterrence upon the perennial adversaries while they keep jabbing hurtfully at rib of the Indian nationhood. The new political leadership is apparently intent on remedying that undesirable situation. Therefore, to turn its rhetoric into action, the NDA government has to acknowledge that there are two distinct aspects to the amelioration of that undesirable stage, and tackled these on priority if its political pronouncements are to gain respectability from the citizenry.
‘Salus republicae suprema lex’ (Safety of nation is the supreme law) —Latin proverb
The previous government’s pusillanimity against neighbourhood bullying had caused deep consternation among the nation’s strategic fraternity…
A New Agenda for National Defence
Installation of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in 2014 has been a unique experience in India’s democratic dispensation for its landslide electoral victory was decided by two factors and one cause. The two factors were – one, the popular demand for progress and probity in governance and two, a nation-wide urge to awaken the government from its stupor on matters of national security. And the one cause, of course, was the demand for astute and resolute leadership. The government in saddle would do well for the nation’s progress to keep this fact in focus.
On the second count, the previous government’s pusillanimity against neighbourhood bullying, coupled with what had to be but an intended sidelining of the nation’s military institution, had caused deep consternation among the nation’s strategic fraternity. In rightful dismay, the media too had undertaken to expose this political apathy. It was so that public sentiment against the government’s defence (mis)management, amongst a plethora of other aspects of brazenly crony governance, grew into a popular mission aimed at bringing in a more responsive, decisive and effective government. The wisened citizenry thus rose as one to hand out a severe mauling to the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. They now await the coming of a better dispensation; that is, alongside overall good governance, better concern for national defence too.
During the great election campaign, rescue of national security and the military institutions from the UPA government’s apparent apathy had been an underlying theme of Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) promises. That was also a period when a thin layer of skin that had grown to cover the old but still raw wound of the 1962 debacle was painfully scratched off by the growing Chinese arrogance. Thus, the similarities of the prevailing situation with the prelude to that debacle, and the damage that debacle inflicted upon the nationhood, was in the news again. However, in the heat of elections, the serious issues of the nation’s defence capability had been turned into just the barbs to be hurled at the moribund UPA government. Presently therefore, with a two-year old proactive and overwhelmingly supported government in the saddle, it is time for the NDA government to realign from electoral rhetoric to the adoption of concrete measures to resuscitate India’s national defence apparatus.
It is time for the NDA government to realign from electoral rhetoric to the adoption of concrete measures to resuscitate India’s national defence apparatus…
Much of the citizenry’s expectations from its newly preferred government is a firm espousal of India’s sovereign dignity. This expectation is provoked by the past government’s timid surrender against dismissive behaviour from China and her sidekick, Pakistan, when the adversarial duo’s downright hostile military and diplomatic affronts were being passed off with such misleading innuendos as, “Not a shot has been fired on the Line of Actual Control (LAC)…”, trivialisation of territorial encroachment as “acne on a beautiful face” (sic) and parroting empty warnings against proxy war and terrorism – situations which had in fact been self-imposed by restraining the border police and military forces from contesting cross-border provocations. Similarly, acquiescence with Pakistan’s pantomime of her being a ‘victim of terror’ and insinuation of India’s hand in Baluchistan were acts of self-depredation that had horrified all sensible Indians.
At the other end, China responded to the Indian government’s kowtowing by fuelling up Pakistan’s anti-India hostility with supply of nuclear and conventional weapons, overlook of terrorist activities and endorsement of the illegal occupation of Indian territories. Having thus outsourced to her lackey the imposition of military threat over India from another flank, China continued to pursue its inimical intent through incremental intrusions and deepening encroachments across the entire length of the LAC. If that was not enough, China went about issuing ‘stapled visas’ to Indians coming from her and her lackeys claimed territories and blocking development projects from coming up in such areas, while nonchalantly building roads and dams in India’s Pakistan occupied territories. China’s hypocrisy, however, peaked when she ‘required’ India to desist from seeking relief from her unilateral hostility by forging partnerships with the other victims of China’s torment.
The UPA government’s response to the affront to India’s sovereign dignity had more or less been to remain stoic, if not subservient, and to appeal to the tormentor’s indulgence. Actually, over the decades, having permitted a debilitating ‘hollowness’ to creep into the nation’s military power and so having foregone its option of hard diplomacy, there was little else that it could do to counter the tormentor’s aggressive behaviour. Dismayed to no end thus, the Indian voters wanted to be freed from such affronts to their national dignity. Therefore, the NDA government’s apparently robust demeanour over China’s territorial claims, growing activities in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir and overlook of Pakistan’s terror affliction brought them some relief, as did the initiatives on forging partnerships with Indian Ocean Region littorals, Japan, Vietnam, Australia and the USA.
China continued to pursue its inimical intent through incremental intrusions and deepening encroachments across the entire length of the LAC…
As for dealing with Pakistan, there is some appreciation, albeit well-contested – of the ‘new approaches’ being tried out. Popular perception reveals that robust retaliation against cross-border firings, firm diplomacy against export of terrorism and repudiation of talks on the Kashmir issue have definitely put Pakistan under some pressure; the idea of endorsing the Baloch rebellion seems to add to that pressure. No doubt, as indicated by ‘progress’ over prosecution of the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack, forewarning of the terrorists’ infiltration and cooperation in joint investigation of the unsuccessful attack on Air Force Station Pathankot, Pakistan is seen to be going tentative on her habitual intransigence. Within the country too, there is declining superciliousness among the extremist groups who may not anymore be enjoying immunity against anti-nationalism. Even if all these positive developments remain at a nascent stage yet, and notwithstanding vocal criticisms from opposing parties – some genuine, some ill-informed and mostly vote-catching, there is no denying that the NDA government has done better in restitution of the common man’s national pride.
Astute and bold diplomacy can, however, make telling mark only when backed up with economic clout, which in turn must be sustained by military power. Therefore, given the adverse economic and military power differential, there is little else any Indian government may do to be relieved of China’s inimical behaviour. India’s moral bonding with the Tibetan cause may cause consternation in China, and even if that may not be the intent, solidarity with China’s other tormented neighbours may offer potential means for a distress-driven India to reciprocate to China’s aggressiveness. But that may be all that India can presently do to protect her interests. Similarly, in relation to Pakistan, even if India may presently be spared of repeated conventional military aggression, the option to punish Pakistan’s proxy war is rather narrow unless the latter’s nuclear hoax is rejected – as indeed it should be.
Conversely, over most of the post-independence decades the Indian leadership has been rather persistent in slapping astonishingly witless ‘non-policies’ to mess up on the twin fundamentals of national defence – viz the defence research and production industry and the military force-structure. Debility in the Indian military institution has, therefore, gone deep, and it will take India many years to claim that state when hard diplomacy may be backed up with military power to keep inimical forces deterred from mischief. Further, with the imperative of military modernisation remaining frozen over the past two decades, any reckonable progress on the nation’s short term defence preparedness would take more than one election cycle to show. All that the NDA government may achieve during its current tenure is, therefore, to set the entire gamut of defence preparedness and military modernisation on its rails while rescuing the institution of the military from its conceptual and temporal hollowness, and so gain the voters’ confidence so as to be rewarded with another tenure.
China’s hypocrisy, however, peaked when she ‘required’ India to desist from seeking relief from her unilateral hostility…
Turning Political Rhetoric to Defence Policy
As stated, the Indian military institution stands debilitated by the lowest priority accorded to it in a sustained manner over the last 25 years. It would therefore be banal to expect that the accumulated ‘hollowness’ in the military force structure – in terms of shortages and obsolescence of military hardware and voids in organisational structure – might be filled up soon enough to its pristine status of the 1970s and 1980s; it would take many years to recover from the cumulative damage. However, this situation also opens up opportunities to fill the voids of war wherewithal, discard irrelevant establishments, and modernise moving from obsolescence into a modern, potent and cost-efficient military force – something that the Indian military institution is presently not. Towards that prudent intent, it would be advisable for the government to strengthen the above-mentioned twin pillars of national defence, viz, one, the ‘defence sector’ consisting of research, and development, production and procurement industry and two, the cutting instrument of national power, the military force structure.
Flippant and myopic (mis)management over the decades has caused all of these pillars of national defence to suffer utter ‘goal displacement’. The NDA government’s political image would, therefore, be best manifested by the adoption of an astute defence policy and institution of a robust mechanism for its implementation.
Reorientation of the Defence Sector
The defence sector may be defined by research, development and production industries which are the foundations on which stands the nation’s long term defence capability. Having monopolised the quest for defence research and development into the rigid structure of a bureaucratic department, successive governments had allowed it to turn into a self-certified, self-accountable and self-aggrandising fiefdom where scientists decided as to what would be an ‘adequate’ weapon or equipment for the forces to fight with. The defence production industry in the private sector, and to a large extent, even the public sector had been, on the other hand, consciously estranged from native innovation, technology infusion and quality production under a misplaced notion of peace-affiliation.
The most telling damage to national interests, however, come from a virtual release of these establishments from accountability to their sole purpose of existence…
The most telling damage to national interests, however, come from a virtual release of these establishments from accountability to their sole purpose of existence – the military institution – and humouring their focus on cadre aggrandisement rather than the organisational performance. The result is there for all to see and rue; once a fairly competent producer of contemporary weapon systems from guns to aircraft, India today cannot produce a good rifle for its soldiers to wield in their ingrained enthusiasm for getting the better of their enemy.
No doubt, of late, certain policy initiatives have been taken to remedy the above discussed goal displacement. Picking up from the ineffectual steps taken by the previous governments, collaborations and funding options for development schemes as well as manufacture and production of military hardware have been liberalised and performance targets of defence research as well as production establishments, both in public and private domains, have been better defined. Collaborative research and development with the academia and foreign institutions is encouraged and there is focus on joint manufacture, technology transfer, ‘Make in India’ and global trade. To that end, setting up the Dhirendra Singh Committee, followed up with the VK Aatre Task Force to invigorate the defence procurement procedure and identify strategic partners for indigenisation of defence acquisitions are major steps forward. Above all, the various constituent establishments of the defence sector have been shaken up to rise from their cosy retreats and compete for accountability in performance.
Modern wherewithals of warfare are not always profitably or practically produced; neither are they produced indigenously. Another aspect of the defence sector, therefore, must be the process of procurement of military hardware from indigenous sources as well as through import, and acquisition of capital weapon and equipment systems that involve the government and inland as well as international vendors, both public and private.