SECURING INDIA’S FUTURE: A SOLDIER’S PERSPECTIVE
Maj. Gen. (Retd) K S Pendse
1. By end-May 2014, India’s new government will be facing the daunting job of leading the nation into an era of political stability, social sanity and economic prosperity. Challenges to a successful attainment of these goals exist already at global, regional and national levels. Before India can rise and shine in the 21st Century, it must learn to survive and thrive with honour, in this dog-eat-dog globalised world, first. Some of these challenges are outlined in succeeding paras.
2. No doubt, challenges at the global level can be tackled only at the global level, through effective mechanism of global governance. Even if it may impose some curbs on national sovereignty, Indian leaders have to play a role as befits a future economic power to strengthen such mechanism and profit by it.
3. Population explosion in poor countries including India, coupled with technological advances in the richer ones, environmental degradation and climate change with consequent natural disasters (floods, storms, fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, extreme weather conditions and geomagnetic storms) can change our lives dramatically. Not only supply of crude oil but also that of water can reach a critical condition. As non-renewable resources from the earth’s crust become progressively scarce, mankind’s total economic endeavour will have to reduce drastically. The earth’s resources, as Gandhi observed, may be enough for man’s needs but not for his greed.
4. The politico-socio-economic fall-out of these global threats are not only interconnected but also give rise to systemic impacts. The after-shocks of the US financial crisis of 2007-08 are still evident. An accelerated economic growth due to globalization and better internet connectivity has had negative side-effects on eco-systems-biodiversity and climate – that transcend national borders.
5. In addition to economic and environmental systems, others such as geopolitical developments, especially in the US and other developed countries impact India’s future. US withdrawal from Afghanistan and its proposed slashing of its military strength alongside its pro-Pakistan military tilt affect India’s threat perception. Terrorism emanating from Pakistan has a nuclear tinge. Organised crime, smuggling and infiltration of India’s security infrastructure are the other facets evident in the geopolitical sphere. Socially, pandemics, food scarcity & famines are capable of upsetting India’s plans, while technologically, India has miles to go before it can defend its interests, including its cyber-networks. China straddles both global and regional scene. With its history of aggression, it is better treated under the regional rubric as far as India is concerned.
6. India’s position in South Asia, with unresolved borders with China and a no-war, no-peace situation over Kashmir with Pakistan, is too well-known. India has had to bear three conflicts with Pakistan, not to forget Kargil war of 1999. Cease-fire violations in the J&K are continuing. Over and above these incidents, terrorists based in Pakistan, helped by their sympathizers in India, have had spectacular success in daring attacks on targets in India. Former US Secretary of State, Condeleeza Rice, judged India’s capacity to absorb such attacks to be infinite!
7. Barring Bhutan, India is almost friendless in South Asia. Its size and its growing economic stature have led some security analysts like Henry Abhayasekare of Sri Lanka to suggest that it needs to be cut down to a manageable size. The presence of its large Muslim population, second largest after that of Indonesia, has rendered it a soft state. It is pre-disposed to extinction as the only Hindu majority nation that splits the Muslim girdle from Morocco to Indonesia, despite its efforts to present a secular face. Dr. A.J. Toynbee’s studied forecast about the successor states of failed Moghul & British empires fighting each other to death may yet come true in an anarchical world, ravaged by environmental disasters.
8. Towards China, a diffident India seems to adopt a cautious, some may say, a supine attitude, ever since the NEFA debacle of 1962. China’s aggressive claim over Arunachal Pradesh cannot be wished away through improved trade. India is in danger of being ‘encircled’ by pro-Chinese neighbours, Pakistan topping the list thanks to Chinese help in gaining a nuclear capacity. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh summed up the situation when he said that China viewed India to be at the lower end of the spectrum.
9. India’s other neighbours expect it to be less of a ‘big brother’ and more conciliatory in resolving all bilateral issues, be it land-locked Nepal, or Bangladesh in need of river waters, or Sri Lanka striving to resolve the Tamil versus Sinhalese issue. All in all, the regional scene is as volatile as the global one.
10. Never a cohesive nation in the Western sense of the word, in spite of a common cultural thread from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, India remains in danger of implosion, because of its history of internecine feuds. Its population, next largest after China’s has yet to be built into a nation with a common vision. Tom-toming a demographic dividend because of a youthful majority is pointless when lack of basic education, skill development, poverty, malnourishment, and little primary health-care, stalk the land. Governance has been tainted by mega-scams in recent years, affecting people’s faith in national leadership. Massive unemployment/ under-employment, severe income disparity, unplanned urbanization where there is every likelihood of half of Indian population shifting to the urban areas in the near future, farmers’ suicides, a growing Naxal menace, smuggling across land, sea and by air and an unchecked terrorist threat, tempt one to call India a borderless, ‘post-modern’ state. Massive illegal immigration has changed the demography of states like Assam and West Bengal thanks to political short-term view of building captive vote-banks in India’s sham democratic practices. India’s much-vaunted IT prowess is incapable of preventing cyber-attacks on its infrastructure.
11. For survival, any nation has to foresee and thwart attacks on its interest on eight fronts: political, social, economic, technological, cultural, psychological, diplomatic and military. India has yet to internalize President Kennedy’s dictum: Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty!
A DANGEROUS TREND
12. This grim picture does not seem to have impinged on the consciousness of India’s leaders, who seem to promise development and an economic turnaround in their propaganda but ignore the urgent need for a total mind-change implicit in a nurturing of a culture of long-term thinking that is an inescapable prerequisite for fulfilling this agenda. Any swing from vote-garnering populism to a corporate profit orientation without a simultaneous ushering in of a second green revolution can make income disparities more backbreaking than ever. A social upheaval among a frustrated, unemployed youthful majority may wipe out any gains, due to mob-violence targeted against infrastructure, that is always the first casualty. Calling in the army to quell violence fuelled by petty politicians will not only brutalise the soldier but also make him seem to be Public Enemy No. 1. A situation may arise in which the major strength of the fighting forces, deployed for internal security, may not be available for defending the nation, as did happen in the past.
NATION BUILDING STEPS
13. While it is possible to suggest visionary measures such as the formation of a SAARC parliament & introduction of a SAARC currency, with minimal barriers to mutual trade and commerce, so as to lay a foundation for the eventual creation of a ‘Federated States of South Asia’, it is an idea whose time has to come after India reaches the economic clout and the political wisdom required for convincing all the members of SAARC. Till then, it may be prudent to restrict the scope of the present essay to what India needs to do to set its own house in order. The first order of business is to build India into a modern nation, by inspiring its masses with a national vision. To transform India into a granary of the world may be one such vision as it would bring all the Indians together, out of a sheer necessity to overcome the global and regional challenges that face it.
14. India’s economic growth is closely linked with that of the global economy, especially because of its need to import crude oil as a source of energy. Talent may be available in India, but its potential can be realized only if India invests in directed education and training for appropriate skill development. A studied effort to promote merit in all walks of life instead of a caste-based, reservation laden, approach will have to be adopted.
15. Attracting experienced NRIs back to India to help its overall progress, both in the agricultural and the industrial sectors, with stress on R&D, without the Indian crab-syndrome affecting their work is another way to boost Indian talent.
16. A ruthless approach to root out corruption, with condign punishment for the guilty, can no longer be postponed, under the veil of coalition compulsions.
17. Connected with rampant corruption in defence deals is the studied policy of keeping the Indian military out of the decision loop at the national level. Neither the political class nor the bureaucracy in India has much personal knowledge and experience of military matters. Yet they enjoy immense authority but little responsibility in national security management. There is a misplaced suspicion about a military take-over, that may be an underlying cause for various ruling regimes since independence to adopt a policy of ‘defence at least cost’ never mind how many lives may be lost by the armed forces. It is amazing the a decade has passed since the post-Kargil Subramanian Committee tabled its recommendations for military reforms, but the primary step of integrating the MoD and the service HQs and the appointment of a CDS have been put on the back-burner, and turf wars promoted so as to retain the military on a short financial leash.
18. A few defence-related, oft–discussed measures are presented below:-
* Developing India’s border states for ease of military operation and executing KLP of military forces closer to their operational deployment would avoid delay that was obvious during Op PARAKRAM;
* Aero-space management and cyber-attack proof electronic warfare capability must be a round-the clock activity.
* Merely publishing a doctrine based on a nuclear triad, without demonstrating a capability to manage the three arms of that nuclear stance is mere bombast. Recent accidents in the naval submarine fleet raise doubts in this regard.
* Modernisation postponed for the sake of saving money for other doubtful purposes is modernization denied to the defenders of the realm. And the Indian ruling elite must remember that there are no prizes for the runner-up in any war.
* Technology dictates strategy in modern war. Result oriented, time and cost bound R&D must replace current bureaucratic style of Indian DRDO’s functioning. Vigorous promotion of public-private partnership in indigenous development and production of military hardware cannot be postponed nor should defence PSUs and ordnance factories remain sacred cows, to be milked at the pleasure of the ruling elite.
19. President Kalam never tired of stressing that power respects power. India must profit from his wisdom, while co-operating with the world in facing global and regional challenges posed by environment, disease, food and water scarcity and others having trans-border ramification. It is a tight rope walk that the India leadership has to undertake, while reaching for the sky in securing India’s future.
20. Field Marshal Chetwode, while addressing the Indian military cadets at Dehradun in 1932, gave them a priceless advice when he said, “THE SAFETY, HONOUR AND WELFARE OF YOUR COUNTRY COME FIRST, ALWAYS AND EVERY TIME.” One can only pray that the Indians hoping to serve the nation prefer the long term interest of the nation over their own, or their short term party interest, in the days ahead.