It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us. It was Charles Dickens who had written this in The Tale Of Two Cities. I could call this the Tale of two Indias.
India is in a sweet spot. Everything is going for it. One could argue that the best of the times are of long term nature and lie ahead for India. On the other hand, the worst of the times are transitory and will be soon behind us. India is the fastest growing economy with the highest GDP growth rates, yet its markets are bleeding like never before and the rupee is losing value ceaselessly. The country has huge wheat surpluses which are being exported yet food prices in India are sky rocketing like never before. Indian diplomacy is flying high , executing a carefully crafted multilateral policy with great effect, yet, when it comes to our neighbourhood in Myanmar, there is no traction. India has taken a conscious step towards Atmanirbhata yet our imports from China are going only one way – up! India is taking giant strides to be counted as a rising global power, yet it cedes ground to China when the push comes to shove. India has one of the strongest military forces with fine traditions, yet we are busy weakening it.
These days I feel a sense of disquiet. I apprehend a return to the thought processes of ‘Nehruvian Times’. What are ‘Nehruvian Times’? let us define that first. Nehruvian Times means, belief that on issues related to external affairs, diplomacy can get everything done and armed forces are an unnecessary appendage. Internally, police forces are enough to run the country. ‘Nehruvian Times’ in my belief is a mental trap into which all Indian politicians fall without fail. Why do they fall in it? When diplomacy works, it is heady, glitzy and classy. It propels you the stratospheric levels of euphoria when there is international admiration and adulation. When public and individual adulation is showered on your views, the world is your oyster. When the response is instantaneous and immediate, it gives one a false sense of security that sunrise is forever. Police forces give you control. They provide you with intelligence and the wherewithal to deal with situations on a day to day basis. They enable you to stay In power. They also enable you to capture power if needed. Both these instruments of state understand power and politics, and contribute to it immensely. Nehru carried it the extreme. He grossly neglected the military and led the nation to an inglorious defeat in 62. He died a man who gave India its freedom but could not defend its sovereignty.
Militaries on the other hand are remote, obtuse, rigid, and complicated. Worst of all, in India they are apolitical. Of course, as per the Nehruvian mindset, they are vested with deep rooted traditions which for many seem – not really Indian. Their greatest drawback is that they are unproductive money guzzlers. They do not contribute to day to day governance. Investment into militaries do not show results and cannot get converted into votes readily. It requires ingenuity to convert a well-equipped military into a vote bank. The biggest problem is that militaries are least understood. When set off against the instant results which diplomats and policemen provide, the military is a slow coach. When the Clausewitzan maxim that war is politics by other means is lost sight of, militaries get neglected. When militaries get neglected, erosion of sovereignty is around the corner. In the current milieu, one can put India on a track of great rise ; but the challenge is that unless the military is strong, sovereignty is always at risk. The proof of the pudding is that our sovereignty stands eroded in Eastern Ladakh at Depsang and will not get restituted till our military is strong enough. Till such time, more bridges will continue to be constructed at Pang Gong Tso.
We are on a chosen path of Atmanirbharta for defence. We have stated that the bulk of our capital purchases will be directed towards indigenous agencies. We have created a special purpose model called the Strategic Partnership (SP) Model to ensure major platforms are procured through it. Building new generation stealth submarines through the SP model was the flag ship program in a series of other such projects to follow. The other projects included manufacture of helicopters, advanced fighters, and futuristic main-battle tanks. The SP model envisaged long-term joint ventures between Indian companies and OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) with “deep and extensive” transfers of technology. The entire concept is still on the drawing board five years after a decision was taken. In the meantime OEMs are dropping out or are expressing deep doubt to participate in the program. Even more concerning is that the Ukraine war has indicated that the indispensables of the future battlefield will be drones and long range precision systems. India is yet to even make a move on them beyond what little is existing or not existing. India hopes to be a net defence exporter. Yet there is no policy or a model structure to bump up defence exports. The best of the times in enhancing defence capability manifold , has been on paper. The worst of the times is that there is very little on ground.
Four decades after it was mooted, the Prime Minister of India laid the foundation stone for the Indian National Defence University in May 13 in Manesar. The expectation and belief was that the the age of wisdom has finally dawned. A decade later the university has not yet come up and the foundation stone is getting weather beaten in its splendid isolation. However in 2009, the Gujrat State Government establishes a Rashtriya Shakti University. It gets taken over by the Central Government, is named the Rashtriya Raksha University and gets upgraded to a national university. Excellent. One look at the website ( https://rru.ac.in/schools/ ) informs you that the University caters mostly for internal issues and is police driven. However, even internal security is part of national security. Hence the university has tremendous value and I welcome it. The issue is not that the RRU has come up as much as the INDU has been put on a permanent backburner. When internal security and policing is prioritised above national security and defence one wonders if the age of foolishness has arrived.
When the first CDS was appointed, it was the spring of hope. Expectations soared. A justifiably proud prime minister announced the institution of the post of the CDS from the ramparts of the Red Fort so that the world can hear. India had arrived. It has now been six months since the post has been lying vacant. Rumours have floated and sunk. Explanations have appeared and disappeared. The post remains vacant. A CDS at this stage would have taken our military and the nation to the next level. What has come about is an advisor to the Ministry of Defence. What has also been envisaged is that the CISC is to be appointed as Secretary DMA. It appears that the Government is now convinced that these two weak tweaks of the system will offset the requirement of the CDS. There goes jointness and there goes theatrisation. The winter of despair is setting on us.
The greatest strength of our Armed Forces was our experienced manpower. What would the Chinese, Russian and US armed forces not give to have fighters of the calibre of the Indian Armed Forces? Their left and right hands and part of their one leg at least. Ask the UN which always preferred to have Indians around in tough missions and situations. Even the Chinese sought shelter from Indian troops in UN. It was an epoch of belief. That is soon to end with the ‘Tour of Duty’. An Indian Army with 50% soldiers less than 5 years’ service will be music to Pakistanis and Chinese. We have given them hope which they never had. What we will save in not giving pensions, we will lose in territory one day. Of that I am sure. You can have the best diplomats and the best policemen to govern the country. However if you do not have the best soldiers you might not have a country to govern! Have you ever wondered as to why ‘tour of duty’ is not being thrust upon the CAPFs? Are there not better methods of reducing pension outgo’s? If the idea is to inculcate nationalism in the youth why not take the outflow from CAPFs also as part of the ‘Tour of Duty’ model? Why are we diluting India’s Last Bastion which guarantees the integrity and sovereignty of the nation? None of these questions have found answers from either the political class or the Army leadership. Is the Army leadership complicit with this model? If not, why has it not stood up to the government and told them in the best traditions of the Armed Forces what it thought of the ‘Tour of Duty’ model. We are into the epoch of incredulity.
From all counts all this should not trouble us. Pakistan our arch adversary is in a state of internal turmoil and is struggling to maintain its status as a nation. China our main adversary is in the throes of a major economic downturn which could herald a long time decline. India in a sweet spot, should be able to handle all this, in its unstoppable rise. However our adversaries are more militarised, geopolitically aggressive, and have a greater propensity for risk. The chances of our adversaries taking advantage of a sensitive situation (which might even be manufactured by them) to externalise the situation to achieve their internal stability and revive international influence is also the greatest at this time. Set this against a diplomatically dependant and an internally focussed democracy which is increasingly getting weighed down by self-induced ethnic and religious fractures. As the season of Light is dawning , the season of Darkness has not disappeared.
I have always firmly felt that the Indian Armed Forces are strong enough to defend the sovereignty and integrity of the nation. They have demonstrated it from time to time. However, with the ‘tour of duty’ proposal at the stage of active implementation, some doubts have started cropping up. I have always felt that the Armed Forces need to be modernised so that India can transform into a regional power. If the issues I have outlined continue in the same way, we might never get to that stage. Future generations will reflect on these days and say ‘we had everything before us and yet we have nothing before us.’