Prime Minister Narendra Modi was already in touch with some of the top strategic brains of the country with whom he had discussed the whole range of national security issues. Ajit Doval, the present National Security Advisor, was among his first picks for the most crucial top jobs to aid and advise the government. National security concerns of India, he knew, transcended geographical borders
The coalition era in Indian politics had rendered systems of good governance ineffective in the last couple of decades inÂ India. P V Narasimha Rao’s government survived a no-confidence motion in 1993 by buying support from Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. Again, in 2008 when the Left Front withdrew its support from the UPA government headed by Manmohan Singh, three BJP MPs emptied bags containing currency notes in the well of the House alleging that this was the bribe they were given to vote for the UPA. WikiLeaks also revealed several damaging communications between Indian politicians and the US Ambassador threatening to compromise national security.
Corruption had taken over systemic control from the very top to such an extent that a government already cornered in the face of an unabated deluge of scams like 2G, Coal block allocation, CWG, Adarsh Society, Agusta Westland chopper scam et al brought all defence procurement to a standstill. Ageing equipment, depleting stocks of spares and accessories took a heavier toll on the strategic military arms like aircraft, warships, air defence, armour and artillery. In 2012, India’s then defence minister AK Antony told an astonished parliament that more than half the 872 MiGs it had purchased from Russia had been lost in accidents at a cost of over 200 lives. Similar disasters were also taking a heavy toll on life and equipment in the Navy as well. Official disregard to genuine military requirements started having telling effects on the confidence and morale of the Armed Forces which manifested in the form of suicide, insubordination, rising trend of complaints and litigations seeking redress to grievances. Dissatisfaction among the Armed Forces became even more pronounced when an Army Chief went to the Supreme Court seeking redress to his personal grievances against the government that had refused to alter his date of birth. Peeved at the non-responsive Ministry of Defence officialdom, Admiral DK Joshi, Chief of Navy Staff, resigned in disgust following the blast in INS Sindhurakshak, the worst of recurring disasters in the naval ships and submarines. Morale of the Forces was sinking through boots.
In July 2014, the Defence Minister informed the Rajya Sabha that as many as 597 military personnel had committed suicide between 2009 and 2013. In the same period, we saw a spurt in many senior officers making news for wrong reasons. Some very senior officers were implicated in scams like Adarsh Housing Society, Sukna land deal, Tatra bribery caseandration supply scams. Dubbed as cases of witch-hunting, investigations into many of these irregularities failed to nail the accused conclusively. Whereas Lt Gen SK Sahani, an accused in the Rations scam, was given partial reprieve by the appellate court, Lt Gen PKRath court-martialled for his role in the Sukna land scam was acquitted by the Armed Forces Tribunal (AFT) which also ordered restoration of all honours and privileges due to his rank and position besides indicting the former Army Chief for targeting officers out of personal grudge.
In the face of such failures and scandals, the UPA government had earned the unenviable reputation of being a non-performing government with sobriquets like dysfunctional, paralysed, U-turn Government. AK Antony, the longest serving defence minister in history, adopted the safest and easiest course in such a scenario. He blacklisted so many companies that there were hardly any worthwhile defence suppliers left in the world market for India to deal with leaving the military gasping for critical deficiencies to be made up. These were celebration times for the enemy. Then came a Change.
THE TRIDENT OF MODI VISIONâ€”DEFENCE, DIPLOMACY AND ECONOMY
Prime Minister Narendra Modi was already in touch with some of the top strategic brains of the country with whom he had discussed the whole range of national security issues. Ajit Doval, the present National Security Advisor, was among his first picks for the most crucial top jobs to aid and advise the government. National security concerns of India, he knew, transcended geographical borders. India’s relations with its neighbours had an inherent security valuefor the entire South Asian region. Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh and even Nepal found doing business with China was easier than dealing with India. This drift had to be turned around by positioning India as a friend who could be trusted. Going beyond the symptomatic treatment, Prime Minister Modi made strategic moves to regain the trust and confidence of countries in the immediate neighbourhood of India, Indian Ocean and South East Asia. He started with a bang inviting the heads of the SAARC nations to his oath taking ceremony and having one on one parleys with each of them including Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan.
India’s determination to establish peace along the border and LoC was made clear to Pakistan by offering to restart peace talks and but also by punishing unprovoked firing from the Pakistani posts along LoC in J&K sternly. Recently, India also demonstrated its military capability to rapidly mobilise and carry out massive relief operations like Operation Rahat in Yemen evacuating 4640 Indian nationals and 960 foreigners from 41 countries and the widely acclaimed Operation Maitri launched as immediate quake relief operation in Nepal. Likewise, the water crisis of Maldives was very effectively handled by the Indian naval ships equipped with on board desalination plants besides hundreds of tonnes of bottled water flown to Male by two C-17 Globemaster III and two IL-76 aircraft of the Indian Air Force. Indian Army’s role in a number of UN missions has been always praise worthy too. The new brand of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s diplomacy of charm offensive and display of military capabilities in relief operations in and out of India is a composite baggage of finely blended hard and soft powers.
SINO-INDIA RELATIONS FROM DUEL TO DUET
China’s growing interest in India’s neighbourhood in the form of projects like port constructions,infrastructure development and investments in countries like Srilanka, Myanmar, Bangladesh and the Indian Ocean has been a cause of worry for many Indian analysts who believe China has hegemonic interests in encircling India by what has come to be known as String of Pearls around India. China’s naval facilities and surveillance systems established at Myanmar’s Great Coco Island enables it to peep into Indian activities in Andaman & Nicobar Isles and the Bay of Bengal. Its presence at Hambanthota port in Srilanka and Gwadardeep waters port of Pakistan both developed and being managed by China also irks India. Gwadar port is connected to Xinjiang in western China and Tibet via the Karakoram highway. Admittedly, a trusted all-weather friend of Pakistan, China’s contribution in arming Pakistan militarily and in enhancing its nuclear capabilities has been substantial. More recently, when President Xi Jinping visited Pakistan in April 2015, China committed to invest $46 billion in infrastructure and energy projects of Pakistan. China’s primary aim here is to create and strengthen greater access over land and sea enhancing its reach and influence in the European and Middle Eastern markets. Chinese presence at Gwadar in Pakistan and Hambanthota in Sri Lanka are strategic footholds for dominating the sea routes between the Straits of Hormuz and Malacca though which come 90 per cent of China’s oil supplies from the Persian Gulf. Of late, India is risingup to counter these emerging threats with aid and investment packages for neighbours as highlighted by the Prime Minister’s recent blitzkrieg visit to Sri Lanka, Maldives, Mauritius and Seychelles.
Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Japan and Australia has added a strategic dimension to India’s relations with these two majors in the Asia-Pacific region. India inter alia signed a Maritime Security cooperation agreement with Australia opening opportunities for joint naval exercises and cooperation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charismatic rapport with his Japanese counterpart Shinzo Abe made international headlines during Modi’s visit to Japan from August 30, 2014 to september 03, 2014. Elevating the mutual relationships to the level of Special Strategic Global Partnership, the agreements signed included sale of US 2 amphibious aircraft for the Indian Navy and the long pending civil nuclear agreements.
Narendra Modi’s charm offensive has indeed raised the stakes for China’s hegemonic ambitions in the region. By offering enormous growth opportunities in trade and commerce to China and others in the region, India has lit up newer vistas of cooperation that could herald a new future of peace and prosperity for humanity as against the culture of military adventurism. Ideally, military potential should be built up and maintained to deter an adversary from military adventurism. The raising of a Strike Corps (17 Corps) for mountains is thus aimed at forestalling any misadventure by PLA against India. Obviously, China’s economic relations and global ambitions are better served through a growing and fructifying friendship with India even as both will continue to compete and cooperate. A curious diplomatic matrix of rival-cum-friendly relationship is evolving much like hard power blending with soft power! And for both Asian giants, there is no other way more advantageous than this.
Occasional military stand offs between Indian and Chinese Armies in Ladakh and Arunchal Pradesh notwithstanding, China’s trade relations with India outweigh its occasional offensive posturing along the LAC. India’s imports from China are expected to exceed $ 80 billion by next year. President Xi Jinping’s visit to India last year when 12 agreements were signed between the two neighbours including an investment of $ 20 million over the next five years has boosted hope for better relations between the two neighbours. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China this month further bolstered relationships with some forward movement towards settling LAC/border issues.
‘MAKE-IN-INDIA’-THE SELF- RELIANCE MANTRA
Even as the Make-in-India initiative targets 24 sectors of economy to include job creation and skill development, it is of particular significance in respect of defence industry, which is non-existent in India’s private sector today. India is world’s largest importer of defence equipment spending three times more than China according to the data published by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). China has a very successful and vibrant indigenous defence industry, which supplies most of the equipment needs of the People’s Liberation Army, said Tim Huxley, executive director of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in Asia. India’s defence industry is really not at all successful and its problems in innovation and misuse of resources are quite widely known, Huxley added.
The Make-in-India mantra enunciated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the problem in many ways. Firstly, encourages indigenous entrepreneurship to come forward with initiative in defence production. Secondly, with FDI level raised from 26 to 49 per cent in the defence sector now, it will attract foreign investments into defence industry more easily than ever before. Thirdly, it unleashes unlimited scope for research and innovation in the field of technology including defence R & D. Fourthly, it promises to turn India from importer to a major future exporter of military hardware raking in much needed capital for poverty alleviation and development work. Lastly and most importantly, it frees India from dependence on foreign industry for its crucial military replenishments and from possible blackmailing during times of war or emergencies.
Defence Research and Develo-pment Organisation (DRDO), the white elephant of Ministry of Defence has not performed satisfactorily.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence has indicted DRDO for its shoddy research, inordinate delays, corruption and its fancy for reverse engineering. Removal of the DRDO Chief, Avinash Chander is perhaps only the start of a thorough cleansing of the rot in the system. Ordnance factories have also failed to keep pace with times and stagnated in the absence of competition. These factories must gear up to compete with the best in the world and deliver or be rather shut down.
PREPARING THE MILITARY FOR FUTURE
When the Prime Minister addressed the Army Commanders Conference in New Delhi, he surprised many defence experts by his understanding of threats to the national security in the modern world and emerging geopolitical scenario. He has called for preparing the Armed Forces for the digitalised battlefield of tomorrow where the enemy would not be visible. Cyber warfare is already a reality. Future wars are not going to be confined to the conventional arena of land, sea and air battles. Space is a very significant dimension from where the dominant technology will control happenings on the Earth’s surface. He exhorted the military brass to visualise and prepare to face the emerging challenges.
Aware of the backlog of unfulfilled defence requirements, the Prime Minister inducted Manohar Parrikar, a workaholic with proven abilities, as Defence Minister. His predecessor, Arun Jaitley had already started the acquisition process clearing indigenous manufacturing of six submarines under ‘Make in India’ category with foreign collaboration. Other procurement deals finalised included Israel-made Rafael’s Spike anti-tank guided missiles along with requisite technology transfer to Bharat Dynamics Ltd. (BDL) to build them indigenously; 363 new BMP-2/2K infantry combat vehicles to be built by the Ordnance Factory in Medak, Telangana. Adding further acceleration to the momentum, the Defence Acquisition Council chaired by Parrikar has cleared procurements worth Rs 1,10,000 crore of which 90 per cent will be under ‘Make in India programme. Government to government negotiations with France for speedy procurement of the 36 Rafale aircraft agreed upon during the Prime Minister’s visit to France are in final stages. Meeting parameters of the revised offset policy by about 30-50 per cent of the sales value, Dassault Aviation of France will set up manufacturing facilities in India. Similar overtures are underway with a number of other governments as well including the US, Israel and Russia.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has displayed rare vision and resolve to seek lasting solutions to the national security issues that have festered for too long. Aided by experts of proven performance records, Modi Sarkar is most appropriately poised to liberate India from the in-house violence. The practice of managing crisis after crisis and policies of appeasement have only compounded the problems. Rarely, if ever, have times been so conducive for addressing complexities of national security issues holistically and decisively as today with the governments in J&K, Chhattisgarh and the Centre being in sync on major policy matters.
By Karan Kharb