In the context of the pandemic affecting the world, India being amongst the worst impacted countries, the fundamentals of State-Citizen relationship in a democratic dispensation have come under the focus in terms of defining where the nation’s energies and resources would be devoted first. The health emergency caused by Covid-19 has been with us for more than a year — and still persistent — leading to enormous loss of lives, destruction of employment and a sharp rise of poverty posing the unprecedented challenge before the ruling dispensation of reviving a derailed economy.
The sovereign state of India has in this period been tested also for its ability to ensure defence of the nation against external dangers and security of its people against internal threats. In the developed West, including the US and UK, no external and internal security risks were encountered and the national governments there could more easily concentrate wholeheartedly on dealing with the pandemic and using their large financial resources towards aiding the population in economic distress. In India, a country with financial limitations, the period saw an escalation of the hostile activities of the two adversaries on the borders — Pakistan and China — who had formed a military alliance primarily to damage India’s security. The Modi government thus faced issues of defence, internal security, health emergency and economic disruption, all together, and it goes to its credit that a sincere and competent effort was made at the highest levels to deal with this challenge on multiple fronts through these difficult months. Prime Minister Modi’s leadership stands out for commitment to nationalism, political will, personal application to solution finding, hard work and quick decision-making on matters across the spectrum.
For a sovereign democratic state, defence of the nation and security of its people will always be on top of its agenda notwithstanding any spells of internal difficulties and socio-economic pressures that the country might have faced at any point. By the time the pandemic hit the country, the Sino-Pak axis had already become active in denouncing India for abrogating Art 370 relating to special status of Jammu and Kashmir. While China started a military build-up on LAC in Ladakh, Pakistan stepped up terror activity in Kashmir using even drones for dropping arms and IEDs from across the LoC in aid of terrorists infiltrated into the Valley.
Prime Minister Modi, in spite of his preoccupation with decisions required to be taken to handle the ‘pandemic of the century’ and boost up vaccine production on a scale large enough to meet the vast requirement of Indians of advanced age, responded promptly to the aggressiveness shown by PLA in the Ladakh sector and the escalation of trans-border terrorism attempted by Pakistan in Kashmir. He made the bold strategic move of appointing the first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Gen Bipin Rawat, to expedite the process of preparing the defence forces for jointly responding to an external aggression. The creation of this position had been recommended by the Kargil Review Committee but this was not acted upon all these years.
Following the incident of Galwan Valley in Ladakh on June 15 last year — in which a large contingent of PLA physically attacked the Indian Army patrol at LAC and caused the death of twenty soldiers including the Lt Col in the field — the Prime Minister himself visited the Corps headquarter at Nimu outside Ladakh accompanied by CDS to interact with Army personnel of the forward post and support their role in firmly countering any aggressive move of the Chinese. The Prime Minister delivered a message to China that India’s determination to deal with any aggression was ‘as high as the Himalayas’ — he set an example of leading the country from the front. Modi’s leadership has given confidence to the nation that on defence and security India was prepared to do its best.
It is to be understood that defence is against the threat of an external aggression or an ‘open attack’ of the enemy whereas security is protection against a ‘covert’ offensive of the latter such as is the case with terrorism unleashed by infiltrated agents and insiders who had been won over by the enemy and secretly trained for carrying out acts of violence. While advance information about any military offensive of the enemy helps the defence preparation, security banks very heavily on Intelligence gathered by external and internal agencies and made available in time for neutralising the plan of violence or domestic disruption hatched by the enemy agents. The world is witnessing an era of ‘proxy wars’ and India has been for long at the receiving end of the Pak-instigated asymmetric warfare in Kashmir in which Islamic militants and radicals were used by Pakistan as its instruments. China, now in a deep-seated alliance with Pakistan, is known for using ‘deception’ as a war strategy. India, therefore, has to be fully prepared for coordinated attempts of these two adversaries to fish in our troubled waters and make moves to internally destabilise India.
Internal security has become particularly important in the present scenario and the communal front, regionalism and human rights activism aiming at politics, all need close monitoring. The Modi government is being attacked by the political opponents for allegedly working for ‘Hindu majoritarianism’ but the latter would be aware somewhere that it is their persistent record of desperately banking on ‘Minority’ votes that had created a significant backlash and drawn many Hindus to the nationalist-minded BJP regime. Constitutionally, India has ‘one man one vote’, ‘equality’ before law and ‘freedom of worship’ and the ruling dispensation here does not carry a ‘denominational stamp’. The paradigms of secularism are thus all met. Mobilisation with communal overtones may have been a familiar feature of electoral politics in India and yet what puts Indian democracy on a sound footing is the astuteness of Indian voters who gave their verdict basically on the performance of a government on the fundamental points of security and economic welfare. People at large see that Prime Minister Modi’s intentions to work for both could not be doubted. This is what brought the Modi regime back to power in the 2019 Lok Sabha election with an even larger majority. Blindly criticising all policies of the government has not helped the opposition.
On defence and security, a major test for India is the speed and smoothness with which the CDS would be able to achieve the mission of establishing ‘jointness’ of the three defence services — Army, Navy and Air Force — and bringing about necessary command structures and fund allocation norms for this purpose. CDS is now the Secretary of the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) assuming many basic responsibilities of the erstwhile Defence Secretary and he provides the ‘single point advice’ to the Defence Minister. In the Indian context, two things would prove helpful — the experience gained by the country on the coordination among the three Service Chiefs achieved through the successful working of the Chiefs of Staff Committee all these years and the positive outcome of the first Tri Services Theatre Command established in 2001 for the Andaman and Nicobar Islands under Vice Admiral Arun Prakash who went on to become the Navy chief.
The Chiefs of Staff Committee had a rotating chairman based on seniority and the only difference there structurally would be the presence of CDS as the permanent chairman. The character of this forum at the apex would not change and to obtain endorsement by consensus on crucial decisions pertaining to ‘jointness’ of the defence forces after threadbare discussions, should not be difficult. If ‘theatrisation’ of commands is the direction of reform according to media reports then a combination of geographical factors and threat analysis would surely be a major determinant for that. India’s prime defences are on land and sea while the air power as a modern strike instrument, meant to weaken the enemy anywhere, could be used by the national level command in a situation of conflict. That some components of the Air Force would be integrated with theatre commands to strengthen ‘joint defence’ is an idea that could also be implemented in addition, wherever necessary. It is clear that inter-services operational and rank related adjustments would be sorted out with the passage of time — facilitated by the past tradition of the three Chiefs at the Chiefs of Staff Committee discussing all matters big or small relating to defence.
It is a matter of great satisfaction that Prime Minister Modi has personally attended to the crucial matters of defence and security amidst pressures of the pandemic and economy related challenges. Internal security is also emerging as a task far more important than before for reasons mentioned earlier and the country, therefore, needs a far closer coordination between the central agencies and the state intelligence as well as a much greater recognition of the role of state police as a first responder to national security threats. All this exists already but has to be perfected so that no impediments arose from the fact of politically different dispensations being in position at the Centre and in the state.
A democratic state has to strive to keep national security issues completely above party politics. The annual conference of DGPs called by Director Intelligence Bureau for sharing a review of national security scenario, is the right forum where the centre-state police rapport — for prompt handling of any imminent threat to internal security — would be discussed and some illustrations pointed out for identifying the lessons drawn for the general good. Internal security issues seem to be running into political slugfest too often and this is not healthy, if the Joint Parliamentary Committees concerned with defence and security are adequately briefed on the current scenario and the policy framework of the government to handle it explained to them, the opposition would risk getting exposed before the people if it tried to drag these matters into controversies for political motives. People of India are sensitive and receptive towards national security and are willing to even push their personal issues aside for safeguarding it. The Prime Minister has done well to keep defence and security in his focus even when the pandemic and its economic consequences had become matters of overwhelming concern. This would not go unnoticed by the people of India at large.
(The writer is a former Director of Intelligence Bureau)