Strategic Vision : Securing Nationhood
Democratising Security Discourse
National security is no longer the exclusive preserve of either the government or the armed forces. People are the real targets, stakeholders, and also an answer to security challenges
Samaj sanghatith hotey hi, bikhara hua sampoorna samarthya, shakti ka ek prachanda roop dharan karta hai. (The moment society gets organised, its capabilities lying scattered, manifest as collective national strength). This was the preeminent article of faith underlying the twin principles of the RSS, man making-nation building.
The core belief of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is that a society is great and only as great as its constituents are. A weak and woefully divided polity, however huge in numbers, falls prey to a handful of marauders and faces the threat of de-culturalisation and extinction. The Constitution of India also lays emphasis on social cohesion and unity in diversity for the robust and overall development of the nation. The Constitution endows us with a template for a democratic, inclusive and egalitarian society in a federal arrangement. The primary obligation of the state is to guarantee an atmosphere wherein every Indian has a stake in the country’s progress, and lives in a peaceful environment leading an honourable life.
The RSS has been of the view that for real national honour and peace, there is no other way except the building of invincible national strength. It is only then that the great principles that we preach to the world will carry weight and prestige. The world is not prepared to listen to the philosophy, however sublime, of the weak. The world worships only the strong. (Bunch of Thoughts, MS Golwalkar, Ch:XXII, pp270)
National security is a multi-dimensional concept primarily concerned with ensuring comprehensive national strength and in the process gaining toe-hold in the strategic sphere, hitherto lost or not obtained in the first place. In the Colonial past, it was Great Britain and Her Majesty’s Government that decided the foreign policy and the strategic outreach of India. It was in the interest of Great Britain to keep Communist USSR out of Indian Ocean and hence they created Pakistan. (The untold story of India’s Partition, Narendra Singh Sarila, Ch:The Great Game, pp: 16-22)
Pitfalls in Nehruvian Policy
But after Independence, the first cabinet under Nehru was tasked with many urgent issues arising out of the tragic Partition and issues relating to governance. Soon after Independence, under the leadership of Pt. Nehru India’s foreign policy thrust was influenced by Gandhian ideals of non-violence and non-alignment and Nehruvian socialistic values and the idea of ‘Panchsheel’. This could also be seen as India’s soft-power projection in the region. Unfortunately, this neither changed India’s image in its neighbourhood nor did it help to secure a permanent membership in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). We emerged as a weak nation unsure of our strength. There was no question of national security or strategic policy.
‘Sarhad ko Pranam’ is a unique program in creating awareness about our national borders organised by Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS). The initiative has been launched with an aim to introduce India’s land border which runs 15106.7 kms, to selected youth from different states of India. They would meet the soldiers at the border posts, interact with local administration and people residing in the border areas. In 2012, more than 10,000 young men & women of various backgrounds came together for this initiative. The youth come from more than 800 towns and villages and have had the opportunity to interact with soldiers and administrators in more than 469 border posts.
The very first test of national strength came in the form of Pakistan’s attack on Jammu and Kashmir. A totally unprepared government could barely manage to halt the attack but not before losing prime territory and taking the resolution of the issue to the UN. The entire episode exposed two chinks in our frail armour—our military unpreparedness and total lack of strategic outlook. The fact that Nehru believed the UN as an independent and just jury, rather than depending on national strength to win back the lost territory is evident from the reality that the issue still hangs fire and stands out as a sore thumb.
The next lesson in national security preparedness or the lack of it came in the fifties when China unabashedly occupied Tibet and India played host to His Highness Dalai Lama and a huge chunk of his people. More importantly, India lost the strategic area in the Himalayas which is proving to be detrimental to our security till date. Another blow to our external security came in 1962 in the form of Chinese aggression that totally exposed our vulnerability to the world. We stood before the world as a loser, disgraced, weak nation with a soft underbelly, with no friends on our side.
The second Sarsanghchalak of the RSS Guruji Golwalkar mentions in Bunch of Thoughts, “Whatever is the external condition, it is the weak who suffer. No amount of external adjustments or juxtapositions will be able to save a nation if it is inherently weak. To remain weak is the most heinous sin in this world, as that would destroy oneself and also incite feelings of violence in others. The hard reality is that the world, as it is constituted today, understands but one language—the language of strength. It is on the unshakable foundation of immense strength alone that the nation rises and maintains itself in a glorious condition”. In fact, Guruji even warned the then government about the nefarious designs of China and that it is perilous to trust Beijing to the extent the then prime minister was doing. India paid a very heavy price for throwing all this caution and sense of self-esteem and security to wind.
The 1965 misadventure by Pakistan gave us the first opportunity to re-define our priorities and reverse the series of setbacks since Independence. It was a coincidence that the Nehruvian era had just ended but the vacuum was effectively filled by a strong, determined but little-known leadership, though unfortunately short lived. The military victory in 1965 (Indian army hoisted the Tricolour in Lahore for more than a weak), boosted the morale of the armed forces and laid the basic foundations for a new military thinking. Yet we were far from any long-term strategic plan or vision to undo the wrongs of
immediate past history. Our magnanimity in victory was touted as being more important than strategically bargaining for the return of Pakistan occupied Kashmir including the areas illegally ceded to China by Pakistan. The Tashkent Agreement was projected as a pat on our ethically upright back but in reality it turned out to be a sharp and lethal stab.
Realising the fact that ethics and values serve little in foreign policy in a rapidly changing global security environment, Indira Gandhi tried a pragmatic approach towards the neighbours. The liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 through direct Indian military intervention and subsequent creation of a nation in South Asia demonstrated India’s ability to exercise hard-power in its foreign policy and security options. Since then, military power has been an indispensable component of India’s foreign policy even though it incurs huge drain on our overall GDP. But India’s national security challenges continued to persist despite a strong military and show of strength.
Even at this stage of effective show of military strength, diplomatic outreach and successful strategy in the breakup of Pakistan, New Delhi did not realise the importance of using effective leverage to get back territory instead of retaining ninety-three thousand prisoners of war, which in any case we sent back with full honour. The victory that the defence forces gained on the ground was fritted away on the negotiating table.
People, the Real Stakeholders
Absolute lack of long term security planning, clear and unambiguous idea of our national interest and strategic thinking are some of the reasons for this abysmal lack of vision in dealing with our highly inimical western neighbour.
Long term security planning involves a deeper understanding of not just external military threats but also internal fault lines, traditional and non-traditional security threats and the strategic moves of countries that play bigger games in the geo-political arena. Another important factor in security planning is the role and involvement of stakeholders. There was a time when the defence and paramilitary forces were enough to tackle any security threat. But this was long before Pakistan decided to inflict a thousand cuts and bleed us to death. Pakistan with three power centres, the army, the political establishment and the clergy has vowed to balkanise India through terror attacks using the so-called non-state actors. We seem to be totally unprepared for this kind of proxy war and it is only now, after almost dozens of terror attacks and loss of lives and a change in the political leadership that we seem to be taking the security act more seriously.
Long term security planning calls for a coordinated working between internal and external security. External security linked not only to internal strength but also involves the active participation of the people. External threats can be countered by effective diplomacy and defence preparedness. Contrary to external threats, internal challenges have assumed greater and wide-ranging proportions. Every aspect of the society such as economy, agriculture, transportation, cyber systems etc, has become greatly vulnerable to jeopardy and open to tamper causing chaos of grave magnitude. Pumping counterfeit currency in to the market can throw the entire banking system into disarray forcing demonetisation. The challenge to national security is in an integrated form and therefore the solutions also need to be integrated.
The RSS believes that national security is no longer the exclusive preserve of either the government or the armed forces alone. People are the real targets, stakeholders, and also an answer to security challenges. The prime responsibility of the elected governments is to augment the collective strength of the people.
Guruji Golwalkar pointed out this fact almost five decades back. “Where does this strength come from? What is the real and inexhaustible source of national strength? It is the consolidated, dedicated and disciplined life of the people as a whole. After all, the various spheres of national life are only so many manifestations of the innate strength of the people. Political power is one such manifestation. Military power is the well disciplined, intensely patriotic and heroic attitude of the people.”
(Bunch of Thoughts, M.S.Golwalkar, Ch:XXII, pp.277)
New World, New Challenges
After five decades and a number of historic happenings, we have crossed the millennium and progressed into the 21st century with renewed confidence and fresh challenges. The 21st Century is being characterised as the Asian century, mainly because of the discernable shifting of engines of growth and economic power to Asia. This is due to the sustained growth of regional economies. However, despite the phenomenal economic growth and increase in trade and development, Asia is far from emerging as a single political or economic entity or as an organised group like the EU which could in the future seek equal global treatment and influence like America or Europe.
The most significant challenge for India is the issue of regional imbalance and military asymmetry in the region. With globalisation and interlinking of world economic blocks, India does not have the luxury of keeping the national security initiatives under wraps any longer. Circumstances have forced us to constantly adjust our policy to suit the demands of situation without compromising with our core principles.
Seen from an Indian perspective, China’s rise trajectory can be visualised from two perspectives; harmonious development theory and a pragmatic/realist theory. Both schools of thought are agreed that China’s rise as a regional and global power is inevitable, but differ on strategy and intent.
It is relevant to note that the South Asian sub-system is a volatile region with India’s neighbours using the China card against New Delhi. Beijing's South Asia policy clearly alludes to limiting Indian power through using proxies in balance of power relationships as also means for strategic assertion.
One such effective proxy is the failed state of Pakistan. China has clandestinely supplied nuclear technology to Pakistan thus creating a nuclear adversary for us next door.
Pakistan has three power centres, the army, the Islamic clergy and the political parties. When any one of the three come to power, the other two invariably get together and plot against the ruling entity. Nawaz Sheriff has experienced this once when he was unceremoniously ousted by his army chief. His second term is no bed of roses.
What are India’s options?
New Delhi has a strong leadership and is in a better position to take control of the situation. Since we are dealing with Pakistan from a position of strength, this is the right time in history to change the basic rules of engagement. Instead of debating the merits and demerits of a strong or weak Pakistan it is better to work towards a demilitarised democratic Pakistan. As part of long-term strategy, New Delhi will have to make a realistic assessment of the situation and plan a long term strategy. It is usually debated whether a strong Pakistan is good for India or a weak one. The debate should now focus on whether there should be a strong Pakistan at all. The artificial state of Pakistan is set to balkanise and an independent Baluchistan, Sindh and Pakhtoonistan is in the best interest of India and the rest of the region.
While protecting national interest is our stated foreign policy direction, promoting the universal values, ethics and the eternal cultural ethos of India are the core principles of our world view. We have witnessed the
consequences of divorcing pragmatism in the singular pursuit of morality and values in international affairs. Repeated aggressions and incursions into our territory and near isolation were the price India had to pay for adhering to the principles of ‘Panchsheel’ and value based relations with neighbours.
Security and strategic formulations are increasingly being influenced by economic and military might of the respective country and also the authority that it can exert in regions far and near. While India’s economic clout was next to nil, as a matter of principle, India did not attach much importance to military prowess.
Developing effective mechanisms in the near term for regional cooperation on non-traditional security issues may yield rich dividends in the long term and allow India to move towards resolving some of the region’s
long-standing chronic security problems. There is an urgent need for an in-depth and comprehensive study that will examine opportunities for cooperation on shared
non-traditional security concerns as potential building blocks toward developing a viable regional India-centric security architecture.
India’s strength lies in her size and continuity of the policy of being a ‘benign and non-interventionist power’. But such an approach alone will not serve its purpose anymore. Security and strategic planning and policy perspective of a country is the sum total of events and experiences of the past and the geo-political realities of today. While neighbourhood remains an important element in security policy formulations, the global strategic discourse has changed to building multilateral and intra-region and inter-region strategic architecture. India has to look at a three tier policy that includes neighbourhood, region and the global players. India’s priority should be; (a) ensure regional security, stability and peace, (b) strengthen the economic structure in the region, (c) fine tune regional organisations to interlink the region, and (d) keep India’s strategic importance relevant.
The author is former editor, Organiser, Secretary General of Forum for Integrated National Security (FINS), Director, Geo-Politics, Chronicle Society of India for Education and Academic Research