By Lt Gen Kamal Davar (Retd.)
Elected governments for the tall claims they make to their overly aspirational electorates are expected fulfill millions of promises. This natural yearning of the people in any vibrant democracy leads to political churnings, at times so stunning that defies all logic. The unprecedented mandate conferred on the BJP in 2014 carries with it expectations of the Indian people: to take the nation forward at a speed and magnitude worthy of this extraordinary verdict.
Nearly 19 months have elapsed with not much astounding progress as promised being seen on the ground, it is time for the Narendra Modi led Indian government to introspect and carry out course corrections wherever needed. Governing a vast and diverse nation like India is surely not every leader’s cup of tea.
Being masters of political strategizing and perception management- having left the overly fatigued, ten-years-in-power Congress far behind in matters realpolitik- the incumbent Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP), unquestionably, had commenced its innings promisingly, at least in its foreign pursuits.
Prime Minister Modi’s surprise and endearing visit to Lahore, en route from Kabul to Delhi, has been the proverbial icing on the cake in the Indian government’s international forays. This visit, of course, has to be followed with concrete results in what have often been vexed bilateral ties between India and Pakistan. Importantly Pakistan has to conform to the red lines which India, as a friendship seeking neighbor, feels are necessary to India’s security and integrity.
Since coming to power, Modi has made much required visits to almost all the neighbouring nations, including those on our coastal peripheries and major powers abroad, with the conclusions being both optimistic and highly optic. However, there are certain ties that need repair before it gets too late, such as those with Nepal and to some extent, Maldives.
Having spent almost 20 months in power, it is highly likely that the Modi government is now well versed with the challenges and nuances of foreign policy pitfalls. Thus, it will be well advised to pursue staunchly the tenet of ‘strategic autonomy’ in keeping with India’s traditional stance in its external policies.
Accordingly, India should in this year, must come out forcefully in condemning terrorism and violence against civilians, unreservedly, anywhere in the world. India must endeavour with the UN and other nations to bring peace to all violence stricken regions in the Islamic State afflicted Middle East expanse especially to hapless Iraq and Syria, as also to unnecessary violence being enacted in Israel, Palestine, parts of Africa and equally in neighbouring fratricide stricken Afghanistan- all of which requires India’s comprehensive support. With a permanent seat in the UNSC being its staunchest ambition, India cannot be seen to be vacillating in its foreign policies, although it must prioritize.
Among the contemporary significant internal security challenges that affect India, combating Left Wing Extremism (LWE) commonly referred to as the Naxal-Maoist challenge; integrating the alienated Kashmiri people into the national mainstream ; reduction of sectarian violence in Assam whilst containing and eliminating insurgencies in our restive North East, will continue to be the government’s domestic concerns.
The seeds of Pakistan inspired Khalistani movement has not been totally eradicated. In addition, Pakistan’s notorious ISI has been, since the last few months, trying to whip up Khalistani radicalism in Punjab. With elections to Punjab’s state assembly, scheduled in early 2017, India’s intelligence and security organs will have to be on full alert in Punjab.
Preventing communal incidents in India’s heartland and nipping extremism in the bud are imperative to ensure that the many sieges within do not stifle India’s growth. For that, the PM will have to truly rise to the occasion to keep at bay all radical elements including the ‘saffron brigade’ which has substantially supported his electoral campaign. Reportedly, nearly 800 low key, mostly local, communal clashes have taken place in the country, especially in UP and a few other parts of the nation, since the last year, and which are both unfortunate and unacceptable.
Notwithstanding the utterly violent approach of the Naxal leadership who derive their inspiration from Maoist ideologies, the Indian state has to adopt an tailor-made remedy to diffuse this alarmingly growing malaise. LWE has afflicted nearly one third of India with nearly 220 districts being affected with the Naxal-Maoist insurgents having established ‘liberated zones’ along the ‘Red Corridor’ running in the densely forested areas in centre of the Indian hinterland where governmental presence is virtually non-existent.
Indifferently conceived and uncoordinated reactive actions by the government, both at the state and national levels, have hardly achieved satisfactory results. Let the Modi government, to start with, confront this problem in a holistic manner adopting an innovative and humanitarian approach. Let it unilaterally announce a cease fire against these Maoist insurgents for three months and invite their leadership for unconditional negotiations. Simultaneously, it must be conveyed to the LWE leadership that the present impasse is not acceptable to the nation and as their genuine grievances will be met, the country will take the most stringent action against Maoist violence or any seditious activities.
The nascent Modi government must earnestly endeavour to integrate Kashmiris into the national mainstream by pursuing a humanitarian and a development oriented approach. Let people of the state be educated that their problems are entirely the creation of Pakistan and its cohorts inside the Valley. A firm message must go out to all, including Pakistan and the world, that the political status of J&K is non-negotiable and all what remains to be discussed with Pakistan is the future of the regions of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir (as existing in pre-independence 1947) now in occupation of Pakistan namely Pakistan occupied Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan and the Shaksgam Valley (ceded illegally to China in 1963 by Pakistan).
However, prior to such a firm public declaration being made by the Indian PM, necessary groundwork and all precautions, including in the security domain, should be ensured. India must not allow any ambiguity on the Kashmir issue. It must be clearly understood by all that J&K is not merely the symbol of Indian secularism, but its primary guarantee, and India is prepared to pay any price to sustain its core values.
To ensure sustained economic growth, a stable and secure environment is sine qua non. This is only achievable if the combat capabilities of the Indian Armed Forces, sadly depleted since years, are shored up adequately. Critical deficiencies in submarines, multi role fighter jets, artillery howitzers, critical deficiencies in required levels of tank ammunition and air defence voids have to be speedily addressed. In early 2016, let the government announce the establishment of the long awaited Chief of Defence Staff and the inter services Cyber Command to start with.
To tackle internal security, our para military, central police organizations and the state police forces need modernization and strengthening. The government must implement the many useful suggestions for improving these forces lying in the recommendations of many committees on Police Reforms.
The distinctively historic mandate given by the Indian people to PM Narendra Modi needs to be translated into concrete results for the nation’s good. 2016 will thus, be a year of reckoning for the Modi government. Let Indians, of all faiths and political hues, work in synergy for the nation’s resurgence.
(Lt. Gen. Kamal Davar (Retd.) is the first Chief of India’s Defence Intelligence Agency. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)