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Neglect of national security: Modi needs to redress major deficiencies

The default response of the Modi government in matters of national security has been to  inhabit social media.  Over the last few months, whenever there is a setback  or security personnel killed, ministers  invoke  emotive nationalism  and promise retribution on the perpetrators, writes C Uday Bhaskar for South Asia Monitor 

May 11, 2017
By C Uday Bhaskar
 
 The month of May this year has multiple relevance for  India’s  military and strategic security. It got off to an inauspicious start with the beheading of two Indian security personnel on May 1 and, predictably, the country is angry and anguished. The citizen is disappointed that such an event could have happened in the first instance (weren’t the 'surgical strikes' on militant camps in Pakistan last year supposed to stop such  acts?)  and expects a befitting response from the  decisive Prime Minister Modi.
 
Kashmir valley is going through a phase of heightened domestic unrest including girl students pelting stones at security forces for the first time. The Army has indicated that it will embark upon stringent combing operations in the valley to weed out terrorists and their supporters.
 
May 11 marks the 19th anniversary of the nuclear tests by India in 1998 and at the time, in a letter to the US President Bill Clinton, then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had identified China as the abiding  anxiety to India’s strategic security and dwelt on the “distrust” index between the two Asian giants.
 
That distrust has  increased visibly over the last year  apropos  issues such as terrorism and the global nuclear order – and most recently the Dalai Lama.  Consequently in a politically significant move Beijing has put off its participation in the trilateral  India-Russia-China foreign ministers' meeting scheduled to be held in Delhi  in April under Indian auspices.
 
Furthermore  China  is convening a major summit on May 14-15  in Beijing to herald its ambitious OBOR (One Belt-One Road) connectivity project. President Xi Jinping will play host to 28 world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, and India has decided not to be part of this  mega event.
 
And in relation to China, Indian  Army chief, General Bipin Rawat, reiterated an observation  that his predecessors have made – that India is not providing enough by way of fiscal support to its military.  Speaking at a public event (May 4) he cautioned: "While we are developing our economy, the military is not getting its due share. I think here we need to draw a lesson from China."  The  lesson being that  nurturing military and economic growth should be "conjoint" as they are two tenets of national power. 
 
This is the brief backdrop to India’s  complex security and strategic challenges as the Modi government completes three years in office on May 24.   This rather bleak survey of national security is paradoxical,   for candidate Modi had prioritized  national security as a  major plank and  many disparaging references were made to the so-called meek and timid  Dr. Manmohan Singh, his predecessor,  in the 2013-14 election campaign.
 
The Indian voter was assured that a ‘decisive’ Modi would address national security in a far more effective manner. However the track record of the last three years has not been inspiring as regards major structural  deficiencies  related to India’s  higher defence management. To me as an analyst,  the most serious lapse on the part of the Prime Minister  is that he has not been able to  appoint a full time Defence Minister since May 2014.
 
Finance Minister Arun Jaitlry is holding  dual charge of the defence ministry for the second time after previous incumbent Manohar  Parrikar returned to Goa and there  is no sign of any appointment in the near future.  There are a range of issues that warrant the highest priority being accorded to matters of national security at cabinet level – but absent a dedicated full-time minister this task cannot even be outlined,  let alone resolved swiftly.
 
It merits repetition that India’s  comprehensive national security challenge spectrum  is not just about the Indian military and the Defense ministry. Internal security is an equally vital strand – and  Kashmir apart,  the challenge of left-wing extremism also referred to as the Maoist rebel movement  is deeply entrenched in some states. Chattisgarh has been dealing with this internal challenge for some years and in April, 25 CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force )  personnel were killed in an ambush in Sukma.
 
The nation was once again in a state of anger and anguish – and the audio-visual media outlets raised the emotive pitch  in the country. India was reminded that in April 2010 the Maoists had killed 76 CRPF personnel and at the time the BJP roasted the UPA government and then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for  rank incompetence.
 
In April 2017, the nation was also informed  that for two months  prior to the Sukma attack – the CRPF did not have a Director General. Why?  Because the home ministry did not  think this appointment was important enough.  Again, I would hold the Prime Minister responsible for allowing such complacence  in matters of internal security.
 
The default response of the Modi government in matters of national security has been to  inhabit social media.  Over the last few months,   whenever there is a setback  or security personnel killed, ministers  invoke  emotive nationalism  and promise retribution on the perpetrators  - whether from across the border or from the Maoist cadres. This is relayed  on  Twitter!
 
This is not adequate and what is required  to set right the accreted national security deficit is  hard work and resolve within the government that ought to be  out of public glare.  One has repeatedly drawn attention to the gaps in the implementation of the Kargil Committee related recommendations  tabled in parliament in 2000 -  that is 17 years ago - that go back to NDA I and the Vajpayee period of governance.
 
Modi has one year effectively ahead of him – before he hits the campaign trail again to become candidate  NaMo -  to review and redress major national security  deficiencies.  Appointing a full-time  Defence Minister may be the much needed first step.
 
(C Uday Bhaskar is Director, Society for Policy Studies. He can be contacted at cudaybhaskar@spsindia.in)

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