There is so much resemblance between India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and 13th Prime Minister Manmohan Singh insofar as issues of national security and defence preparedness (or the lack of it) is concerned. The Congress government under Nehru had some romantic concepts about peace and tranquillity that were far from the realities of the day. As early as in 1950 the then home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel wrote to Nehru: “Chinese ambitions in this respect not only cover the Himalayan slopes on our side but also include important parts of Assam”. However, Nehru continued to believe that aggression by China was not only difficult, but also that China had no intention to do it. He wrote to the chief ministers in 1959 that there wasn’t the slightest reason to expect any aggression on our northeastern frontier. As clearly documented by Ramchandra Guha (Jawaharlal Nehru and China: A study in Failure?, 2011, Harvard-Yenching Institute working paper series), from 1950 to 1962 Nehru made a series of miscalculations and errors in his dealings with China.
The first was his faith in officials who gave him wrong or foolish advice, or who executed the job assigned to them with carelessness or lack of foresight. This includes his intelligence chief B.N. Mullick and defence minister Krishna Menon. The second miscalculation was Nehru’s under-estimation of the nationalist underpinnings of Chinese Communism, and the third was over strategy, in terms of his endorsement of Krishna Menon’s policy of not modernising the Indian military.
Replace the 1950-1962 period with 2004-2014, Nehru with Dr Manmohan Singh and Krishna Menon with A.K. Antony, and you will see almost the same pattern of behaviour. The 26/11 attack on Mumbai was no less than aggression on Indian soil by the well-coordinated trio of the Pakistani military, its Inter-Services Intelligence and the terrorists. Now there is clear evidence that after the 26/11 attack on Mumbai, our security establishment, and especially our Air Force, had given him a clear option that it was capable of conducting a strike inside Pakistani territory, but that option was ruled out by Dr Manmohan Singh. “A surgical strike was an opportunity lost and we didn’t make use of it”, said Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major (Retd), who was then Chief of the Air Staff. On the contrary, within eight months of this gruesome attack on Indian territory, Dr Manmohan Singh made another blunder at Sharm El-Sheikh, when in a joint statement with Pakistan’s then PM Yusuf Gilani, he accepted that talks with Pakistan and terrorist activities can go together. “Both Prime Ministers recognise that dialogue is the only way forward… Action on terrorism should not be linked to the composite dialogue process and doors should not be bracketed. The Prime Minister said India was ready to discuss all issues with Pakistan, including all outstanding issues such as Balochistan,” an official statement read.
The same pattern was evident after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement on Wednesday that India had successfully conducted an “anti-satellite missile test”. Contrary to the Congress’ claims, then DRDO chief V.K. Saraswat has clearly said that though India had such a capability since 2012, the UPA government didn’t show the courage to conduct a test.
Unfortunately, there was no Sardar Patel equivalent in Dr Singh’s Cabinet. On the contrary, two home ministers during his tenure, Palaniappan Chidambaram and Sushil Kumar Shinde, were busy in creating false narratives of “Hindu terrorism” and “saffron terrorism”, conveniently ignoring the real threat of cross-border terrorism inspired by jihadi ideology.
As far as defence preparedness is concerned, the pattern of negligence by the Nehru-Krishna Menon duo was repeated by the Manmohan-Antony combine. The decade-long rule by Dr Manmohan Singh was marked by both inefficiencies and indecisiveness, as clearly seen now by the lack of having basic requirements of the Army such as bulletproof jackets, the Air Force’s long-overdue demand of advanced fighter jets, and the corruption in purchase of AgustaWestland helicopters.
The then defence minister, Mr Antony, might have been a clean person but he was too indecisive, resulting in several crucial decisions on defence procurement being kept pending. The fact that he couldn’t conclude the Rafale deal for 10 years is just one example. The latest revelations by Christian Michel that there was a strong lobby working for the Eurofighter exerting its influence on the establishment seems to be the real reason why the Manmohan government couldn’t finalise the Rafale deal.
In the past five years, the Narendra Modi government has successfully bridged the gaps in our defence preparedness. As documented meticulously by Jaideep Mazumdar (swarajyamag.com, January 28, 2019), the Indian armed forces are equipped with the most modern arms and ammunition, some of which are assembled and/or manufactured in India under the “Make In India” initiative of the present government.
One needs to evaluate the surgical strikes after Uri and the Balakot airstrike after the Pulwama attack in this context. It was almost an iron-cast (but unwritten) part of our security policy to maintain the sanctity of the Line of Control. This doctrine had no reciprocity. Armed terrorists and even military regulars continued to cross the LoC brazenly, in some cases to even recruit local jihadists and carry out deadly attacks on our civilian and military establishments, killing scores of innocent lives, but we continued to adhere to this “strategic constrain”.
In spite of the preparedness of our forces, the political leadership did not show courage to nip the roots. On the contrary, we have created a virtue out of weakness. The Narendra Modi government has shown, not once but twice, that India is not only capable of crossing the LoC but is also equally capable of crossing the international border of Pakistan to destroy the base camps of terrorists. It must be noted that both the surgical strikes and the Balakot airstrikes were pre-emptive measures to destroy terrorist base camps, and without any civilian casualties.
India is traditionally a peace-loving country. The values of peace and universal brotherhood are enshrined in our civilisation. No one in India will argue against peaceful and friendly relations with other countries, including Pakistan. However, so far, this attitude was regarded as our weakness. After the surgical strikes and Balakot, we can now talk peace from a position of strength, and not out of compulsion. This is indeed a tectonic shift. The Modi government deserves the credit for this. At the time of conflict, it doesn’t matter how much power one has. What really matters is the ability to use it. Similarly, peace is also a prerogative of the brave and capable, not a luxury of the weak and defeatist.