Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Kozhikode speech has all but laid to rest any hope of military action by India against Pakistan, for now and foreseeably for the rest of his five-year term. In effect this has been speech labelling necessity as virtue.
For most of those that voted for Modi this has been a huge disappointment – given his haranguing of the previous government for weakness and security mismanagement. However, the Modi government’s record on the security front has been just as bad, if not worse than the UPA’s.
The biggest problem is not funds or will, but education. The clearest indicator of this were the taunting remarks chief minister Modi made, and the subsequent climb down after becoming prime minister, when he realised that there were no viable military options on the table.
This is a problem across the board and across parties, that not one single politician seems to be interested in defence.
The outliers, like gun-slinger Minister Rajyavardhan Rathore, or Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence BC Khanduri, at best have a tactical infantry based “lets charge valiantly to our deaths” approach that is best suited to a Bollywood drama and early 20th century trench warfare.
Supposed military genius Jaswant Singh, similarly, was better at quoting lengthy sections from Thucydides at a problem and in all his writing seems utterly clueless about modern war. This, of course, is still better than the Congress or other opposition parties who don’t even have a cursory interest in defence, despite it being the single biggest heading in the Union Budget.
The lack of knowledge of the Babudom is legend, and has been regurgitated ad nauseam. Sufficient therefore to summarise, that they get no specialised training, no mid-career training and no specialisation whatsoever.
The very fact that public discourses and past mistakes don’t affect their decisions becomes clear when you look at the latest Rafale deal. As any layman who googles the word “OFFSET” with discover within the first 3-4 clicks – the value of an offset is not subtracted from contract value, but added.
So for example if you want a 50% offset, you have to pay 150%. This is the reason Air India paid a full 100% more than Jet Airways for the exact same Boeing B777-300ER aircraft.
In 2016 we seem to fall into the same trap yet again with no accountability for babus repeating the same intentional “blunders” over, and over, and over again.
As Sir Arnold says in Yes Minister, “If once they accepted the principle that senior Civil Servants could be removed for incompetence, that would be the thin end of the wedge. We could lose dozens of our chaps. Hundreds, perhaps”
The biggest problem, however, lies with the military itself. Having isolated itself from foreign militaries under excessive secrecy, and not having fought a war in 45 years, its knowledge of developments abroad is woefully inadequate. What it can learn is dangerous half-baked knowledge from glossy magazines without anything resembling a true in-depth internalisation.
The problem with this, is the military is absolutely convinced it knows it all, despite severe and repeated maulings in every Air and Naval exercise since 2004. However, they trade on the fact that politicians and bureaucrats know even less than them, couldn’t care and are easily panicked if you say, “Sir, if you don’t get me this missile we will lose the next war”.
All in all, what you call the Indian defence establishment is a living incarnation of the Emperor’s New Clothes at play.
How then does this match up against our adversaries China and Pakistan? Thankfully our biggest ally is that Xi Jinping and his politburo are the worst China has had in 35 years, since the death of Mao. Failing to realise their own internal weakness and massive technological backwardness, China has started off on a path of aggression that is making opposing forces ally quicker than would be possible.
Much of the command and control in China is disjointed and fractured in order to prevent coups, and the effects on operation ability are debilitating. This is a happy situation for us.
Despite the constant fear mongering that the Indian press resorts to, our greatest security lies in the fact that the Chinese military is even more insulated, cocky and deluded than ours.
Pakistan on the other hand is anything but. Their military knows their own weaknesses only too well. In the terrorism arena, they still believe they can control the genie; but in the conventional arena, they are under no delusions.
The Pakistan Army, Navy and Air Force mingle freely with foreigners at approved levels and consequently their absorption of knowledge is immense. Add to their ability to steamroll bureaucrats and the political class you should have an unbeatable combination.
Sadly for them, Pakistan doesn’t have money, and their terror sponsorship means no one is willing to share anything with them anymore. Consequently, their greatest security lies in the fact that India can’t get its game together.
South Asia’s future, therefore, is a repeating cycle of increasing incompetence masked in arms races and bluster.
(Abhijit Iyer-Mitra is a doctoral candidate at Kings College and Senior Fellow at the Institute of Peace and conflict studies)