Like many other Indians, I was hopeful that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would bring in quick, discernible change, even though the massive problems facing India require Mr Modi to have at least a 10-year tenure. There is no doubt that Mr Modi’s numerous international trips have added to improving India’s image, but his domestic record is not as good in some critical areas impacting national security. Unfortunately, his first 28 months in office indicate that unless he pulls off a miracle (e.g. creating 13 million new jobs annually, bringing peace to Kashmir, resolving domestic river water disputes, getting palpable growth by attracting FDI), the chances of a clear win in the 2019 elections appear bleak. However, this article focuses on two other issues, which impact national security, one of which could further add to Mr Modi’s problems in trying to win the 2019 elections.
The first issue is demoralisation of the military, and the recent unprecedented “request” by the three Service Chiefs to the PMO, to “reconsider and put on hold” its order of implementing the Seventh Central Pay Commission award for the military. As a veteran who served four decades in the Navy, I am disappointed with the government’s recent approval of the 7th CPC report with respect to the armed forces. The military is regularly called out to sort out the failures of civil administration during floods or recent riots in Haryana, and the present turmoil in Kashmir. Rumours indicate that Mr Modi, who started his tenure by having monthly meetings with the three Service Chiefs, has not met them for the last seven months. When this demoralisation of the military is considered along with the extremely slow pace of military modernisation (the $37 billion defence budget leaves very little for new inductions of military hardware, with the deal for 36 French Rafale jets for 7.8 billion euros slated to be signed on September 23), then we can see that despite
Mr Modi’s enormous successes on the diplomatic front, India’s security stands weakened, and he needs to urgently take a political decision to bring parity in pay and allowances to the military with civil services. On September 15, a section of the media reported a statement by defence minister Manohar Parrikar that he had met the PM on the night of September 14, after having earlier met the Service Chiefs. Mr Parrikar is reported to have stated that he expected a “quick” resolution of at least three major anomalies in the 7th CPC, i.e. entry-level pay suppression in middle ranks, non-functional upgrade, and enhancement of military service pay of junior commissioned officers. These three would cost Rs 600 crores as per Mr Parrikar. Hopefully, Mr Modi may give military good news during Diwali.
I am very familiar with Russia, its culture and its history of defeating all invaders. The Russians by nature make good reliable friends and also bad enemies. This brief preamble brings me to the second issue impacting our national security, i.e. the possible creeping chill in India’s relations with its long-time trusted and strategic partner Russia, which is the sole supplier of strategic military hardware, like nuclear submarines (SSN), stealth fifth generation jet fighters (called FGFA), ballistic missile defence system (BMDS), and also helping us in space exploration, civil nuclear power plants, etc. While there is no doubt that Russia and the US have different views on Crimea, the Baltic Sea where naval and air confrontations occur regularly, Syria, Nato expanding on the borders of Russia, etc., with the result that Russia and China are presently holding massive naval drills in the disputed South China Sea.
The more ominous signs are the 2015 Russian sale of Mi-35 helicopter gunships to Pakistan, along with the offer of advanced SU-35 fighter jets and recent announcement of the first ever Russian-Pakistani joint military exercises, involving special forces in mountain terrain. While Russia’s present confrontation with the US and the need for access to Afghanistan’s mineral wealth may have been contributory factors, there is little doubt that the Russians are unhappy with Mr Modi’s frequent overtures to Washington, and the recent signing of the US-India Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement pact. India has taken some damage control measures, like the recent visit to Moscow of our foreign minister followed shortly by the forthcoming visit by our home minister.
Clearly, a China-Russia-Pakistan alliance would not be in our national interest and Mr Modi needs to make public, before President Vladimir Putin arrives for the Brics meeting in Goa (October 12-13), the Lemoa pact to end speculation, while releasing additional funds for early contract signing of Russian military hardware like indigenous production of FGFA, and induction of SSN, BMDS. If Mr Modi tackles the two primary issues listed above, then he needs to focus on how to further improve ties with the US, Japan, Australia, South Korea, etc., without antagonising Russia, while “managing” our border problems with China and getting FDI from all, and meeting Mr Modi’s goal of India getting Nuclear Suppliers Group membership by the end of 2016. There is no doubt that all these are contradictory requirements, given present tensions between the US, China, Japan and Russia, not to mention border disputes between North and South Korea and, of course, the disputes between China-India and the “insolvable dispute” between India-Pakistan. Also while maintaining and enhancing ties with Russia (the mutual annual trade is a dismal $10 billion), it’s vital for India to improve its trade relations with the US (presently $107 billion) to meet a target of $500 billion by 2020.
Mr Modi has done extremely well on most diplomatic fronts, specially in Saarc (minus Pakistan), Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Indo-Pacific Region and West Asia. He now needs to focus on the domestic front by creating 13 million jobs annually, attracting FDI, improving military morale and looking closely at national security with respect to three looming threats — China, Pakistan and terror. A look at India’s history would show that the rulers of Delhi have been mostly “changed” by foreign invaders, who defeated ill-equipped and possibly demoralised domestic armies, led by ill-informed rulers without strategic vision. The only possible exception to this “Indian trait” would be the overthrow of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan by his son Aurangzeb in 1658. Knowing that “history repeats itself”, Mr Modi should trust his military, focus on national security and remember “there will always be soldiers on your land, and if they are not yours, they will be foreigners”.