BY MAJ GEN (DR) GD BAKSHI
India is now in the throes one of the most critical elections in its post- independence history. The country stands at a critical crossroads today. The nature of the next administration will determine to a great extent whether India can exploit its massive youth bulge and become a breakout nation. However, should India fail to kickstart its faltering economy and generate some 200 million new jobs – we may well face an internal security crisis of unprecedented proportions. The external environment is equally challenging.
Challenges: The challenges staring in the face of the next dispensation are given below. Most of these are on account of neglect, politics and subversion.
- The steep rise in the military and economic power of China poses the most significant security challenge. The rising qualitative and quantitative differential in air power between India and China is opening serious windows of vulnerability.
- The US withdrawal from Afghanistan will unleash a great deal of turbulence in the Af-Pak region that will have major spinoff effects in terms of terrorist violence in J&K and the rest of India.
- The situation in Nepal and Bangladesh, as also neighbouring Maldives is passing through a critical phase.
- In the internal security sphere, India today faces serious problems of governance that are destabilising the political economy and delegitimized the current ruling class. This stems from undue emphasis on short term political gains through populist measures like unsustainable doles and subsidies. This has halved the GDP growth rate from 9% per annum to just 4.5% per annum, inflation has doubled, the rupee has been devalued by 20% and there is a huge current account deficit.
- This civilisational challenge has already generated its collective response in terms of a clear realization in the Indian electorate – especially the Middle Class, about the need to vote in a strong and stable government. Surveys of the chances of occurrence of the three Alternative Futures for India (Largely Middle class based) have clearly indicated a strong preference for the occurrence of the Breakout Scenario premised upon the clear emergence of a strong and stable government.
- What then should be the National Security agenda of the new dispensation in New Delhi? This is briefly summarized in the paras below.
Military Modernisation Shortfall: The UPAs misplaced emphasis on doles and subsidies has seriously impacted the Defense Budget and dangerously slowed down the defense modernization process. The pace of arms acquisition has been slowed down to a painful crawl due to arms scandals and a grid lock in decision making.
- Meanwhile, the Indian Air force squadron strength has declined dangerously from some 42 squadrons to under 30 squadrons. With the Rafale and LCA nowhere in sight, the scenario is only likely to worsen as old MiG-21s start falling out of the skies and no replacements are available. What is very dangerous is that for the first time in recent history, the PLAAF has acquired not just a quantitative edge over the IAF but has now also got a clear qualitative edge. China today has some 913 Fourth Generation fighters to just 322 with India. By 2020, the Chinese will have some 1300 Fourth Generation fighters and their Fifth generation aircraft would probably be coming in.
- In the Naval sphere the Chinese have some 55 submarines to India’s 12. Even this figure will decline to just 5 when additional Kilos are phased out over the next two years and no Scorpenes get inducted due to inexcusable delays in production. The Indian Navy that had Bluewater aspirations, has been reduced by the Ministry to the level of the Pakistani Navy as far as underwater capability is concerned.
- The Army has now been without a Medium gun since the induction of the Bofors in 1987. Medium artillery is a critical factor in mountain warfare, and the next war with China or Pakistan will largely take place in mountain settings. India must go in for indigenously produced Medium Guns at the earliest. The entire Air Defense inventory and helicopter fleet of the Army date back to the 1960s. Half of India’s tank fleet is still night blind and short of ammunition. All these gaps have opened up huge windows of vulnerability which will be crucial for the next 3-5 years period.
India’s Grand strategic Compulsions: This military buildup gap has seriously impacted the capabilities of the armed forces to deal with a two front scenario. The tragic fact is that if we crank in Internal Security, India faces not just a two front but a critical three fronts scenario with China to its North, Pakistan to its West and the Maoist and Jihadis in India’s rear. The Central theme of any Indian Grand strategy would be to ensure that we tackle these three fronts consecutively and not concurrently. Being forced to deal simultaneously with a three front scenario would be a civilisational disaster and the primary effort of the Indian state should be to avert such a contingency. This translates into dealing with each front at the time and place of our choosing.
Return of Pacifism & Appeasement Policies: Mindful of the glaring gaps it has opened up in defense preparedness, the UPA administration resorted to a policy of appeasement of all adversaries.
- Not only did it appease the principle security threats from China and Pakistan but it also exhibited a surprising reluctance to use legitimate levels of force against the well armed Maoist insurgents and Jihadi terrorists sponsored by Pakistan.
- Political expediency has greatly hobbled the campaign against the terrorists. In the struggle against the Maoists, sections of the current ruling Party openly hobnobbed with Maoist sympathizers and did their best to sabotage Operation Greenhunt.
- Today, a virtual army of foreign funded NGOs and human rights organizations have raised such a shrill outcry against all Security Forces operations to deliberately hamper and slow down this campaign. Today the number of people employed in India by the NGOs outnumbers the police forces of India by a wide margin. These NGOs have started a human rights industry that has by design, slowed anti-Maoist operations to a crawl. The AAP Party is just the latest addition to this NGO phenomenon that is trying to create an “Orange Revolution or Arab Spring” in India and seed chaos and destabilization. Its primary intention seems to be to ensure that no strong and decisive government comes up in New Delhi.
- What is painfully visible is the complete lack of political will to tackle external adversaries and internal challengers. The UPAs legacy in the National Security domain has generated a stark crisis situation.
Demographic Profile: What lends it criticality is the demographic profile of the Indian population. Today India has the youngest population in the world. By 2020 some 68.4% will be in the working age group. Considering that India already has some 145 million unemployed youth, the number of new jobs needed by 2020 would amount to some 483 million. If we cater solely for the recruitable male population out of this, India still urgently needs to generate some 200 million jobs in the next five to six years. This is a major challenge. If we can skill our youthful population, India could well emerge as a breakout nation economically. However a failure to generate adequate levels of employment could create a disaster scenario on the Internal Security front.
Agenda for the New Administration
Economic Reconstruction: The primary task of the new Administration would be to overcome the paralysis in decision making and revive the Indian economy with a focus on long term sustainability.
- The emphasis will perforce have to shift from short term doles and subsidies to creation of infrastructure, generation of power and employment on a major scale.
- Tourism generates the highest number of jobs for the capital invested and must be given a major boost.
- Besides the only way to boost employment will be to change our archaic labour laws and encourage the rapid growth of Small and Medium scale industries. Manpower intensive industries like ship building etc should be our primary focus.
- We must rapidly create a defense industrial Base in India’s private sector to generate employment and achieve autarky in critical weapon systems.
- The criticality would be to generate at the very least some 200 million jobs by 2020. This would be vital for India’s National Security.
Speeding up Military Modernisation: While stabilizing the economy, the next administration in New Delhi will have to take concerted steps to speed up the tragically derailed military modernization process. To start with, the highly undesirable acrimony in civil-military relations must be reduced and eliminated. The new dispensation must speedily act upon the recommendations of the Kargil Review Committee and the Naresh Chandra Committee reports. The following would demand operational priority:
- Air Power: The most critical gap with China is in the realm of air power. This must be speedily closed with the rapid induction of the Rafale. If that is not possible for any reason, we must rapidly acquire more SU-30 Fighters. The LCA and 5th Generation Fighter programs will have to be accelerated to arrest the alarming decline in the number of fighter squadrons. Air Power is critical and India must rapidly build up a strength of 45 squadrons as a bare minimum. Keeping a two-front scenario in mind, India optimally needs a 60 Squadron Air Force with an emphasis on home grown fighters like the LCA and MMRCA.
- Naval Buildup: The alarming gaps in our sub-surface fleet must be rapidly plugged by leasing some 4 Kilo/HDW class submarines to tide over the gap created by late induction of Scorpenes. We will have to induct another six Scorpenes or build them at home. We may also have to lease another nuclear submarine. The surface warship building program must be greatly accelerated.
- The Army: The most critical shortfall is in our medium artillery. After the Bofors scandal the Indian Army has not been able to get another medium gun. That may turn out to be a blessing in disguise if either the Indian firms like Tatas or the Kalyani Forge are able to rapidly provide us the 1500 Medium artillery guns that we so urgently need along with their truck/track based mobile versions. The night blindness of the balance tank fleet must be overcome on operational priority. The Indian infantry needs a new system of small arms urgently and the Air Defense artillery and Army Aviation helicopter fleet must be rapidly modernized. Critical ammunition inventories must be made up with the greatest of urgency and dispatch. The Ammunition Road map must be actualized within the next two years.
- Infrastructure: It is indeed astonishing that 50 years after the 1962 war we still have not been able to complete our road infrastructure build up in the Himalyas. This is inexcusable and the border road building program must be put on a fast track.
- Nuclear deterrence: India needs to rapidly operationalise the third leg of her nuclear triad. Considering that the Indian arsenal must deter both China and Pakistan, we will have to increase the number of war heads rapidly to an optimal level that takes care of both adversaries. Media reports that Pakistan alone has more war heads than India are hardly cause for reassurance. India may also need to consider inducting Strategic bombers like the Russian Bear/Backfire to add greater flexibility to its triad. Mid-air refueling of Fighter bombers may not be optimal for this task. Bear/backfire type bombers with cruise missiles may be an optimal solution.
Internal Security Imperatives:
- Some 232 of India’s 602 districts are affected by the Maoist insurgency. This is virtually one third of Indian territory. In some 32 districts, the writ of the Indian state has ceased to run.
- These are the mineral rich districts with major deposits of coal, iron, copper and aluminum. India must rapidly reclaim its own territory and not leave its development at the mercy of tribal guerillas. They have effectively deprived the Indian state of its key minerals like coal and aluminum which are now being imported despite being available in large amounts within Indian territory.
- As stated, India is in a three front scenario with the Maoists and Jihadi terrorists forming the Third Front. It is vital that India stabilizes this internal front as rapidly as possible so that it is not left as a festering sore to be dealt with at the time of an external crisis.
- A curious disjunct between the UPA government and the party has not let the Indian State come down hard on the Maoist insurgents. Operation Greenhunt was launched by P Chidambaram, India’s hands on Home minister. Over 101 CAPF/BSF battalions were deployed along with the state police forces.
- The results have been somewhat mixed. Some notable successes were achieved in eliminating the urban-based guerrilla leadership cadres and destroying rocket manufacturing factories.
- However, in the densely forested terrain, the guerrillas have simply rolled with the punch. By and large the police operations have just driven them to adjacent areas and adjoining states.
- No appreciable attrition has been inflicted on the hard core PGLA Platoons, Companies and Battalions. In fact, these have repeatedly succeeded in inflicting fairly heavy casualties on the CRPF.
- The new administration will have to decide whether it is more cost effective to raise additional CRPF battalions or raise new Army formations that could initially be deployed against the Maoists but would later be available for use against China/Pakistan. Nowhere in the world has the police been tasked to conduct offensive CI operations against well armed insurgents in such difficult jungle terrain. The CRPF has actually been tasked far beyond its design capabilities.
- The period 2014-2018 presents a window of great vulnerability for the Indian state due to glaring gaps in its military modernization drive. As such it must seek to redress the highly adverse balance of forces by strong strategic partnerships with countries like Japan and Vietnam which are equally threatened by China.
- In fact India needs to create a regional balance of power architecture based on the core states of India, Japan and Vietnam and which must also involve South Korea, Philippines’, Indonesia and Malaysia, all states that feel threatened by Chinas rising assertiveness.
- Such an alignment of forces would, at the very least, serve to complicate decision making for China and ensure that it is prevented from focusing all its military resources in any one strategic direction and single out any one Asian state for major military aggression.
- Technology Partnerships: Such an Asian balance of power will have to be complimented by an Indian strategic partnership with Russia, Israel and France to seek cutting edge military technology and acquire military force multipliers to offset Chinas quantitative advantage.
- The alternative is an alignment/strategic partnership with the USA. This would serve to antagonize China and the USA in its current post Iraq/Afghanistan stage, may not be very keen to get embroiled in local wars between China and its neighbours. This could of course, change if relations between the US and China worsen. As of now, however, the current cost- benefit analysis does not indicate major reurns from such a pre-mature alignment with the US.
- This is complicated by the US’s reluctance to share its cutting edge technology and its inordinate levels of support to Pakistan.
The relationship with Japan however would be crucial to balancing the economic and military power of China in Asia. Japan has huge investments and has off shored a great deal of its manufacture to China. India could take advantage of the strains in the Sino-Japan relationship to draw this massive Japanese investment to Itself. It can offer cheaper labour and other inducements. Japan can give invaluable help in the creation of rail and road infrastructure, power generation and ultimately even in civil nuclear energy.
Japan could assist India in creating a defense – industrial base in the private sector and thereby help in developing engines for its jet fighters, warships and tanks. India would need Japanese help in cyberwar and robotics. It could also assist India in electronic chip manufacture and hardware which are now all being imported at huge cost.
However Japan could make a singular contribution if it would assist India in promoting Buddhist pilgrimage tourism in India on a Haj scale. Not only would this generate millions of jobs but also enhance India’s soft power and influence in the whole of Asia.
(Maj Gen (Dr) GD Bakshi served in the Military Operations Directorate and as GOC in Kashmir. He is a prolific writer and has authored 28 books. He is currently the Editor of the Indian Military Review. This piece was first published in the Indian Military Review)