Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in New Delhi. The two leaders are holding talks on strengthening India-Bangladesh relations. (PMO India)
Snapshot
  • What will go into the making of an assertive India that enjoys strategic autonomy for itself in the contemporary world?

You can also read this article in Hindi- भारत के लिए बंधन तोड़ने का समय आ गया है

Jawaharlal Nehru was an imaginative statesman turning the country’s all-round weakness into moral leverage to carve out a role for India and for the Non-Aligned Movement as the balancer of power between the United States (US) and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and gaining from the competing attention of both. He appreciated that, while soft power is good, hard power is what matters.

Nehru seeded the dual-purpose nuclear energy and space programmes and the first jet combat aircraft project in Asia, which at last, he hoped, would lay the foundations for the cutting-edge Indian aviation industry.

Most importantly, he articulated a stunning strategic vision for India as the fulcrum of power in the arc Maghreb-Indonesia, marred only by his blind spot for China. Succeeding prime ministers, lacking his ‘map reading habit of mind’, foreign policy intuition, historical insights, and the confidence to prosecute surefooted diplomacy, initiated the country’s slide.

Ironically, it was post-1971 war and post-nuclear test three years later that the country’s prospects darkened. India’s military policy shrank, its focus on a weak and truncated Pakistan and, in the strategic realm, the benefits of increased global heft from full-scale nuclear weaponisation were lost because the government developed qualms.

India, in the new century and under different party dispensations, forsook ‘strategic autonomy’ for the comforts of American camp followership and, with near total reliance on imported armaments, has become a second-rate military power to match. To recover for India its inherent significance, it is necessary for an expansive national vision to be defined in geostrategic terms of making India the foremost power in the quadrant Caspian-Central Asia-South China Sea-southern Indian Ocean-the East African littoral-Gulf and by the by, ensuring that the Indian Ocean once again becomes an ‘Indian lake’. It is imperative that India embraces disruptive policies to force itself back into international reckoning.

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To achieve the above aims, the following foreign and military policy priorities have been highlighted. In the foreign policy sphere, India should:

  1. Seek to undermine with actions all international and multilateral agreements and regimes that impinge on the national interest and which it had no role in negotiating;
  2. Incentivise countries in the extended neighbourhood, including Iran and the central Asian republics, and particularly adjoining states, especially Pakistan, with generous grants, financial and trade agreements, to join in an extended southern Asian economic, trade and eventually security schemes;
  3. Align all external and national security policies of government, including economic and trade policy, keeping in mind the credible and comprehensive Chinese threat. India should deny China access to its vast market and use it as a lever to obtain more equitable trade and less aggressive Chinese policies on the border and in the subcontinent;
  4. Implement severely reciprocal measures to signal Beijing that whatever bad it does will be returned to it in trumps. Thus, for instance, its deliberate policy of arming Pakistan with nuclear missile should be the precedent for India equalising the situation, a little belatedly, by transferring sensitive strategic armaments and technologies to all the countries on China’s periphery;
  5. Cobble together a loose and informal organic security architecture in Asia of rimland and offshore nations, including Taiwan and Japan, to ring-fence China without according any role for extra-continental powers, such as the US;
  6. On the larger stage, to prevent the US and China from setting the security agenda in Asia and the world, structure equally loose military cooperation collectives of BRIS (Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa), ie, BRICS minus China, while retaining BRICS for economic purposes only, and of the Modified Quadrilateral or Mod Quad with India, Japan, Australia and militarily capable south east Asian states, the last mentioned to replace the US in the quadrilateral, with the US being free to engage in such activities of the combine as it may choose to.

In the military sphere, India should:

  1. Abandon its defensive-passive-reactive mindset and become proactive and expeditionary;
  2. Rationalise and restructure land forces — form a single composite armoured and mechanised corps, with human and material resources freed up channelled into three mountain strike corps equipped with light tanks and high-altitude terrain specific weapon systems to take the fight to China’s People's Liberation Army (PLA) on the Tibetan plateau;
  3. Constitute a dynamic cyber warfare force capable of preemptive and ceaseless offensive and defensive operations manned mainly by highly paid IT specialists and algorithm-writers from the private sector and universities;
  4. Resume thermonuclear testing to upend the global non-proliferation regime and to obtain proven and tested warheads/weapons, ranging from those of megaton- and tailored-yield to micronukes for battlefield use, and atomic demolition munitions for placement in Himalayan passes to deter the PLA, and canisterised long-range Agni missiles for launch-on-launch and launch-on-warning capability;
  5. Create an exclusive nuclear cadre of officers and men in the three armed services to run the strategic forces command;
  6. Scrap large aircraft carriers and their construction, secure strategic and relatively invulnerable reach and punch for the navy with an augmented fleet of SSBNs and SSNs, and for the air force with two squadrons of Tu-160M2 strategic bombers taken on long-term lease from Russia.

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