Reviewing a chapter – India: Strategic Culture & National Security Policy from Shrikant Paranjpe ‘s book

Reviewing a chapter – India: Strategic Culture & National Security Policy from Shrikant Paranjpe ‘s book

When it comes to India’s Strategic Culture and National Security Policy there are some assumptions that needed to be taken in account. Author starts from highlighting the fact there is a deep philosophical basis on which our whole strategic culture and strategic thinking rests. This puts India in to a categorization made by Colin Gray called first generation thinking or approach towards strategic matters.

It is indeed a misnomer to understand India only in a Westphalian sense, which is only a recent phenomenon and was a result of European experience, although it has some positive benefits it has really compartmentalized geographical units without regard to any other criteria, at least that is how it is done outside Europe. Most of the modern day border disputes are the result of haphazard demarcation of geographical boundaries by the colonial powers. The whole of Asia and many parts of Africa are bearing the brunt of such unscientific demarcation. This only proves the point that at least in the context of Asia; the creation of states based on Westphalian principle has not lead to a relative stability unlike Europe.

It is in this background we should understand India. India may well be a nation state in modern sense but is also a civilizational state, i.e., a continuing civilization that has withstood the tests of time though it had some setbacks mainly due to alien invasions. It is often argued that India was never a political unit as such but a land of many kingdoms, this may be true. But there is something that held this land in the west from Persian borders to the borders of China in the east. We call that component as culture. For 2000 years China was dominated by the Indian soft power, this is admitted by many Chinese scholars.

In my opinion it is an oversimplification when Srikanth says that India was isolated from the rest of the world hence it did not expand its empire, this is a gross misrepresentation. The southern kingdoms had vibrant trade relationships with southern regions of Africa. In some of the recently excavations in Muttam in Kerala where coins and other symbols which are connected to African regions, archaeological evidence suggests that they were 5000 year old, that corroborates the fact that India had strong trade relations then.

Hence we can safely say that while it may be true independent kingdoms clashed with in the Indian sub-continent on the claims over stretches of land, they were never expansionist in nature. The rule of Chola and other southern kingdoms throughout South East Asia could last more than 5 centuries because of benevolent authoritarianism. It is impossible to govern without the consent of governed for a longer period of time. All the Islamic dynasties that ruled India from Lodhis to Mughals could barely last 200 years and British for another 200 years.

Author refers to Indus civilization as an advanced system and calls its defensive strategy as problematic, indirectly suggesting that though it had enormous resources it only focused in defense instead of offence. This exactly proves the point that philosophically speaking we were indeed against expansionism.
Srikanth talks about Aryan migration to India etc., long before this book was written the very Aryan Invasion theory was debunked globally. We should read/listen to globally renowned historians like Srikanth Tallegari, who meticulously demolishes the Aryan Invasion theory. Hence to comment on Indian Strategic Culture and its philosophical underpinnings we should have a correct account of historical knowledge.

Srikanth refers to the fact that all those who have invaded India could not get through easily, and he appropriately cites the reason that it is just because our defenses were very strong. It took Alexander to violate war ethics to win a small ruler of the border kingdom of India; same is the case with Ghaznavi who again violated war ethics to win Prithviraj Chauhan. Hence we can safely assume that our defensive strategy was robust, just that we could not think like our enemies of that time.

It is a fact that Caste system regulated our society as such; duty of every section was demarcated and clearly defined. Hence the divisions as teachers, traders, warriors & Farmers/agriculturalists. Each had a specific role in the functioning of state. This has nothing to do with current day narration of the caste system, which is in a way distorted by colonial powers and there are some internal fault lines that have contributed to this case. But at any rate its utility has diminished, for example in current days to join army there is no caste consideration as such.

Author may be correct to an extent when he says that this defensive strategy has had an impact in our strategic thinking in post-independence period. It is another matter that post-independent strategic culture of India was very much conditioned by the ideological moorings of two leaders of Congress, Nehru & Indira Gandhi. Hence Nehru’s belief and his actions were not completely anchored by India’s hoary past & philosophical setting but mostly due to his ideological allegiance, i.e., Socialism (a watered down version of Communism)

It is only because of his ideological moorings he thought that he is surrounded by friendly powers like China & USSR came to a conclusion that he never needed a standing military to defend its borders but just a police force to control people internally. In the study of politics this is called elitist despotism. What he failed to appreciate was the fact that the two ideological states he was surrounded by were expansionist in their psyche, the 1962 invasion and USSR’s Afghanistan invasion falls in to that behavior. Until the Chinese aggression in 1962 he was in an assumption that only with diplomacy he could handle international powers. He was amply proved wrong by history.

This forces us to the next level of discussion. I.e., hard power V/S soft power. In a way we can say that Nehru did not grasp realist tendencies of nation states of his time. While it is true that India as an ancient state has an enormous soft power to project, but in modern terms that soft power has no value if it is not backed by hard power. Let’s look at a historical example. In Mahabharatha Bhisma marches with his mighty army in to Gandhara Kingdom with a flag of friendship on his chariot (i.e., yellow flag) to ask the king for Gandhari (i.e., the princess of gandhara kingdom) his daughter for marriage with his nephew Dritharashtra. First the response from the king of Gandhara was to ready his army to fight Bhisma, but then he realized that Bhisma came with a message of friendship, all were stymied by his show of might and were confused as to why he is flying flag of friendship. Everybody knew that Bhisma with little effort can overrun Gandhara. After talking to him the king of Gandhara came to know that he is here for a marriage alliance between princess Gandhari & his blind nephew Dritharashtra. And the King of Gandhara did not like it just because the bride was blind person. But he had to agree as a powerful army was standing at his door.

Hence it is understood that even if you are a good man with high virtues (i.e., your soft power) if you don’t have a hard power people may not listen to you. This is definitely relevant to a realist scenario. So without Hard power you cannot make your views heard in the world. Japan even with its strong economy is considered as an impotent state, because it has no hard power. With no hard power Nehru went on with his diplomatic spree which in a way had few takers internationally. This realization he had only after the 1962 debacle with China, until then the slogan was Hindi-Chin Bhai-Bhai.

Non-alignment movement had little relevance if it is seen through the lens of realism. It is only because of that we have invited US in to South Asia, which eventually propped up Pakistan leading to constant issues with in South Asia. In a major war between two powers all other major entities should definitely take sides. Yes. The values that India sought to assimilate were drawn from Civilizational consciousness, though lofty were not approved by the broader world just because India lacked hard power.

Defense through diplomacy had hardly any relevance. Even though India sought to play and did play the mediating role in some of the disputes in third world it actually had neither the control of international system nor enough power to sustain its diplomatic success. In that context the nuclear explosion of 1998 was a paradigm shift in our hard power projection.

But during the Nehru years, stand against anti-imperialism as such were result of Nehru’s ideological tendencies rather than any philosophical basis. It is true that only after the soviet disintegration India opted for liberal policies, be it in political or economic sphere. Also by that time the two generations of political leadership has passed i.e., by early 1990’s.

International communities especially technologically advanced countries have always had this dilemma on sharing their technology with non-western countries especially with in the context of issues like nuclear proliferation. Hence technologies that had dual purpose military and civil had been kept out of reach for developing countries and different regimes were created like MTCR & NSG etc.,

It is true that countries that have an upper hand on technology will be in a lead position, this is especially the case with the changing nature of warfare. In a way West is ahead in the race with its invention of advanced technologies and sufficient funds for Research and Development. When it comes to technology transfer India demonstrated and indeed should do more so as to gain the confidence of international community, so to convince that we are not a rogue state, for this credentials needed to be established by consistent actions. If there is any country that has done this successfully it is India, only because of that Super powers freely do nuclear deals without worrying about Nuclear proliferation, because India’s behavior has been consistent on such cases. And this consistency has rooted to our strategic culture which in turn has relation to our historical and philosophical aspects.

With Pakistan as a de-stabilizing factor in South Asia, India needed a strategic approach to effectively deal with Pakistan. In this context Indian Army came up with the Cold Start doctrine. It is a recognized fact at least with in the academic community that it proved to be some kind of deterrent vis-à-vis Pakistan.

Srikanth also talks about the purpose of creation of NAM as to remain neutral and not fall in to the trap of power politics. But then since independence, India was very much pro-Russian, it is only after soviet’s disintegration India has changed its course. Though our deliberate ambiguity on strategic thinking has helped us in one way or the other so far, but in the times ahead India should have a clear cut approach on strategic matters.

With the global economic system in tantrums and a worsening security situation, India is poised to play a leading role in global stage, but for that to happen it has to get its act together i.e., the primary requirement for all this to happen is to ensure a sustained economic growth and establish its credentials as a resident power in South Asia, there by denying any strategic role for other players like China etc., in the region. Strengthening the SAARC framework is the right step forward.

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