April 4, 1998
During a television debate in the run up to the elections, while other parties were ambivalent about exercising their nuclear option, Brajesh Mishra, the BJP’s spokesman for foreign affairs, was unequivocal: "My party will make the bomb". He derived the authority to go nuclear from the BJP’s election manifesto — reevaluate the country’s nuclear policy and exercise the option to induct nuclear weapons. This has since been reiterated in the National Agenda for Governance issued prior to the party taking office.
The government will also expedite the development of the Agni series of ballistic missiles with a view to increasing their range and accuracy. In its manifesto for the 1996 elections, the BJP was committed to "retaining option to induct nuclear weapons". It has now graduated to "exercising" that option, ending the country’s nuclear ambiguity. The question of nuclear testing, despite India’s rejection of the CTBT, is however, open.
This will clear the fog of uncertainty clouding strategic doctrineand pave the way for a fusion of conventional deterrence with a limited second strike nuclear capability. All this will open up bigger issues of national command authority and a national command post.
There could yet be many hiccups in exercising the nuclear option given that the Congress and United Front want to retain the softer option of ambiguity — to have the cake and eat it too. The BJP-led government will no doubt seek national consensus on this before facing the barrage of western sanction. Hence the last minute caveat by the Prime Minister of "if need be".
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But what will please the services most is the general tenor and content of the BJP national security document. It clearly highlights the concerns of the armed forces in letter and spirit. The formulations sound too good to be all true because they encapsulate the unfulfilled aspirations of the men and women in uniform.
Early the BJP has recognised the mounting concerns of the three services: about the absence of higher defence and nationalsecurity management, declining operational preparedness and sagging morale of its personnel. The reference to successive weak and irresolute governments having imperilled national security could not have come a day too soon. It also debunks the myth that national security and economic development are incompatible.
The loudest cheer for these long pending reforms will come for the acknowledgment that the "armed forces have been ignored in defence planning" and "of misguided bureaucratic interference demoralising higher echelons of the armed forces". Since independence, the armed forces which have been regarded as the last bastion of democracy and national integrity have not figured in the decision making loop.
Take this story in 1995 of a former naval chief and Chairman, Chief of Staff Committee telling his counterparts in the army and air force that he first learnt about India’s naval cooperation with another country from a newspaper report.
Together with a tribute to Jai Jawan is the BJP government’sresolve to make the armed forces more rewarding for young people, restoring the honour and dignity of the services and securing for soldiers greater respect from society. Services chiefs have been saying that providing izzat to the soldier is the key to reviving their morale.
The cornerstone of the BJP’s national security agenda is the establishment of a National Security Council which will provide continuous advice to the government. The NSC will do well to examine our military reverses, notably from the Henderson Brookes report. Our failure to make political capital from our military victory in 1971, the army being forced into Operation Blue Star, Operation Pawan and encounters like in and around Haratbal and Chrar-e-Sharief also require to be studied.
The greatest need of the hour is improving civil-military relations and providing the armed forces with a level-playing field. It will not be easy for the BJP government to implement its national security agenda, given its dependence on its alliesfor survival, but most of all because bureaucracy won’t let them.
The writer is a former major-general
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