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Defense Mechanisms

The complex terrain of Indian security laid out,with a few omissions

Written by PranabDhalSamanta |
June 29, 2013 3:40:47 am

Book: India’s National Security

Author: Kanti P Bajpai and Harsh V Pant (eds.)

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Price: Rs 995

Pages: 486

Security is the bedrock of state legitimacy. For,even the worst performing state cannot be seen to be failing to minimise the existential threats to its citizenry. It’s a solemn charter between the state and its population,which once broken,usually leads to upheaval,at times very violent,and possibly ending in the establishment of a new order.

The modern democratic state seems to have coped better on this score. Precisely due to its ability to accept transition and even celebrate it,regardless of repeated failures,the democratic state manages to soak and accommodate dissent more effectively.

India’s security story is such a tale,replete with excitement,unending problems that started in the 1960s but continue to dog us even today,newer forms of war which get sophisticated by the day due to external sponsorship,and a quest to secure Indian aspirations — one that feeds the imagery of being a major world power. 

India’s National Security – a Reader,edited by Kanti P Bajpai and Harsh V Pant,maps this complex terrain by putting together a competent selection,which is representative of the most frequently articulated views on the subject.

The book is an academic exercise and must,therefore,be judged by what it sets out to do. Credit must go to the two editors for stating this at the outset. This is not a book that seeks to wrestle with newer security theories or critical approaches that call for a conceptual shift,neither does it ambitiously experiment with broader meanings of security and nor does it intend to be prescriptive.

Simply put,the book is firmly located in the traditional approach,explaining issues through state instruments and judging outcomes by that yardstick. In doing so,the editors and their contributors keep the quest honest,making this a notable effort that does not further state interests without question or contest. 

Internal security is the most complex of all national security challenges in India. The book dives right into it by looking at state responses,particularly the counterinsurgency effort. Rajesh Rajagopalan provides an interesting analysis of the Army’s counter-insurgency doctrine,only to conclude that it has hardly undergone any qualitative change despite increased engagement. After a good build-up,he makes several leaps to reach his conclusion and,perhaps,overlooks some key phases of the Army’s efforts in Kashmir and Punjab. 

KPS Gill’s piece on Punjab militancy tries to make up for that but comes to the opposite conclusion that military solutions are possible. His is,however,more of a long rich personal account,rather than a disciplined analytical exercise. This is a feature of the compilation,where many pieces hinge on the reputation of the writer,at times overlooking academic rigour.

Praveen Swami’s conclusion that the Kashmir issue will only resolve either when India gives up its pluralist democratic ideology or when Pakistan shuns its dogmatic Islamic identity is vulnerable to the charge of being over-simplistic,despite an impressive collection of previously unpublished information. The economy of violence,often,overpowers ideology over a period of time and to frame issues in only ideological terms may be analytically insufficient.

On this score,Ajai Sahni’s contribution on Naxalism is thought-provoking as it focuses on more real questions of power,the competing struggle for authority and control between the Naxals and the state; and,more importantly,the failure of either side to exercise this power effectively. This is a nuanced,refreshing piece that embeds governance in the context of violence rather than an endless search for causal links in a vastly complex situation.

Moving beyond internal security,the book has two sections on India’s nuclear history,weapon possession and strategic stability. Much of the contribution is from familiar personalities of the past two decades with none of the writers exploring new ground.

Bharat Karnad’s piece on Gandhi’s moral politik is catchy to start with,but makes very easy assumptions about what constitutes Indian cultural ethos. He argues that Gandhi’s ahimsa was unrepresentative of the mainstream thought from the Vedas to the Arthashastra. This very Brahminical interpretation skews the understanding of violence as a cultural concept and is exclusionist in its treatment of movements like Buddhism and Jainism as being non-representative.

The late K Subrahmanyam’s account,on the other hand,is a remarkable delight filling in those empty secret blanks of India’s quest for the nuclear weapon. It’s an old piece and the editors could have taken care to update it. The reference to the late Krishna Kant as the current vice-president reveals a certain editorial insensitivity and makes you wonder if this was a hurriedly accomplished exercise.

Besides this,the debate on the Cold Start doctrine was,perhaps,avoidable given that the concept always remained on paper and was then set aside by the Army itself. A more rigorous effort on the new transformation exercise within the Army,which too is facing roadblocks,may have been more relevant and current. 

However,the book signs off on a pertinent note by including a chapter on defence reforms,which is not only relevant but crucial to building a new Indian military-industry complex besides reorganising security structures. The only quarrel would be why wasn’t this fleshed out better?  

On the whole,this is a good starting book on national security,which is informative about the past but remains conceptually old school and sketchy on new wars. The lack of a debate on terrorism,especially — from the homegrown Indian Mujahideen to the scale we saw in Mumbai on 26/11– is a glaring omission.

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