The COVID-19 pandemic, a troubled economy and Chinese belligerence on the northern borders have truly delivered a “triple whammy” on India. While we assiduously combat these, Mirza Ghalib comes to mind: “Mushkilein mujh par padi itni/ Ke aasaan ho gayi” (So many difficulties fell upon me that everything became easy). There should, therefore, be an atmosphere of cautious optimism as we tread forward wielding whatever power we possess.
National power in this case would imply the sum of all available resources in pursuit of these challenges. Power is not a synonym for military might alone. National power really stems from various elements of power — political/diplomatic, economic, informational/technological and military — developing in an environment where they are secure. Security naturally becomes fundamental to the paradigm. While not commenting on the present Chinese aggression, the Uri and Pulwama misadventures of Pakistan underline that all elements of power were indeed brought into play — a “whole of the government approach” was clearly visible.
The pandemic has resoundingly reminded the nation that elemental to the concept of security today is the security of the citizen. He considers “his security” to be the lowest common denominator. He expects his country to perform the function of safeguarding and ensuring his wellbeing. And why not? This throws up a more basic question: Does he know where the country is headed? One doubts it.
As everybody looks askance, the powers that be have never found time, the inclination or the capacity to define a national vision. There could not be a more opportune time than now to spell it out. This will ipso-facto also graduate India from a “whole of the government approach” to a “whole of the nation approach”, with the citizen at large beginning to feel how he contributes to nation building or national security in the difficult situation that India faces today. He now knows where he is headed.
Seventy-three years of independence have given us sufficient experience and realisation to identify our core values and formulate an enduring and overarching national vision from which could flow national interests, aims and objectives and a strategy to attain them, covering all elements of power. This should have a particular emphasis on health, capacity to handle pandemics, personnel including migration and employment, food, community welfare, energy, trade, environment, climate change, data and cybersecurity; to name the current front runners, keeping in mind that security must remain fundamental at all times. Actually the “triple whammy” impels such an approach.
Whether it is the US, China, Russia, or the UK, all have promulgated their vision, seminal to their national security strategy, which they update from time to time. It is time that without further ado, India too promulgates a national vision so that its security strategy can be formulated.
Notwithstanding the current situation, the past record or what the critics say, India is indeed a democratic economic power-house, with a modern, secular outlook, and with ample talent, expertise and a dynamic population profile, possessing all the attributes of a potential major power. Therefore, she can no longer afford to be diffident about either her status or her wider responsibilities. For today’s India, a seemingly fair national vision that emerges is: By 2070, develop to be a great nation and effectively contribute towards global peace, stability and economy. It needs to be noted that this is in keeping with Article 51 of the Constitution of India.
The enunciation of this national vision indeed enshrines India’s aspirations and therefore becomes the lodestar for all stakeholders. notably the army, maritime and aerospace forces and other agencies including diplomatic, economic and informational to spell out their own visions, which could, for their fields be: By 2070, to craft capability that ushers India into the comity of nations as a credible global leader.
The vision must be suitably mandated for the government and the politicians to follow, give guidance and ensure political oversight for every stakeholder to chart their own course. This kind of consciousness will nudge the citizenry at large to question the government and their elected representatives as to the action they are taking to realise the vision, particularly in the present challenging times.
Even now, India, as a democracy, a nuclear state and a significant economic and military power, must stand firm; as a bulwark against regional hegemony being attempted while working painstakingly to meet the other challenges. But remember the vision to be a “great world nation” is not pre-ordained. We have to get our economic and political act together pronto and go ahead with all cylinders firing. It is only then that “Mushkilein Mujh Par Padi Itni; Ke Aasaan Ho Gayi” would stand vindicated.
The writer is a retired Lieutenant General of the Indian Army
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