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Tuesday October 15, 2019

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Geostrategic Calculus

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If 2014 was the year of change in India, 2015 will have to be the period of consolidation for the country’s security and strategic policies. Prime Minister Narendra Modi stormed Delhi and subsequently the international arena in 2014 propelling India once again to the centre stage in world affairs. For anyone who expected radical – and dare I say drastic – changes to India’s military and diplomatic policies after Modi took office, his initial months may seem mildly disappointing. What the Prime Minister has however done, is restore the authority of his office and bring in a sense of decisiveness in governance that was sorely missing in UPA II.

Neighbours and the immediate neighbourhood thankfully are central to India’s new regime. China is keen to take its relations with India on a much higher plane than its current status. Modi, a pro-business leader, too is clear that India must take advantage of Chinese investment and expertise in infrastructure development. The Prime Minister is pragmatic enough to understand that India has a lot to catch up on with China, both militarily and economically and therefore it is wise to keep engaging with China on economic matters even as India seeks to build its military strength to a level that can act as a deterrent against any Chinese military provocation.

Engaging big powers apart, the Prime Minister’s diplomatic outreach to smaller neighbours in South Asia also signals a welcome change from the recent past. That he chose to travel to Bhutan, perhaps India’s closest ally, for his first visit outside India, was an indication that the Modi government will try and carry the immediate neighbourhood along since he believes a stable periphery is a must for India to progress. His trip to Nepal – the first bilateral visit by an Indian Prime Minister in 17 years – was aimed at repairing the fractured relationship with a country that remains an important part of India’s geostrategic calculus.

The diplomatic initiatives apart, to me, the seven months of the new government have been marked by a series of small but significant steps in boosting the morale of the neglected armed forces. Modi has begun meeting the three service chiefs one-on-one, once a month, a practice that gives the armed forces an opportunity to directly keep the Prime Minister apprised of the issues that need his immediate attention. Of course, restoring pay parity of military officers with their civilian counterparts and full implementation of the One Rank One Pension principle remain pending, but both should be done soon.

His new Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has a major task on his hands too. As a first step, Parrikar will have to overhaul the civil-military relationship in the country. The post-1947 history is replete with episodes that suggest a constant state of tension between the ‘generalist’ bureaucracy and the ‘specialist’ military leaders, with the political executive watching and sometimes encouraging the bureaucracy to keep the military under control. Parrikar will have to crack the whip to get the bureaucrats to work on the advice of the military and not allow them to be unilateral in their approach.

 

 
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