The resolute Doklam hold-off against China attempting to encroach upon the strategically important Bhutanese plateau, started a resurgence of Indian resolve
|By Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis (Retd) |
Led the IAF with distinction as its Chief during the Kargil War in 1999
No superlatives can do justice to the mind-boggling phenomenon that was Election 2019: the Modi-led incumbent government brought back to power with a thumping majority on its own. Few doubted that the BJP would be the single largest party in Parliament; yet, other than the Party itself and a handful of its die-hard loyalists, most expected its vote share to fall well short of the half-way number. The Opposition were in fact banking that even the NDA will not get there; the Congress was touting and tooting that its Gathbandhan will be the one to rule the roost at the Centre; a boast that splintered the nascent unholy coalition even before it had stitched its patchwork quilt together.
While the hullabaloo of the Opposition and the Press rose, the Modi-Shah duo were confidently building the swell in their favour. The propaganda machine of the Opposition had erred grievously in assuming the majority of the electorate are an undiscerning lot, pliable to aggressive, unsubstantiated charges undermining the government. Modi, on the other hand, had long understood that the down-to-earth underprivileged were not looking for impractical goodies, but just a few things that would make their daily lives free of drudgery and humiliation: water, electricity, gas, access to banks/loans and that unmentionable word in Lutyens high-brow circles—shauchalayas! Of course they were aware some promises had not been fulfilled, but the poor had the practical perception and patience of the long-suffering to grasp that it was not for want of effort, but due to ugly machinations of the privileged against the one they truly believed as their messiah of Achche Din.
The down-trodden, the middle-class, the employed, the small-scale entrepreneur, in a word, the majority of Indians, who are forever being bullied/oppressed/obstructed, understand insecurity and crave for safety, in expanding circles of their environment, comprehend in their own way, the critical importance of national security. They are well aware of the constant needling by China and Pakistan and of their incorrigible hostility toward India, manifesting in terrorism, naxalism, border skirmishes/stand-offs. The harm that they bring to Indian lives and property had been addressed through the years by counter-threats rather than real action. The Modi government had given indication that they intended to do more than just posturing: the resolute Doklam hold-off against China attempting to encroach upon the strategically important Bhutanese plateau, started a resurgence of Indian resolve. The 2016 “surgical strike” against Pakistansponsored terrorist organisation, Jaish-E-Mohammed’s launch pads in PoK by Indian Army gave patriotic citizens hopes of India awakening to be proactive against a strengthening scourge, but a lingering doubt still remained: could Modi take tough decisions when the risks were high and stand the litmus test of a steadfast, bold leader?
PULWAMA CARNAGE: MODI’S LITMUS TEST—BALAKOT AIR STRIKE: MODI’S ANSWER!
Parliamentary election ought to be won by the party that is able to convince the majority that it has what it takes to fulfil their aspirations. In 2014, Modi-led BJP won the election, creating, of course, this confidence that the electorates’ aspirations will be addressed; but it was also in equal measure due to the aura of confidence that the prime ministerial candidate projected. After two full terms by a prime minister who came across as a puppet, rather than as one presiding confidently over his council of ministers, Indians were desperately seeking a PM who led from the front, one who made his own decisions. In the five years of his stewardship, Modi gave evidence that he had in him what the people desired, yet people still wanted clinching proof...
The landslide electoral victory is in very large measure, attributable to the success of bombing attack by the IAF on JeM’s training centre at Balakot
The mindless suicide-carnage of 40 CRPF, with 35 more seriously injured, as they were being transported through the Pulwama area in the Kashmir valley, had the whole nation to a man, seething with rage, thirsting for revenge! The PM immediately responded with strong words, giving notice to the JeM that they will pay heavily for the barbaric carnage they had perpetrated. Thereafter, the PM proceeded to attend the normal matters of state and appointments previously made, howsoever insignificant; the opposition and the Modi-hostile English-medium media braying for his jugular, accused him of insensitivity to the suffering of the next of kin of the slain.
In the aftermath of this human tragedy, inauguration of the National War Memorial on the evening of February 25th, less than a fortnight later, seemed starkly incongruous; even the most ardent supporter would have had misgivings of the PM’s apparent disregard to sensitivities. This author, having earlier in the day, advocated strongly at the ABP News’ day-long Conclave on Terrorism, that the IAF should be tasked to hit any JeM centre, where retributory attrition several times that of our loss at Pulwama could be assured within any part of Pakistan, irrespective of its proximity to sensitive areas, was fair game, had an uncanny feeling that some action was afoot; a feeling heightened when the PM, a very punctual man otherwise, arrived an hour late, barely preceded by the three service chiefs. The reason for the delay in the proceedings became crystal clear the following morning: while the war-memorial inauguration ceremony was underway, the IAF was in the process of enacting a “hit” on Pakistani soil in peace-time, an action not even contemplated by India in its seven decades of uneasy relations with Pakistan.
Balakot strike had the stamp of a bold and committed leader. A leader who had staked his all in giving the “green signal”. A failure of the air action would have translated into a clear loss at the hustings, barely a couple of months away. This decision was not with an eye on the coming election, rather, it was despite it! National security, never before an electoral issue, took centre-stage in a flash. The Opposition cried their voices hoarse, calling it a gimmick, alas, to their folly. Every Indian patriot realised India had found a leader who would lead them through the thick and thin of India’s security environment. To the utter dismay of Pakistan’s administration and military, the Pakistani citizen has also realised the same thing as his “brother-left-atbirth” across his eastern border!!
ELECTION 2019 RESULT: A MAMMOTH CHALLENGE TO MODI
Post-election celebration by the BJP, by Indian standards of extravaganza, was muted, despite its mammoth win; with good reason: Modi and his think-tank realise that peoples’ expectations have risen enormously, perhaps beyond the realm of possibility in the next five years. During his 2014 election rallies, Modi was asking in advance for a ten-year tenure to fulfil all his election promises. His supporters have given him what he asked; it is now his turn to give them what they want—and more! To corner 305 seats by itself is an extraordinary feat; but instead of bringing the party into the comfort zone of little opposition to its writ in Parliament, it realises with no uncertainty, it has nobody but itself to blame if it does not deliver. As indulgent as the electorate has been in casting its vote to the party, the voter will be as harsh on its insistence on deliverance; the party’s acumen has perceived this clearly.
The re-elected Prime Minister Modi has got down to his (read national) task, running. His council of ministers has been selected, given oath of office, portfolios assigned and taken over and prime ministerial directions spelt out in no uncertain terms: perform or perish! List of ministers from the last administration sacked for inadequate performance, bears testimony to intent transformed into action. Re-assignment of portfolios has been done with deliberation, perhaps not discernible immediately to many analysts; refreshingly, party seniority has not necessarily been a criterion. Some expected rewards for good work seem to be missing, but then as Modi-watchers know by now, it would be not without reason: challenging tasks await them. NaMo has once again shown his genius for out-of-the-box thinking by lateral inductions: IAS and IFS officers (notably foreign secretary, Jaishankar’s amazing elevation to the post of Minister for External Affairs) being inducted into the council of ministers. One hopes there will be other lateral inductions to follow.
THE MOST IMPORTANT SPHERES OF ACTION
There is little doubt that the 2019 Elected Administration, given its extraordinary mandate, has to perform in all areas without exception. But to do so successfully, it must prioritise the fronts it must focus on immediately. The author is of the opinion that there are several such fronts, as listed below, on which the government must get going as they have the greatest of import on India attaining the position it seeks in the 21st century. Most of them have long gestation periods and hence call for immediate kick-off to enable satisfactory, if not total, show of results in the next five years. Some have already got good/satisfactory starts with hints of success on the way, but require consolidation and telling triumphs, in a manner of speaking:
The drop down of GDP growth in the last quarter to a five year low of 5.8 per cent marks the urgency that economic reform and initiatives need to give the Indian economy the healthy growth it must have to push through the new Indian governments ambitious plans. The withdrawal of Arun Jaitley from consideration for inclusion in the council of ministers is a blow to the current Modi administration; it was not for mere optics that the PM considered it incumbent on himself to make a personal call on his erstwhile very able and dynamic Finance Minister to reconsider his decision; Jaitley’s willingness to continue to offer his services, though not as a Minister, will give Modi the advice that he will be seeking in his department.
The air strike at Balakot had the stamp of a bold and committed leader, a leader who had staked his all in giving the “green signal”
However, the elevation of Nirmala Sitharaman to full ministership in this department has been, to put it mildly, surprising. Although acclaimed by some, her stewardship in the Defence department has been pedestrian: urgently needed acquisitions programmes have not been moved with the speed needed; the successful rebuttal of Opposition’s charges on the Rafale deal was not much due to her competence as to the meticulous staff work of the IAF’s Plans Branch who spearheaded the government to government negotiations. Perhaps a lateral induction from the business community for Corporate Affairs would have been a good idea; it is hoped that the dynamic Anurag Thakur will prove himself equal to the task.
AGRICULTURE AND RURAL DEVELOPMENT
Modi-Shah thought-twins, were bang on target in clubbing these two distressed and pressing issues together. Neither can progress without equal advance from the other. Increasing farm produce on the one hand and giving its equitable benefits to the growers themselves on the other, improving rural infrastructure, will slow-down the influx of rural population into cities and growth of new urban settlements. Appointing Narendra Singh Tomar as a Cabinet Minister to tackle this has given strong hopes of bringing succour to this long-distressed sector.
HEALTH EDUCATION, EMPLOYMENT, YOUTH ISSUES
The aspiring young of today cannot be allowed to become the despairing rebels of tomorrow. Modi-Shah have realised this could well happen, if not their needs are not addressed now. This possibility is being pre-empted by giving independent charges to each of these issues by appointing people of proven capability as cabinet and independent ministers of state. Each of these appointees realises there is no time to lose.
Modi has performed brilliantly in this department over the last five years. He realises the importance of maintaining the momentum in a world where new fault lines are developing and our immediate neighbourhood countries are seeking a leader in a variety of sectors to stay free of the clutches of the increasingly domineering Dragon.
It was a deeply well considered initiative of his, to invite heads of state of BIMSTEC (Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, Bhutan) and Kyrgyzstan to the swearing-in ceremony of himself and his council of ministers. The precisely managed immaculate ceremony on the magnificent forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan, impressed not only those present, but those who witnessed it live on television. It showcased a new confident India, stepping in to play a dominant role in the 21st Century!
Air Power is the most potent strategic force; it must be given the primacy that is its due if the Indian forces are to be successful in deterring
Appointing Jaishankar as the new Foreign Minister was an unusual and a bold decision, signalling the Prime Minister’s continued focus on making the right connectivities across the globe to achieve India’s multi-dimensional goals. Jaishankar, as erstwhile Foreign Secretary, had gelled the right chemistry with the PM to chart a steadfast course through international affairs; he had shown superb dexterity in handling the Doklam crisis and broken the longstanding ice-barrier with the US. With both these giants (US & China) appearing to be heading for a face-off on trade relations as well as access to international waters, India has to play its cards with absolute finesse; Jaishankar has his task cut-out.
INTERNAL SECURITY AND THE KASHMIR IMBROGLIO
Getting rid of embedded anti-India elements that are incessantly attempting to derail smooth government functioning, and settling the perpetually Pakistan-fuelled Kashmir imbroglio, are tasks that need a dexterous iron-hand, reminiscent of the great Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s style of functioning. India has to settle these issues at the earliest if it is to get cracking on a host of its other challenges. The single-minded offensive launched by Amit Shah during BJP’s election campaign and his facile manoeuvring to overcome obstructions has shown his mettle in undertaking the most difficult tasks with stupefying success. In awarding the most important Home Minister’s portfolio to Amit Shah, notwithstanding Rajnath’s claim to it on the basis of party seniority, gives every indication that India is set to see some dramatic successes internally.
DEFENCE ORGANISATION AND WEAPONS AC QUISITIONS
The last of the important issues listed, deserves highest priority. For sure Modi has to acknowledge that his landslide electoral victory is in very large measure attributable to the success of IAF’s bombing attack on JeM’s training centre at Balakot. He also has to realise that this was by no means a one-off high-risk operation. Despite the global denouncement of terrorism as a world-wide scourge and the UN labelling of JeM as a Pakistansponsored terrorist organisation, India-centric terrorism has by no means seen its total termination; it is bound to raise its ugly head, sooner rather than later: should a major terror-act recur, India will have to respond without delay to demonstrate that Balakot was not just one stray demonstration of India’s will to act, but its established doctrine against terrorism. Indian forces, particularly the Air Force, need urgent replenishments to recover their critically diminished strengths. Only wellequipped, well-prepared defence forces with well-published authorisation to act autonomously, will deter Pakistan from raising the ante; even more importantly, the military must have the strength so to debilitate Pakistan’s military capability, should Pakistan be foolish to indulge in adventurism.
The Balakot strike has brought to the forefront a critical reality that India’s strategic thinkers have been slow to grasp: that Air Power is the most potent strategic force; it must be given the primacy that is its due if the Indian forces are to be successful in deterring, and if push comes to a shove, thwarting any aggression from Pakistan as well as China. No land or sea operation can be a success unless the air force dominates the skies. No land or sea operation can be considered or should even be conceived without air force being integrated in to the planning ab initio. Kargil operations painfully brought to the forefront the folly of not doing so. The government and the army must understand that confabulations on the use of the military can never be a single-service interaction with government; all three service heads must always be present. Similarly, meetings of cabinet committee on security cannot be in absentia of the COSC. Every security issue consideration has to be in consultation with the three chiefs in attendance; for far too long the military are kept on the side-lines, and are called in only when a crisis occurs. Pakistan’s folly is the overwhelming influence its army has on its external affairs; India’s folly has been its failure to give the military the importance they have to have, if they are to manage the Northern and the Western frontiers simultaneously.
The involvement of the military in internal security must progressively reduce to the barest minimum, that too only in a crisis. This can only happen if the BSF & other para-military forces improve their training and command structure; to achieve that, there have to be lateral inductions from the military in to these organisations at all levels of command. This can be made possible only if the ministries of Home and Defence have consensual views and function in consort to achieve it.
Indians have shown they have full faith in the phenomenon that is Modi, the sort of leader a Nation is lucky to have in a millennium. We have to back the Modi 2.0 government, with constructive critique, not debilitating negative criticisms. We have to understand that BJP government’s success in the next five years will be the Nation’s triumph - we have crested the tidal wave of progress; we must ride it with mutual confidence and skill to flow with it!