File photo of PM Narendra Modi | Bloomberg
File photo of PM Narendra Modi | Bloomberg
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If there has ever been a government that can transform India’s national security by undertaking long-pending reforms, it is this one. National security was the first subject in the BJP manifesto, which listed over a dozen measures that the Modi government would implement if it was re-elected.

The Prime Minister has appointed professional and political heavyweights to the defence, external affairs and home ministries, and upgraded the office of the NSA to cabinet level. After the Balakot strikes, there is considerable enthusiasm for defence in the public discourse (even if there is an increasing risk that television and social media will channelise this into dangerous jingoism and fetishisation of the armed forces).

I would say that a window of opportunity has opened for us to push for serious reforms and modernisation of our national security system. In the late 1990s, after Pokhran-2 and Kargil, a forward momentum started building up within the New Delhi establishment, ably led by Brajesh Mishra at the Vajpayee PMO, Jaswant Singh in the defence and external affairs ministries, and K. Subrahmanyam in the capital’s intellectual circle. After some initial successes — the publication of the Kargil Review Committee report, rapprochement with the United States and the announcement of a nuclear doctrine, for instance — the process slowed down before substantive structural reforms could be implemented.

Also read: In second term, Narendra Modi must make room for people’s inputs in national security

We had committees to examine and update what previous committees had recommended, but other than post-26/11 initiatives to manage internal security, the two UPA governments didn’t have — or didn’t want to expend — political capital on national security reforms.

Cynics might point out that the Modi government’s commitment to national security reform — as distinct from national security management — is skin deep and limited to desirable headlines and photo opportunities. But if we accept this, we will hand the naysayers a self-fulfilling prophecy. The stakes are important enough for the strategic community to suspend cynicism and make the case for reform. Democratic governments need to be pressured, cajoled, nudged and criticised into doing what they say they want to do.

Like the appointment of a chief of defence staff (CDS), there are a number of items in the ‘to-do’ lists of various committees. There is also bound to be the temptation to change defence procurement rules one more time to fix the mess they’ve caused. Proposals that are already on the government’s table (or more correctly, its vast number of cupboards) are best left to the judgement of its ministers, officials and the top brass.

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Also read: For 5 years, Modi put national security reforms on hold. Now, he must act fast

What needs attention of the wider community outside the corridors of power is something different and fundamental. India has yet to answer questions such as ‘what do we mean by national security?’ Simple as the question might appear, it is perhaps the most profound question out there, the answer to which concerns how upwards of 4 per cent of GDP is spent. It involves entire industries, thousands of firms and millions of jobs. Above all, it means to what extent the people of India get to enjoy life, freedom and prosperity.

The Modi government should promulgate India’s first national security doctrine. This can then inform the overall national security strategy and form the basis of military, diplomatic, intelligence and police forces’ planning. Budgets can then be allocated to ensure that the desired outcomes are achieved. Doing this will be a break from our current practice of allocating budgets first and then figuring out how actually to spend the money.

So, what should our national security doctrine contain? Interestingly, there seems to be a broad consensus among politicians and scholars that it is about the well-being of our people. In a 2016 document, some of India’s most insightful experts assembled under the Delhi Policy Group stated that “central to this (national security) are the citizens of India, their aspirations and the kind of society they wish to build. Simply put, the right to life, safety, and well-being of every Indian in conditions of internal and external peace should be India’s supreme objective”.

Also read: BJP’s priority is national security but look who asked most defence questions in Lok Sabha

This modern formulation is a re-statement of ancient Indian wisdom. Kautilya’s Arthashastra lays down yogakshema (welfare of the people) as the state’s main policy objective. From this follow the need to defend territory, protect constitutional order, social harmony and natural resources. Since national power is the primary means to achieve these ends, it must be sufficiently accumulated.

Well, this is my answer to the national security question. There can be other formulations. What matters is that we should have an official one that concentrates minds and channels resources. Get it right and the reforms will follow.

The author is the director of the Takshashila Institution, an independent centre for research and education in public policy. Views are personal.

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4 Comments Share Your Views


  1. The past 5 years provide a sort of template for forecasting the next. The initial years were hectic: MyGov (Israeli copy paste) for crowdsourced ideas to dictate policy; photoOps for breathless policy roll out; Monkey Baath; Some genuine people with listening ears – in Railways, Defense and power; New bottle of old wine in a Niti Aayog. And then as suddenly the party was over – fizzled out with power grabs aimed at the judiciary, the RBI, then some state-sponsored lynching, followed up with Quixotic decisions. The method in the madness is being repeated –a much advertised ” 100 Days ‘ program for ministries” being the first shot fired. At this rate, a well thought-through and discussed policy seems to be reserved for another monkey bath on a rainy day. Maybe, waiting for the inevitable implementation of Manusmriti, tearing-up of the Constitution and an organized riot or three would be the logical progression after another Salvo of traipsing around the world for selfies with whites genuflecting in exchange for a share in our family silver. NDP? Nice thought over a cup of tea, maybe..

  2. I beg to differ from the writer.
    Firstly, I don’t think that a National Security doctrine can be made public.
    Second, Kargil was no victory. It was a military disaster, where Bahadur Jawans were sent to climb unprotected heights and were swatted like flies. It is only after deployment of the Bofors artillery guns, strafing of the heights by the Indian Air Force, and the reprimand to Nawaz Sahrif by President Bill Clinton, that the battle ended. At that time we did not even have enough shells for the Bofors guns.
    Thirdly major defence procurement from Bofors to Rafaele have been bogged down by controversy. Instead of having Joint Parliamentary Commiittees (JPC) to investigate after the event it would be better to have a JPC for defence procurement before beginning the exercise. That way charges of corruption will also be minimized.

  3. The able author should have also incorporated the horrific incidents of hatred politics, communal riots, mob lynching which covers “internal security”. Pending justice and providing mainstream politics to marginalized can not led nation GDP, high ranking doing business with India.


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