“Sizzle” turns into “fizzle”: Evaluating Modi’s strategic and economic performance: Business Standard reviews ‘Staggering Forward’

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Ajai Shukla’s review in Business Standard of my new book:


Many of the themes in Bharat Karnad’s latest offering were earlier fleshed out in his 2015 book, “Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)” and have since been amplified in his prolific writings, blogposts and speaking appearances. Mr Karnad, who styles himself in his blog as “India’s foremost conservative strategist”, has robust views. He believes that if India wants to be treated like a Great Power, it must start thinking like one. New Delhi’s defence and security focus should be on China, without wasting effort on minnows like Pakistan. To ward off China, India must abandon its pusillanimous “No-First-Use” nuclear doctrine and be ready to go first with nuclear weapons to halt a Chinese conventional attack. To persuade Beijing from responding in kind, Mr Karnad wants India to develop, test and deploy thermonuclear weapons, which he regards as the final arbiters of power. Washington, he believes, constrains not benefits India. The relationship with Moscow must be nurtured more carefully. Karnad also wants India to outflank China and Pakistan through military bases in Central Asia and the Gulf.

In this book, Mr Karnad looks inwards at the trajectory Indian politics and policymaking has followed since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in 2014. Given the author’s unapologetic, nationalistic, India-first approach to security policy, many would logically expect him to endorse the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) policies and achievements. But the hawkish Karnad of foreign and security policy reveals himself as slightly leftish liberal on domestic policy. This revealing sentence sums up his book: “This book is in the main a critique of Modi’s foreign and national security policies – an audit if you will… If readers find the analysis suffused with disappointment, they will not be wrong.”

Mr Karnad’s divergence with Modi’s worldview stems from a sophisticated understanding of India’s delicate social geography, and the way this impacts security dynamics – both internal and external. Mr Karnad writes that Modi has “nudged the fairly tolerant social order that has evolved over the millennia to accommodate an extraordinarily complex Indian society into a Hinduist straitjacket in line with the thinking of the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh).” Quite clearly the author regards the BJP’s assault on internal social faultlines as more damaging to national security than any potential challenges from external foes.

In a provocative chapter, Karnad attempts to decode Modi’s political psychology, based on his documented actions since his days as an RSS sevak, emerging on the political landscape of Gujarat. Professor Ashish Nandi has elsewhere declared that Modi bears all the characteristics of a fascist. But the author chooses between David Rosen’s six psychological types – which are narcissist, obsessive-compulsive, Machiavellian, authoritarian, paranoid and totalitarian – and concludes that Modi is a narcissist. In Rosen’s theoretical framework, narcissists are “charismatic, attention-seeking… extremely convincing liars and are the ultimate users of people – demanding loyalty from others they seldom give in return, and don’t always make the best decisions but… [they] generally make the best leaders.”

In a disparaging analysis of Modi’s international policy, Mr Karnad terms it a “creeper-vine foreign policy”, based on the logic that it cannot stand on its own, without the support of a Great Power. He contrasts that with Jawaharlal Nehru’s policy of non-alignment, which forced the two superpowers of that time to compete for India’s favour, while retaining our freedom of action and choice. Mr Karnad is dismissive of the nominal policy of “strategic autonomy”, which he considers a veil behind which India is cozying up to the United States and bending to its diktat.

In the book’s most original strategic construct, the author suggests New Delhi could obtain genuine strategic autonomy and counter the “proto-hegemons” – the US and China – through two new security coalitions. The first is BRIS – named after Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa – which is BRICS, with China removed. Mr Karnad does not clarify who will expel China, or how.

The other coalition India should join is the catchily named Mod Quad – short for Modified Quadrilateral. This weaponised grouping cuts out America from the current Quadrilateral (India, US, Japan and Australia), replacing it with a rash of south east Asian countries. Myanmar and Vietnam book end the landward side, while Indonesia and the Philippines anchor the sea end; with other countries like Singapore, Thailand, Brunei and Malaysia in the middle. Given the difficulties these very countries face in presenting a united front in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), Karnad should have clarified how they would manage with the additional contradictions of the Quadrilateral.

In a well-written book with lots of catchy phrases, the author concludes that Mr Modi’s sizzle – based on promises to end corruption, improve delivery, structurally transform the economy and use technology to provide development solutions – has ended in a fizzle.

Notwithstanding several contradictions, Mr Karnad presents an interesting evaluation of Modi’s strategic and economic performance, which will probably be widely read in an election year. The reader’s complaint would, however, be that he has taken too many pages to do so. This, despite an inordinately small font that makes reading difficult – the hallmark of a publisher that has chosen the wrong way to economise.

[Published in Business Standard Sept 25, 2018, at



Posted in Indian Army | 4 Comments

Downturn in Russia relations


[Modi and Putin in a more congenial mood in St. Petersburg]

President Vladimir Putin comes hither to summit with Modi  at a time when bilateral relations are strained. This may be gleaned from the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s rather curt response to a question about the status of the S-400 and other deals. The “sovereign” decision on this or that Russian military hardware acquisition, he said, was Delhi’s to make in its own time at its own pace. This is all very well but he couldn’t keep out the note of exasperation with the distinct turn southwards in bilateral relations. In the event, whether Moscow will continue playing ball and handing over advanced armaments to India every time Delhi feels the need to give the impression of a foreign policy not overly tilting to the US is another matter.

Many retired military men trained in Russia, fluent in the Russian language, and with intimate knowledge of Kremlin’s strategic calculus seem to be strangely complacent. A former naval theatre commander, for instance, is vehement in claiming that Indo-Russian relations are on such sound footing that they are virtually immune to the momentary winds buffeting them this way and that, and, moreover, that deals for sensitive equipment such as leasing a second Akula-II class nuclear powered attack submarine are on track notwithstanding the potential danger these systems may be exposed to from COMCASA type accords India has signed with the US.

Such thinking tends to paper over the real sense of unease in Moscow about an India that simply cannot be relied upon anymore to know and act on its own best interests and to stick to its traditional median course. Throwing a bone or two Putin’s way by periodically buying Russian weaponry may not cut it any more. This will not however mean that Putin —always acting on the long view — will show his displeasure when they meet Oct 4. He loses nothing by letting Modi unspool the relations if the latter is so inclined, because Putin knows that the BJP govt in its last year of untrammelled power will not go beyond a point when plummeting ties with Russia could become a political and electoral issue.

This is so owing to Kremlin’s current policy of reviving Russia’s prospects and burnishing its international stature. It depends centrally on Russia once again  becoming the nodal power in Europe to complement China’s rise in Asia, thereby hamstringing America. Trump’s mercurial policies alienating US’ NATO allies are helping Putin cement the belief in European states that their military and energy security may be best guaranteed not by confronting Russia but by sensible policies that play off Moscow’s strategic imperatives against Washington’s tactical policy moves — the very strategy shortsighted Indian governmentntury have given up on in the new Century when, in reality, it is still the only big power political game with currency. With the main European powers, Germany and France, preferring such policies and its attention diverted at the two ends by Russia and China, the US is growingly convinced  —given the Modi regime’s bent of mind — that herding India into its corrall without having to distance itself from an old partner Pakistan or make any concessions whatsoever (on trade, H1B visas, on selling only dated military goods newly accoutred with bells and whistles to impress a determinedly Third World government and military) will somehow correct the emerging geostrategics.

Far from being mindful of the pitfalls ahead, Modi ploughs on, convinced for reasons not entirely clear, that he has more traction with Trump than do Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron! But there’s no cure for delusional beliefs and equally delusional policies.

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Podcast (CPR) & Discussion on ‘Staggering’ at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC

A CPR podcast on my new book ‘Staggering Forward is available at


Taking off tonight for the US for an extended holiday coupled with a book event at the Atlantic Council, Washington DC, on Thursday Oct 4, 2018. The main discussant is Shuja Nawaz (who, incidentally, is the younger brother of the late General Asif Nawaz Janjua, former Chief of the Army Staff, Pakistan Army). Will post the video of the event once the Council uploads it to the net.

The notice of the event is reproduced below. It is also a personal invitation from me to readers of this blog in the extended Washington, DC area to participate in it. See you there!

October 4, 2018

A Discussion with Bharat Karnad, Author of Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition

Introduced by:

Nidhi Upadhyaya
Senior Research Associate, South Asia Center
Atlantic Council

A conversation with:

Bharat Karnad

Moderated by:

Shuja Nawaz
Distinguished Fellow, South Asia Center
Atlantic Council

The Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center invites you to a discussion on author Bharat Karnad’s recently published book ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition‘, released on August 29, 2018. Analyzing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s foreign and military policies in the context of India’s socio-political and economic milieu which has evolved in the new Century, this book offers a critical perspective that helps to understand the country’s present national security strategy, as seen through the twin-prisms of strongman-alpha male power politics that’s all the rage now featuring, other than the Indian prime minister, Trump, Putin, Xi, Erdogan and Shinzo Abe, and of the impact of Modi’s persona on India’s politics and policy-making.

The discussion will be held October 4, 2018 from 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Atlantic Council, followed by a reception. The event is open to press and on the record.

DATE:           Thursday, October 4, 2018
TIME:             3:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. 
LOCATION:  Atlantic Council 
                      1030 15th Street NW, 12th floor 
                      Washington, DC 20005 
On Twitter? Follow @ACSouthAsia and use #ACSouthAsia 
The event is on-the-record and open to the public and media. For media related questions, please emailpress@atlanticcouncil.org. The recorded video will be available after the event.

For more information, please contact us at southasia@atlanticcouncil.org.Unsubscribe





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Immediately strengthen Solih

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[Solih campaigning]

A vile incubus is off India’s back. The autocratic Abdulla Yameen has been ejected from the office of President of Maldives by the people in the elections that everybody had assumed would be trifled with by Yameen to extend his reign.  Instead the popular, soft-spoken, Mohammad Solih, is the new President and Delhi can heave a sigh of relief.  Though until he went on television to concede the elections, there was widespread apprehension that Yameen would again do the dirty on Maldivan democracy and use the police and the country’s small military to forcibly reverse the election outcome and reinstall his dictatorship.

It would appear Yameen was stunned that he had been overthrown by the people. Much like Indira Gandhi in the elections called by her after the Emergency, he did not try and rig the polls, certain that the grateful masses would return him to power with a popular mandate to stick with the course he had set Maldives on. Yameen spent uncomprehending  hours, in the presidential palace, contemplating the election results, unable to reconcile to the fact of his peaceful ouster, before finally and formally throwing in the towel.

The mild-mannered Solih who takes control in Male is a committed friend of India desirous of restoring to it its traditional role as well-wisher and prime protector of the archipelagic country of some 1,200 atolls in the southern Indian Ocean stretching over thousands of miles of the ocean.

Solih needs help to begin distancing Maldives from China and shrinking its oversized presence in his country which had been pushed by Yameen into a classic debtor country status vis a vis China. Maldives owes Beijing $1.3 billion. Its patent inability to service this debt which amounts to 35% of Maldivan GDP led to Yameen signing away whole atolls to China where Beijing, under cover of building infrastructure, is erecting military-use infrastructure. Delhi should offer every help and assistance to dismantle the Chinese presence and take over completion of such underway Chinese projects as Solih prioritizes. This will eliminate the residual threat to India’s security from China which the Modi regime all these years did little to diminish, with the Indian High Commissioner in Male reduced to pleading with Yameen to refrain from doing this, that, and the other.

What the BJP government should do on the most urgent basis is for once pull its head out of the sand where China is concerned, and sanction an outright grant of $1.3 billion to  the new Solih dispensation  to enable it to clear his country’s debt with the Chinese and to regain for India not just its premier status in Maldives but loads of goodwill of the people. Such a reminder to Maldivans of India’s friendship will go far to right the India-Maldives relationship, put it to an even keel. This is the first break India has got in a long time, in the face of China racking up series of successes in the neighbourhood with Xi’s “debt-book diplomacy”.

It may be no bad thing in this context for Modi himself to make a quick dash to Male to touch base with President Solih, congratulate the Maldivan people for their democratic temper, offer to station an Indian naval flotilla in nearby waters in case Beijing acts up or a company of Special Forces should Yameen instigate the Maldivan forces to negate the election results, and invite him to be the chief guest at India’s 2019 Republic Day parade and celebrations. That will be the cherry atop the India-Maldives cake.

Posted in asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Maldives, MEA/foreign policy, Military/military advice, society, South Asia | 11 Comments

Why the Rafale deal, as predicted, has blown up in Modi’s face

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[For reasons unknown, an overjoyed Modi with Hollande at the Elysee Palace in Paris]

Rajiv Gandhi “paid the political price…with regard to the Bofors gun. Modi will have to carry the can for this Rafale transaction—a boondoggle in the making …[that] can mar Modi’s prospects.” These were the concluding lines in an op-ed  I wrote titled “Impatience seals worst possible defence deal” in the New Indian Express of April 17, 2015, also posted on this blog. Refer  https://bharatkarnad.com/2015/04/17/impatience-seals-worst-possible-defence-deal/ .  That was 12 days after the prime minister, without prior approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) or notice to the then Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar accompanying him on the state visit, and to the great surprise and delight of the French President Francoise Hollande, announced in Paris the buy of 36 Rafales off the shelf. Subsequent writings, including exclusively in this blog, had talked of Rafale forever sullying the ruling BJP’s reputation much as Bofors has, over time, come to signify  Congress party corruption.

(It was critical writing such as this that, incidentally, led to my fortnightly column getting terminated in that paper “edited” by a BJP-RSS sympathizer. Then again, during the Manmohan Singh years, my campaign against the civilian nuclear cooperation deal with the US resulted in the closure of my column in the Asian Age, and why no major Indian daily newspaper has cared to publish my op-eds. But now with the Rafale issue publicly blowing up in Modi’s and the BJP government’s face, the horde of establishment-friendly commentators in the print and electronic media will rush in to still only mildly criticize Modi’s slate of India’s foreign and military policies which, in truth, is tanking!!)

This brings us to the splash over the selection of Reliance Defence as the Indian strategic partner to fulfill the offsets obligations under the Rafale contract made by Monsieur Hollande’s revelation to the French investigative internet news outlet, Mediapart, on 21 September.  “We didn’t have a say in that [selection],” Hollande stated. “It was the Indian government that proposed this service group (Reliance), and Dassault who negotiated with [Anil] Ambani. We didn’t have a choice, we took the interlocutor who was given to us.” (See  https://www.mediapart.fr/journal/international/210918/en-inde-francois-hollande-s-invite-dans-l-affaire-des-avions-rafale?onglet=full

Just days before defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman had waxed categorical on this issue. “Isn’t that a decision for a commercial enterprise [the Rafale-maker, Dassault Avions] to take on their own?”, she had asked the Indian Express interviewer with rhetorical flourish and, presumably, with her eyes flashing fury (as television usually shows her in high dudgeon, when addressing the Press). “I have nothing to do with it, I have not prompted them, not led him, not told them, I have not instructed them, I have not done any match-making whatsoever, so why am I be [sic] worried by what he would tell me? It may be A, B or C, it may be 70 different partners, it may be buying a product, they may be investing, it may be buying a service, so where am I in it? And how can I tell him you can say this and you cannot say that. Whatever he tells, and claims about obligation fulfilled, I have to hear them out.” [Grammar-wise this is a really mixed-up statement featuring  personal and impersonal nouns, and singular and plural clauses — all referring to Dassault!]

Well, both Hollande and Sitharaman are right! How can this be so? Well, the two apparently clashing views can be squared thus:

Hollande’s ejaculation was in self-defence. His pretty girl friend and cinema starlet, Julie Gayet, it was revealed by the media as having her film — some eminently forgettable movie — financed by Anil Ambani. This was at a time when his Company, Reliance Defence (RD), itching to get into the lucrative defence industrial business, was angling to be the main offsets partner on the Rafale deal. The chronological sequence suggests the younger Ambani brother, perhaps, had an inkling of the truncated Rafale deal in the offing.  Hollande’s interest in clearing his name of the taint of possible quid pro quo by shifting the blame for the offsets partner selection by Dassault to the Indian government, is obvious enough. That doesn’t, however, make his statement to Mediapart a lie.

Equally, Ambani’s commercial interest to get a slice of the Rafale transaction, which one can speculate, drove him to fund Hollande’s mistress’s movie as a means of preemptively removing any resistance from official French quarters, is also quite plain.

Sitharaman is also right in claiming that GOI had absolutely no formal role or say in Dassault’s selecting RD. She can easily back up her contention, secure in the knowledge that there’s not a shred of paper anywhere in GOI/Ministry of Defence and in all the correspondence between MEA and the Quai d’Órsay (French Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Paris)  leading up to the PM’s visit that hints at any such sideways suggestion made by Delhi. So, both Hollande and Sitharaman are in the clear.

That turns the spotlight on the Man in the ring — Modi. The way it happened may have been something like this, that the Indian PM after announcing the Rafale deal, offhandedly and informally mentioned to Hollande in their one-on-one meeting in the Elysee Palace that the French President may care to consider Reliance Defence as possible offsets partner for Dassault? The mere mention of RD by Modi must have been enough for Hollande to assert, as he has that  “We didn’t have a say in that [selection]. It was the Indian government that proposed this service group (Reliance), ….  We didn’t have a choice, we took the interlocutor who was given to us.” Because to Hollande Modi was the Indian government, and he was well aware and as he implied to Mediapart, France was coming up trumps in this transaction. What it had ostensibly lost monetarily by a reduced order of aircraft was being more  than made up by the entire Indian order of 36 high-value Rafale aircraft being manufactured in France, giving Dassault’s production line an extended run, and without the obligation for French Companies to transfer any technology to India. A much sweeter deal all round.

There was, moreover, the gleam of the real goldmine for the French aerospace industry in terms of the exorbitantly-priced air-to-air Meteor and air-to-ground Scalp missiles, and  spares and servicing support assuring 75% serviceability beyond the first 10-years of the Rafale’s presence in the IAF fleet (as mandated in the contract). This last by itself would amount to over $50 billion, according to a former senior IAF officer I quoted in my April 17, 2015 piece in the New Indian Express. Given the routine cost escalation in the armaments field, that sum will go up by multiples for every additional five years of service after 2032 (all 36 Rafales are to be inducted in IAF by 2022)!

There’s absolutely no doubt that Hollande must have promptly written an aide memoire after his meeting with the Indian PM, detailing Modi’s wishes and the benefits to France from following through on his suggestion and installing RD as offsets partner.  Except, the French government will never part with this piece of paper or otherwise refer to any documents regarding follow-up action to get Dassault to select Anil Ambani. In the event, whether Hollande was also persuaded by Madame Gayet’s filmy windfall is besides the point, even irrelevant.

Modi is not personally corrupt. No. But he has an interest in paying back his well-wishers among the Gujrati moneybags who have funded his political ascent, chief among them owners of the Adani Group and the Reliance Group. He must have reasoned that helping Anil Ambani start up a high-end defence industrial firm by feeding it custom would ultimately benefit the country by installing new source of economic growth, technology innovation, and employment generation. It may be recalled that it was after Modi’s trip to Australia and his meeting with the Aussie PM Malcolm Turnbull in April 2017 that, as Australian newspapers and media have hinted, the Adani Group’s $17 billion investment in a port and coal mines in Queensland began getting traction. According to a source in government, Gautam Adani, founder of the Adani Group, was the only other person present for at least a part of the Modi-Turnbull meeting in Canberra.

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A flurry of messy justifications

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[Defence Minister Sitharaman in a meeting with CAS, ACM BS Dhanoa, and his principal staff officers at Air HQ]

What qualities, other than her readiness to take direction from the PMO, commended  Nirmala Sitharaman to Narendra Modi are not known. But as Defence Minister she has proved slow on the uptake and prone to make atrocious statements that have bucked up the spirits of the active import lobby within the government of India. Such as her view that the government couldn’t reasonably compel the armed services to buy Indian! And, per party line, she has turned combative in defending the indefensible — the contract for the Rafale combat aircraft

Now that the controversies generated, in the main, by both the Rafale combat aircraft deal with France and the signing of COMCASA (Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement) with the United States have taken wing she, at her schoolmarmish worst, has compounded the problems for the Modi regime. Her flurry of public explanations far from taking the BJP government off the hook, have impaled it more deeply in a mess, not that many in the media have noticed! [See https://indianexpress.com/article/india/defence-minister-nirmala-sitharaman-rafale-fighter-deal-controversy-india-pakistan-china-relations-doklam-5353413/   But let’s consider the issues point-by-point and get into the matter more deeply.

COMCASA & “balance” in relations

India, Sitharaman says, has kept a “balance” in relations with Russia and the US.  Apparently, in government’s thinking, the placatory buys of a few items of Russian hardware — the buy of five batteries of the Russian S-400 air defence system, the best in the business, for $5 billion plus, and Moscow being fobbed off with the $2.2 billion contract for  four (Admiral Grigorovich-class/advanced Indian Talwar-class) frigates that could have well been executed in Indian private sector shipyards with capabilities lying fallow.  In other words, Prime Minister Modi makes military procurement choices entirely unmindful of the larger geostrategics involved or even the demands of his own, albeit flawed, ‘Make in India’ policy, assuming he was ever serious about producing anything of any note indigenously and hence generating jobs, filling the order books of the local defence industry, especially in the private sector, and spurring the Indian economy rather than putting foreign defence industries in the clover.

This is evidenced from Sitharaman’s view, bordering on stupidity, that by making these acquisitions from Moscow Delhi, has in fact, “kept its sovereign independence” while in the next breath saying, without so much as a hint of irony, that signing the COMCASA injected a dose of “strategic strengthening” in the relationship with America built up over “past two years”, thereby taking it “legitimately forward”! In other words, by formally entering Washington’s orbit as an American satellite — after all the US requires  COMCASA-type of agreements to be signed only by treaty allies of the US — and permitting the US military and intelligence agencies to mine the most classified communications traffic within the Indian government and military singularly to further American national interest and India’s national interest, ONLY secondarily, India has somehow  retained its balance and, by implication, its strategic autonomy!! And with the US penetration into the nooks and crannies of Indian military apparatus, there’s no way  Delhi can assuage the fears of Russia about its frontline equipment being compromised. So what happens to the Akula-II sub in India Navy’s employ?

More, with “balance” in relations interpreted in terms of military buys, what happens when the Russian source gradually dries up? And, even more, how does Modi mean to tackle the impossible security situation when faced, as I have flagged in my book and recent posts, with Russia encouraging Islamabad with armaments at “friendship prices” to become the third leg in the strategic triad — Russia-China-Pakistan? Does anybody in Delhi give any thought to these most obvious outcomes of India pledging its troth to America?

Just how deep the rot triggered by such strategic thinking has seeped into the Indian body politic my be gauged from the fact that while the opposition parties have raised a hue and cry about the Rafale, there’s not a murmur of dissent anywhere about India losing its status and foreign policy leverage as an independent state and being reduced to an American hanger-on, courtesy COMCASA. This would mean that among all political parties at least there’s a consensus view fostered by what I have called an eco-system in Delhi supportive of this over-lean towards the US and propped up by the denizens of the Establishment — political class, serving and former diplomats, senior civil servants, and armed services officers. The simplest explanation for this  is that the mind of the bulk of the Indian Establishment is so befogged by self-interest that it has no appreciation of the country’s long time role and its underlying geopolitical logic  as the ultimate “balancer” in the global power politics scene. In which case, it really is curtains for India. In all this what is lost sight of by the Modi dispensation, as I have argued in my book — ‘Staggering Forward’, is that given the current correlation of forces — of a rapidly advancing China under Xi in league with an equally potent Russia led by Putin,  it is the US that desperately needs India, NOT the other way around.

In the event, instead of laying down the metric to Pompeo and Mattis at the 2×2/2+2 forum of exactly matching every instance of  CAATSA sanctions waiver with a small give on India’s part, and addressing interoperability concerns by hitching up the Centrix system to Indian airborne and afloat platforms (as done in the Malabar naval exercises to-date), and requiring that any and all acquisitions from America and anywhere else will hereafter only be on a TOTAL and comprehensive transfer of technology — including source codes, operational algorithms, etc., Messrs Sushma Swaraj & Sitharaman, as directed by Modi,  just lay down and let the Pompeo-Mattis steamroller run over them. In the process, the country’s sovereignty has been impugned, its national interest undermined, and the integrity of India’s military security effort pretty much destroyed. But not satisfied, Sitharaman expressed gratitude to the US Defence Secretary James Mattis — who, incidentally, is expected to be fired from his job by a truculent President Trump after the US Congressional elections in November, for being helpful in pushing India’s cause on the waiver of CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) sanctions, going so far as to say that without it there would have “been a bit of hump in the relationship.”

But what waiver, pray, has Mattis been able to secure for India? Other than the promise of case-by-case waiver,  zero, nothing, nada. And, Trump yesterday authorized the CAATSA sanctions to get underway, so far without any mention of waiver for any country, and certainly no waiver for India on the S-400 or on the Iranian oil issue, Chabahar or no Chabahar. This last is forcing the Indian public sector oil companies and refineries to cutout Iranian oil imports because of loss of insurance cover. That India’s falling in with Washington will imperil ties with Iran and India’s Iran-Afghan-Central Asia strategy seemingly bothers no one in the PMO. But shouldn’t Modi worry that the cascading effects of blockading of Iranian oil is reduction in the global oil supply, and the rocketing of the petrol price to Indian consumers. Won’t Rs 150/litre (the price line estimated by experts) markedly diminish his re-election chances next year? But Modi so trusts Trump to do right by India, despite every evidence to the contrary, that his government has even held off imposing counter-tariffs on US exports to India in response to tariffs on Indian steel, aluminum, etc., perhaps in the forlorn hope that the US will relent. But Trump is not motivated by other than American national interest unlike Modi who seems to be swayed mostly by sentiment.

But conforming, moreover, to this regime’s wonky idea of “balance” in relations and in keeping with the so-called “Wuhan spirit”, the defence minister sought to rationalize China’s consistently aggressive stance on the LAC/Tibetan border that has now expanded. An armed PLA incursion a fortnight back, opened a new front for potential hostilities — in Uttarakhand in the Central Sector that the Indian army had hitherto  considered an inert border. “(At) the Line of Actual Control, ” intoned Sitharaman, “several parts are not yet defined, and there is a difference in perception —- both sides disagree, and periodic flashpoints occur. The frequency of this keeps going up and comes down.” Obviously, she hasn’t considered the likelihood in the future of this up and down curve of hostilities staying up or going vertical.

Procurement matters

The problem at heart is that Sitharaman sees her job as creating as little disruption as possible, which aim is furthered by doing nothing, or letting every thing proceed as before — which in the Raksha Mantri’s case means approving ever indent for foreign hardware by the armed services that crosses her ministerial desk. But let her words do the talking: “You have seen the pace at which we are clearing procurements, CNCs (commercial negotiation committees) are working at a feverish pace. We are pushing them hard to get procurements moving faster. I am also looking at it from the perspective of the total expenditure of the government and how much of it is coming to the ministry. What I find missing in this debate is a checklist of, let’s say 20 items built over the last 12-15 years, procurement not having caught up with that incremental change in that list. Would I now complete that list as it stands, or would I say, please look at that list again and re-establish for yourself the requirements?”

This little circumlocution on her part hides the absence of any structural mechanism within GOI/MOD for inter se prioritization of military requirements. This is reinforced by her statement “What I find missing [in the delays in the defence procurement debate] is a checklist of, let’s say 20 items built over the last 12-15 years, procurement not having caught up with that incremental change in that list. Would I now complete that list as it stands, or would I say, please look at that list again and re-establish for yourself the requirements?” It essentially reveals her ignorance of her role: It is not to stamp every requirement that any armed service forwards to MOD but to apply her mind and decide what needs funding and to what extent and why.

This is precisely the sort of thing she admits the BJP government has failed to do. To wit, “yes, the first two years of this government were spent in assessing, what happened to the defence procurement. You could not really procure anything as you were looking…at the backlog, at what it is [sic] operational efficiency which is taking a beating….but legitimately, we had to look up and see where is one service as opposed to another, what is our readiness?” In short, this is a barefaced admission, the MOD has failed in its basic task of evaluating on a comparative basis that funding what program will get what results and towards what end.  This explains the regime tying itself in knots on the Rafale issue.


First, re: buying just two squadrons. The IAF Chief, Dhanoa, has stated, that this meets the  supposedly imperative need. This buy Sitharaman said “is not unusual for a quick induction. Every time you induct one squadron, there is requirement for a lot of other paraphernalia. Given a set of parameters, if you quickly want to induct, two is the ideal. Is this the first time? No. The first time was in 1985-86, when the MiG[-29] was bought for the first time, urgently — we got two squadrons. Then Mirage[2000s] — again two squadrons. If I remember the milepost dates right, 1985-86 once, then the mid-1990s, then again when [we] were looking at fourth-generation you wanted to buy, it was two squadrons. Even Sukho[30MKIs], I think, (was) two squadrons.” Dhanoa added: “Whenever the government felt the air power element of the defence forces is likely to be in a disadvantageous position, it has gone in for emergency purchases of the aircraft under the umbrella of the inter-governmental agreement.” “The history is”, he said, “that the government had undertaken emergency purchase of fighter aircraft on several occasions in the past.” [ https://indianexpress.com/article/india/iaf-chief-b-s-dhanoa-rafale-deal-will-held-take-on-adversaries-5351819/     ]

But let’s switch back to Sitharaman: “Air Force technical details will tell you that for any emergency-based induction, it is always two squadrons, and not more than that. So that justifies why you settled for two. Because in ready, flyway condition, that is all you can induct. Otherwise you have to spend a lot more on creating other paraphernalia. Whereas when you wanted 126, what were you trying to get? One squadron in flyway, the rest were being manufactured here. And it was being manufactured here, you have a certain time-line, as per which the IAF could have built the paraphernalia for each one as they came.”

Not sure who briefed the defence minister before she agreed to this interview — hopefully nobody from Vayu Bhavan, because her utterances bear the hallmarks of confused civil servants manning MOD, but she makes no sense whatsoever. Her view that IAF’s induction capability — given the paucity of support and servicing infrastructure in-country — is limited to 2 squadrons and, by inference, that that’s why Modi’s deal is better than the one UPA had managed to secure which’d have seen only one squadron bought in flyway condition, with the rest of the 110 planes assembled at HAL, verges on sheer nonsense. Whether it is one new fighter aircraft or 126, the necessary infrastructure buildup is the same — only the scale of the holdings of spares will differ. But what she didn’t say is that Rafale and its entire support and 2nd and 3rd line servicing complex will turn an already nightmarish logistics problem arising out of the excessive diversity of aircraft in IAF’s inventory, into a hellish problem for the nation, especially in war.

And, on another important matter, she explained that any G2G (government-to-government) arrangement for buying military equipment necessarily requires that the indigenous screwdrivering-qua-production of the item be allotted to public sector units. She said this in reference to the Russian Kalashnikov company’s desire to make its family of assault/close-in warfighting weapons being translated into custom for the Ordnance Factory Board — keeping alive probably the most ridiculously inefficient DPSU in the country. Going into an election year and unwilling to provide ammunition to the Congress party, Modi nixed Kalashnikov partnering the PM’s co-favourite (along with Reliance Defence) — Adani Group at the last moment. ”I would prefer to have them produce it through an OFB”, averred Sitharaman. “Over and above that, if they want to produce with anybody [Adani Group], I have no issues….Anybody is free to choose whoever, but when it comes to inter-governmental agreements, I would prefer to do this.”

In its penultimate year in office, the “nationalist”, right of centre, “government has no business to be in business”[Modi’s words] believing BJP regime has chosen, as in every other field, to when not resorting to imports of everything, to sticking with the statist solution in the defence sphere as well.

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India’s Modi gunning for Pakistan but subservient to China, the US — Ál-Arabiya review of ‘Staggering Forward’

[From right to left — Shivshankar Menon, Admiral Arun Prakash, Yashwant Sinha, Jairam Ramesh, Ajai Shukla (moderator) and Karnad, at the book launch]
By S. N. M. Abdi, Special to Al Arabiya English, Monday, 17 September 2018


The hardback is a delight to read since other books on India’s external relations post 2014 are fawning accounts by toady favor seekers. Their writings are strikingly similar to the sycophantic stories most correspondents and editors of top Indian newspapers and magazines regularly dish out extolling Modi.

But servility is alien to Karnad, Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, and author, among other books of, Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy, India’s Nuclear Policy and most recently, Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet).

Ruthlessness uncoils

According to Karnad, “Modi is concentrating on the smaller Pakistan while giving the more dangerous and challenging China a free pass. His ruthlessness uncoils only against a weak and enervated Pakistan, on the one hand, and his domestic political opponents on the other. One wishes he had shown as much ferocity to China and in furthering India’s national interests and strategic security.” “To remain distracted by Pakistan is the surest guarantee of India never making it as a great power. If Pakistan weren’t there we would have to invent it!” “Candidate Modi roared like a tiger, as Prime Minister he has been a purring kitten when dealing with big cats…taking care he gives no offence to them.”

In the chapter on Adversarial Geopolitics, Karnad scathingly writes that having been groomed by the RSS which is “disciplined and hierarchically structured”, “Modi is reflexively deferential to the US and China and their heads of government, Trump and Xi, acknowledging them and their countries as India’s and his superiors in the rank ordering of nations and leaders.

“This attitude is reflected in his foreign policy based on giving minimum offence to these two countries, as also in his respectful and placatory behavior where Trump and Xi are concerned. This fits in nicely with Trump’s and the US’s idea of their exalted place under the sun, and it confirms to the Confucian notion of order ‘under the heaven’”.

‘America’s satellite’

Karnad [has written elsewhere] that Modi’s India has become America’s satellite “because serving senior Indian civil servants and military officers are suborned, in the main, by offers of ‘green cards’, work visas, and ‘scholarships’ for their progeny. It constitutes the new set of inducements to sell the national interest down the drain; secret offshore bank accounts are passe’.”

“The trouble is Modi’s tilt is less strategic than aspirational. His apparently unconditional love and admiration for America and his subaltern thinking have together imposed a low ceiling on India’s ambition. This explains why he has tolerated personal slights, from denial of US visa when he was Gujarat chief minister to, as the New York Times reported on 2 September, President Donald Trump making fun of him by frequently mimicking his accent in internal White House discussions.”

“That Modi is willing to swallow such insults is his business. Preventing the erosion of India’s sovereignty, national interest and security are the Indian people’s concerns.”

Imran Khan’s offer

Karnad is of the opinion that New Delhi must accept Imran Khan’s offer to fast-track trade relations between India and Pakistan. At present, direct trade is measly because of hostility between the two nations but indirect trade through third countries is 10 times more. Karnad is advocating immediate formalizing of the informal trade.

Within days of his book’s launch, Karnad said: “Presently Indian consumer goods of all kinds – marked for export to Dubai on merchant ship manifests – are offloaded with the same ships anchoring outside the immediate Karachi waters. The annual loss of revenue to the Pakistan exchequer from this informal channel is in billions of dollars. It is money the Tehreek-e-Insaf party government can use to fulfill its election promises in the social welfare sector.”

Karnad wants India to quickly reciprocate Khan’s initiative to boost trade by “adopting a facilitative mindset, initiating enabling measures, clearing lines of credit, approving banking channels and preemptively easing the processes of encouraging commerce” to break the dangerous sub-continental deadlock.


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