Sinking feeling — Modi’s I-Day speech

India is going to advance despite its government, not because of it. It is BJP today, some Congress coalition tomorrow, or a third front regime the next day, the dispensation in New Delhi of the moment will talk big, flaff on a bit, but accomplish little where it counts — on the ground.

This was Narendra Modi’s third address from the Red Fort. The first was uplifting, broke new ground, a PM who spoke feelingly about poverty, which he experienced at first hand which almost no predecessor in his office ever did, and surprised one and all with his earthy and candid raising of the issue of open defecation. Such a leader, it was hoped, would be relied upon to begin alleviating poverty, and ending rural and even urban India’s defecatory habits, using practical means. Modi is using his PM-ship as a bully pulpit alright but, two years later, no visible progress on these fronts is seen. Modi acknowledged as much, saying that the problem of delivery of public services, subsidies, and cash handouts to the deserving poor through the Nandan Nilekani-helmed Aadhar programme, the “last man” delivery problem, remains.

The Second Lal Qila speech was in the “holding” course . Today’s address however reeked of that old Soviet malady that Indian “socialist” leaders perfected (which Modi hinted at) — achievement measured in terms of enumeration of government statistics relating to how much of this and how much of that, and announcement of new government programmes. How much of what Modi claimed as delivered actually exists on the ground? Take the project taken up to build lakhs of latrines in villages. Assuming these are not all only on paper but can be found in brick and mortar form, how to ensure that villagers in fact use it for the purpose they are intended when news reports suggest that the country folk insist on enjoying squatting in the fields so they can commune with nature while the gentle morning breeze fans their bottoms? Or, the matter of cleaning the Ganga River — where there’s almost no improvement except a sweeping of the Varanasi ghats for the TV cameras every time the PM is in his constituency. And, while Modi spoke of the buying of train tickets and securing of passports by the common man being hassle-free, is that really the situation? In lieu of substantive results, he has, it seems, taken refuge behind information forwarded him by the various secretaries to the government and the army of babus who are past masters at obfuscation, siphoning off funds into their pockets, and otherwise potemkinising a ramshackle reality. In the face of negligible change in the attitude and functioning of even the centrally controlled administrative apparatus, the (yet another) new slogan he coined — “Reform, Perform, Transform” to describe extant mode of governance, at best, occasions jest.

Finally, a PM has woken up to treating J&K issue as a whole and speaking about the so-called “Northern Areas” in the Pakistan Army parlance — Gilgit and Baltistan, besides Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. I have been pleading for 30 years now that GOI make of Gilgit and Baltistan a ram to batter Pakistan’s Kashmir advocacy with. Hereon, hopefully, MEA and its far-flung stations will highlight Gilgit and Baltistan whenever Kashmir comes up. Except, as some former MEA-types have noted, the raising of the Baluchistan issue by the PM has the obvious downside of now providing Islamabad with evidence of the Indian hand in the ongoing strife and turmoil in Baluchistan. However, the television snippets of Brahmdagh Bugti, a grandson of the Baloch Tribal Sardar, Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti, attacked and killed by the Pakistan Army’s Special Services Group (Special Operations) on General Parvez Musharraf’s orders in March 2005, thanking India and Indians for supporting the cause of Baloch freedom, was perfectly fine as a psyop to unsettle Islamabad and GHQ, Rawalpindi. That’s the way to keep up the pressure.

But the section of his speech on foreign affairs was nevertheless a curious thing. He talked of interdependence just when the great powers and the international system is turning inward, stressing sovereign imperatives, as I predicted and have analyzed in all my books. If this is meant as a policy template to justify the BJP government’s decision to bull ahead imprudently and court some serious strategic dangers for the country (as explicated in my latest book and in many previous posts), and finally sign, what American officials call, the “foundational” accords, then Modi may be best remembered for irreversibly shrinking India’s stature and standing in the world and hurting the national interest. The first such accord is the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement, the draft of the standard Logistics Support Agreement (LSA) the Pentagon passed on to the MEA to amend only at the margins, is what defmin Manohar Parrikar is expected to sign when he visits Washington soon.

And, more predictably, while he waxed eloquent about Pakistan’s support for terrorism, he failed to mention even by indirection, China. If Modi continues to make so fundamental a mistake as misperceiving the primary military threat to the nation, and commits to the extraordinary misstep of allying formally with the US — no amount of parsing the truth will get around the fact that only formal US allies have LSAs/LEMOAs with America, and the lesser one of publicly disclosing Baluchis thanking him, what hope is there that Modi will do anything else right in the national security and external realms (that are directly managed by Modi and his PMO bypassing, in the process, the defence ministry and MEA)?

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, 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)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, China, China military, corruption, Culture, domestic politics, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Pakistan, Pakistan military, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with the US & West, United States, US., Western militaries. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Sinking feeling — Modi’s I-Day speech

  1. KsytriaKhalsa says:

    This is why we need a Chakrvartin.

  2. andy says:

    It took 70 years for an Indian PM to mention Balochistan ,due to what compulsions only GOI knows.Too much to expect a mention of China.Maybe it will happen in the 2086 Independence day speech!

    As for the former MEA types worrying about evidence being provided on India’s complicity in the ongoing strife in Balochistan by PMs mention of Pak atrocities there, well such an attitude has been the one reason behind India’s blundering policy vis a vis Pakistan in the last 70 years.Not raising the Balochistan and POK issues has been India’s big geo- strategic blunder that has allowed Pakistan to run away with the international narrative on Kashmir.Has such a fear ever stopped Pakistan from invoking the ‘K’ word at the drop of a hat?To wit ,Basits speech yesterday in the Pak embassy,can’t get more brazen than this!

    With Balochistan, Gilgit-Baltistan and POK simmering, also a Pashtun leader in the Pak assembly Achakzai asserting that Afghanistans border extends upto Attock,time is ripe for India to step in and stoke the fires!Achakzais comment should be really worrying for Pakistan since about 24% of their army is comprised of Pashtuns.

    India needs to get its foot in the door and then hammer down the Pakistani scourge by disintegrating it into 4 or 5 smaller by pieces ,utilizing their inherent fault lines,just like we did east pakistan in1971.

  3. andy says:

    Did the PM send a message to China by mentioning Gilgit and Balochistan? These are the areas through which CPEC passes!

  4. Sir, I just want to continue on from the last discussion.

    The reason why Hindus are not vigorous and do not have killer instincts is not because of Budhism or Jainism.It is because of caste system itself.80% people of India were not supposed to have killer instincts and not to be warlike just because of the very laws of Rig Veda and Manusmriti.

    Let’s suppose that had there been no budhism in India and then What do you think Brahmins, Baniyas, Shudra etc would have been as Vigorous and warlike as let’s say Chechens,Vikings,Huns etc ?


    There is no point blaming Budhism. Budhism is a symptom of the problem not the cause of the problem.

    • Nilesh Salunke says:

      The surest way we can smash caste system well and truly is to promote INTER CASTE AND INTER COMMUNITY MARRIAGE …All our prejudices , biases , those views we hold in our heart of hearts……our raw self opinion’s come to fore when its time to get our daughters / sons married …isn’t it ? If the government is serious about working against caste system it should at the least start aggressive advertisements , promotions against CASTE BASED MARRIAGE BUREAU’S . …don’t ban them but voice against them..The younger generation is as afflicted by caste mind and it’s baggage of biases, as their parents .

    • S3 says:

      Yes. I sometimes wonder how the PM can speak of getting the government to stop working in silos when Indian religion and society is based upon working in silos.

      As andy says, maybe we will have to wait for 2086.

  5. In 2019 BJP will win without any doubt. There will be no Congress coalition government or a third front in 2019. Nitish Kumar Janata Dal-RJD-Congress alliance can work only in Bihar and not nation wide!!!! YOU ARE DAY DREAMING

  6. Maximus says:

    Don’t ask what the state can do for you, ask what you can do for the state.

  7. Venkat says:

    Modi is mentioning schemes that the govt will implement with data. This can be verified so easily next august 15. He mentioned 7 schemes last Independence Day, most are work in progress, not stalled, given the huge inertia we as a nation have. I only hope water to toilets built is made available in phase 1A of Swacha bharat.

  8. S3 says:

    “India is going to advance despite its government, not because of it”

    And even then, only if China will grace us with a few mistakes:

  9. andy says:

    This debate on caste has been going on for millennia, basically going around in circles.What’s wrong is we are trying to find a solution without going to the root of the problem. If this problem of Varnashram or caste stems from the Vedas then the solution should also come from that source otherwise no one will accept any ad hoc solution.

    In the section of Bhavishya Puran dedicated to the classification of caste,wether it’s based on birth or on ones actions(righteous or otherwise)it says that even a Brahmana by birth can become a shudra by his actions and even a Shudra can become a Brahmana by performing righteous action.Sage Vashishta was the son of a prostitute; Vyasadev was born of a fisher woman; Parashara munis mother was a chandala; Nammalwar was a Shudra. Similarly, Valmiki, Viswamitra, Agastya were Brahmanas in spite of their non-Brahmana origin. In more recent times, for example, Swami Vivekananda, one of the most revered Hindus worldwide, was a non-Brahmana(by birth) Or was he? In spite of a non-Brahmana birth he displayed so many high qualities. All this proves that birth is not a major player in attaining the status of Brahmana. It is the intellectual and spiritual level of consciousness that differentiates people.

    In this portion of the Bhavishya Purana, the answers to the questions are spoken by Sumantu, the disciple of Srila Vyasadeva, to King Shatanika. This was at the suggestion of Srila Vyasadeva [VedaVyasa] who was sitting nearby in the assembly of sages, all of whom were listening to the discussion. (Bhavishya Purana, Bhrama Parva, Chapter 1.28-35)

    After a whole lot of explanations( too many to put out here) that clearly degrades any classification of caste based on birth, Bhavishya Puran concludes with the following,

     “It is therefore to be concluded that humanity is essentially one, but distinctions of caste have been made according to a person’s qualities and work [mentality and consciousness]. As far as general behavior is concerned, the entire human race is one. There is only a difference in people’s occupations and attitudes. Those who divide society into castes according to birth cannot see that human beings are essentially one.” (BP, 42.33-34)

    So the law of varnashram as laid out in the Vedas were not wrong,it’s our interpretation that is wrong.Just like a doctor’s child may not necessarily become a doctor if his aptitude is to become an engineer, so also a Shudras son may not necessarily remain a Shudra if his quality(aptitude) was like a Brahmana.

    The answerto this debate is very simple,we just need to go back to our Vedic roots and enforce a correct interpretation of Varnashram(caste system) this solution Indian society would probably accept(or be labelled anti Vedic) and be rid of this ‘caste by birth’ menace once and for all.

  10. Shaurya says:

    Andy: parts of Bhavishya Puraan are dated to the 19th century. Not a reliable source. But you are right, correct interpretation of VarnAhshrma Dharmas is the answer. A long post on this can wait, but only view to express for now is folks should perform yajnas with the Purusha Sutkam and meditate on it. See if it opens vistas, it has for me.

  11. andy says:

    I do know that the system of Varnashram has been mentioned in the Vedic literature in many places, such as in the Purusha Sukta verses of the Rig-veda (Book Ten, Hymn 90). But there is no indication in these verses that say that birth is the essential quality for one’s varn.

    Yes,there is a controversy regarding parts of the Bhavishya Puran being written in the 19th century and hence its not a reliable source.But the concluding quote I put up above is from the Bramha Parva section of the Bhavishya Purana,there is no controversy regarding this particular section, it’s considered authentic and no matter how much or how little credit you give to this Puran, you still cannot deny the logic with which this information is presented.The Bramha Parv section of the Bhavishya Purana is known to be relatively free of corruptions and its antiquity is vouchsafed as well. The same verses are also repeated verbatim in the Skanda Purana (north Indian versions) and a few verses with similar meaning are also found in the beginning of the Shukranatisara . Some scholars say that the last is a 19th century forgery, but no less an authority than Swami Dayanand Sarasvati acknowledged it as an ancient text, and most scholars date it between 300-1200 AD.

    So at a minimum, the Bramha Parva does represent a different and if I may say so,correct opinion on the Varnashram system (compared to what prevails in todays India)and they certainly elaborate on the Vedic Varnashram system.

  12. Shaurya says:

    Complete agreement. I will go a step further. The “caste” system is a hoisted structure, a colonial project to mind map Indian society on the lines of the European Class based society, as the western world understood it.

    Nothing and I repeat, nothing conveys birth to be a key criteria in determination of Varna, as far as credible sources of knowledge is concerned. For clarity on the matter, the BG is a good pointer. 4.13 says, Chatur Varna Maya Srishtam, Guna Karma Vibhagashsa. The varna system is based on action and the qualities of these actions.

    People sometimes confuse examples from certain eras to denote Varna. These examples abound in the BG itself. Professions are only a loose indicator of Varna not a firm one. The truth is VarnAshrama reacts to the power and economic structures in place. In India, this power structure has had to react and respond to inorganic ideologies for 1400+ years, where many times the inorganic ideas dominated, leading to further ossification of the Indian social milieu.

    One hypotheses is the depravation of Varna started with the rise of Prakrits and decline of Sanskrit, especially amongst the Kshatriyas. Swami DS was a proponent of this theory.

    Not justifying, trying to make sense of what it was, how it changed and why, what it has become and what it can become. A true appreciation of how VarnAshrma and how it can be one of the foundational answers to re-organization of Indian society, towards the goal of a harmonious one has not begun. Any mention of it, will mark us as being racist, non-egalitarian etc. The deracinations are deep, again by no way an excuse for the perfidies of Indian society in the name of Varna.

    • S3 says:

      “The “caste” system is a hoisted structure, a colonial project to mind map Indian society on the lines of the European Class based society, as the western world understood it.”

      You are wrong. Genetic evidence indicates that caste based endogamy in India has existed for at least the last 2000 years. It is why South Indian Brahmins are actually more closely related to North Indian Brahmins rather than to their fellow South Indians.

      • Shaurya says:

        Do post the genetic evidence you are citing. The western powers defined for us the “Caste” system as an amalgamation of varna and jati. Over a third of so called castes are local to their state only. For further ref: read.

        also read, falling over backwards by Arun shourie. For an understanding of muslim rule and its effect on society read KS Lal.

        Furthermore, the endogamy reference is not an issue! What you are referring to is only “Varna”. Endogamy within a Varna is indeed present for a long time and will be so and is the case if you look at it from a certain prism the world over and for good reason. We have four Varnas, not four castes.

        India has had a VarnAshrama system not a caste system. I will just touch upon the VarnAshrama system for in its entirety, its design intent, principles, organization, goals, objectives and methods will have to understood.

        The design intent IMO for a Brahmin is someone with the highest amount of Satvic action (guna Karma), they are traditionally required to forsake the pursuit of Artha (wealth and power). Their well being is the responsibility of the community. Imagine your spouse chasing Kshatriya objectives and you a Brahmin, who does not want to pursue power. Exceptions apart, such a disconnect will not promote harmony in marriage. I am just giving snippets but the entire value system has different objectives and if you try to enforce the western value system on it, you will come up with ways of presenting the Indic system as “deficient”, etc.

        In a pre-industrial society, your biggest teachers were your parents. So, quite natural for most to follow in to their parents occupations. There was a time, when only those invested into the the study of the vedas were considered Brahmins. Over time, the definitions changed. The Varna system is not static. It reacts to the larger society and there is fungibility. When insecurity reigns ossification is the result. Rules or Dharma then starts to suffer and a society goes into decline. This is the story of India.

        As a ref: there is a very nice documentary where in a Russian experiment, they could take foxes and breed them in such a way that within 7 generations, through selective breeding they could safely breed foxes with a certain temperament (docile in this case). The pitbull is not an aggressive breed by nature. It is trained to be so. Nature and Nurture have always interacted with each other and decoding this science is a complex one. Same for Humans.

        My simple point is, do not judge who we are or were based on western values and systems.

      • S3 says:


        I think I will be able to get back with those genetic results you wanted on Monday.

        I have a lot of questions for you. I have not read that Arun Shourie book you cited, but I am expecting it to be a rehash of a famous debate that took place among African-American intellectuals at the beginning of the 20th century. Could you tell me if there are any major aspects that are different between the two instances?

        I have linked below to an American school teacher’s blog. This entry contains quotes from the two most famous of these opposing intellectuals.

        See you on Monday.

  13. Ranjith says:

    “If Modi continues to make so fundamental a mistake as misperceiving the primary military threat to the nation, and commits to the extraordinary misstep of allying formally with the US….”….I did not understand this statement. Are you suggesting China is our fundamental threat? If so, allying with US is a logical step until we have the capacity to face the threat on our own.

    • Allying with the US is unnecessary if it imposes enormous costs, as it is doing (and retailed in this blog). Would-be great powers do not compromise their policy latitude and strategic options even a bit as Modi’s India has done.

      • Karthik says:

        I understand what you are trying to say Bharat, but I still fail to see how things could get any more worse for India? China has done enough damage as it is (HEU, bomb leak, missiles etc.) and is unlikely to change its ‘you gotta kowtow mindset’, indeed I expect things to get ugly on the border, with CPEC etc given China’s irredentist attitude on territory coupled with new global power status. I think NDA Govt. knows it too.

        but I have a hard time accepting the implied insinuation that Indian foreign policy is so inept that it cannot keep Russia and US friendships together. Is the PMO so silly as to not game scenarios/gauge potential reactions and brief key allies before taking steps such as the LEMOA? Given Chinese moves in E.Africa, I see no problem with LEMOA provided the India specific LEMOA does what it claims, ‘not put US soldiers on Indian soil/ ask India to support combat ops’, which I think Parrikar/UPA time onwards advisors would have taken into account. How will Russia supply Pak with Su-35s, where will the cash come from? will they be stupid enough to risk the assured revenue streams from India? I think the picture more greyer than you suggest. Also on the China angle, would Parrikar, Modi and co not have taken advice of the Congress/mandarins before putting out the statements on I-Day? The Govt has had 70 years now to know that China will embarrass India or humiliate or put it in place the first chance it has…I am surprised somebody as learned as you says what you have said. may be I am too much a tyro…

        I know people near Delhi know better and all.. but on the contrary does that not introduce a subconscious bias against the new Government policy? the big picture shows policy continuity erring on the side of caution most of the times or continuity with small aggressive intent like the NDA…that is visible on Kashmir, Pak and China clearly.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.