More Disruption Please

THE RULING BHARATIYA Janata Party’s success in the recent state elections, crowned by the stunning results in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, has stamped Narendra Modi as a political man without parallel perhaps in the history of the Republic. No Prime Minister so far has sported such keen political antennae that pick up the slightest tremors of popular anger and angst, gauge the people’s frustrations and despair, and shape the voters’ collective consciousness and cater to it with appropriate government action and policies. He can apparently do no wrong. Everything he attempts, however dubious, turns into a political windfall (to wit, demonetisation). That unerring sense of what will play at the grassroots level is instinctive, not something learnt over time. If this were not the case, Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav would now be preparing for bigger things, one as Congress party chief busying himself to replace Modi at 7 Race Course Road two years hence, the other as UP Chief Minister consolidating his hold over the country’s most populous province and positioning himself in national politics to pole vault into the Prime Minister’s seat should the opportunity arise. But compared to Modi, these two seem like amateurs, ‘bachcha log’ playing at power daddies. Then again, there’s no stalwart political leader elsewhere in the country who is the Prime Minister’s equal. With BJP boss Amit Shah playing Tonto to his Lone Ranger, Modi has tamed the opposition and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and about wrapped up the 2019 General Election as well.

However, for a politician who has overturned every political rule of business at home, remade his party, and is in the process of making the country over, the surprise is that he has not been disruptive in India’s international relations. Disruption is what got China to where it is now, has strengthened Pakistan’s hand in dealing with great powers, and provided North Korea the wherewithal to hold the US at bay. The adoption of a disruptive attitude and policy mindset that has helped other countries make it in the harsh global milieu should commend itself to Modi, who has embarked on realising a brash ‘new India’. This will run smack into the Ministry of External Affairs’ traditional advice to prime ministers emphasising continuity and caution, counsel that Modi has faithfully followed since May 2014. His foreign and military policies are a copy of those pursued by the much reviled Congress Government of Manmohan Singh. But it is not a recipe for a ‘big bang’ impact.

The ‘short-term maximiser’ policies that Manmohan Singh followed, mixed more recently with the drumbeat about terrorism and ‘surgical strikes’ to pressure Pakistan, have about played themselves out. It has never made strategic sense, moreover, for India to buy goodwill of the West and Russia by signing multi- billion dollar deals for high-value military hardware, and this approach won’t persuade the Trump administration to leave the H1B/L1/H4 visa channels slightly ajar for Indian techies to squeeze through. Nor will any big power relent on India’s membership to the UN Security Council, the Nuclear Suppliers Group, or even the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum— unless Delhi shows it means business.

What is not recognised in Delhi is just how crucial reaching a modus vivendi with Pakistan is to India’s great power ambition. Pakistan is sufficiently strong, especially with military, economic and technological aid and assistance provided by China, huge transactional fees (as a frontline state on Afghanistan) extracted from the US, and a Russia loosening up on military supplies, to seriously hinder India’s plans. Maybe Modi is aware of the importance of cultivating Pakistan. His clearing the visit by three Members of Parliament, including Shashi Tharoor of the Congress party, to attend the Asian Parliamentary Assembly in Islamabad soon after the announcement of the game-changing Uttar Pradesh election results, is a good sign. Perhaps the Prime Minister will follow this up by reviving the Musharraf solution for Kashmir. Atal Bihari Vajpayee almost accepted President Pervez Musharraf’s July 2001 proposal, which offered Islamabad a fig leaf to back out of championing the Kashmir cause by forming a joint India-Pakistan body to ‘oversee’ the state’s affairs even as each country retained sovereign authority over J&K territory in its possession. It’d have turned the Line of Control into the de jure border. But with Vajpayee’s advisers distrusting Musharraf’s promises about stopping jihadi terrorism, that solution was interred in Agra.

If despite a horrible record of violating contractual obligations, the Indian Government trusts Washington, Paris and London to deliver specialised ordnance and critical military spares in crises, Modi can surely take the far lower risk of trusting Pakistan to stick to its word. And now there’s a Pakistan Army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who is mulling the Indian model to keep the army out of politics. Were Modi to show the slightest interest in a Musharraf-type compromise, an entente with Pakistan is possible, with Bajwa likely supporting the Nawaz Sharif regime.

It will forever rid Indian policy of its Partition pathologies and the tendency to externalise communal tensions in society into mindlessly adversarial relations with Pakistan. The result will be that the United States, Russia and China, in the main, that have manipulated Delhi by calibrating their approach to Pakistan, will be bereft of that lever. It will be the foreign policy reset the country has long been looking for, raising India’s stock and Modi’s standing in the world, and comprehensively enhancing the country’s geopolitical stature and diplomatic leverage. With the big powers losing their punch, Modi can play off the US against Russia, Russia against China, the US against China, and generally position India as the global power balancer able to twist the outcomes of regional and international forums to India’s advantage.

IN TANDEM WITH those developments, Modi has to ensure that India ends its arms dependence on foreign countries by rejigging his ‘Make in India’ programme. Apparently because of lack of clarity on its objectives, this policy has so far cued the licence manufacture by private sector players of obsolete weapon platforms, such as F-16 combat aircraft of early-70s’ vintage. Constituting a parallel capability to that of defence public sector units for assembling weapon systems based on screwdriver-level technology will not, however, make India self-sufficient in arms. Nor will it help set up a profitable, self-sustaining, high employment-generating national defence industrial powerhouse that acts as a technology innovator. For such an industry to be viable, India would need the integration of public and private sector resources, economies of scale, and a military fully reliant on indigenously designed weapons and equipment.

Yet, decisions to meet military needs with imports get more egregious by the day. The latest is the Navy’s opting for an imported carrier fighter plane at the expense of the navalised Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, thereby all but killing the latter’s development as a flagship enterprise that showcases the country’s capacity to design and produce complex weapon systems. The foreign aircraft for our Kochi-built aircraft carriers won’t be inducted before 2025, by when the naval Tejas, of reduced weight, would be available for induction. In the face of reckless foreign procurements by the armed services, Modi has to do something revolutionary: announce the termination of all underway defence deals and ban all armament imports. Since the addiction of Indian armed services to foreign military goods could cost the country $250-$300 billion over the next 25 years, going ‘cold turkey’ is the only remedy. There will be withdrawal pains, but if this ban is combined with making the military brass and Defence Ministry bureaucrats in the acquisitions loop—everybody, that is, from the armed services’ chiefs to the defence secretary—formally accountable and responsible for bringing indigenous armament projects in on time and within allotted cost frames, the impact will be enduring. With a Damocles sword hanging over their necks, you can bet there’ll be no pussyfooting.

Negative reactions from supplier states grown fat on arms sales to India can be expected. But Modi can ward them off by warning that any untoward action will mean an instantaneous cut-off of access to the Indian market. It will have a salutary effect. In this respect, Modi may care to recall that it was precisely the Western technology denial regimes of the 1980s and the consequent absence of an import option that compelled India to become entirely independent in strategic armaments—ranging from nuclear-powered ballistic missile firing submarines and accurate long-range missiles to nuclear weapons. Replicating such results in the technologically far less challenging conventional weapons sphere should not be difficult.

It only needs a strong-willed Modi to shut down the deeply entrenched arms import eco-system in Delhi that features foreign arms companies, commission agents, and hordes of facilitators within and outside government. If the Modi dispensation has so far escaped being tainted by defence scams and charges of corruption, of bribery and payoffs, that have tarred many reputations in the past (including Indira Gandhi’s), and brought down the governments of Rajiv Gandhi and Manmohan Singh, it is a matter of luck. Unless the arms import lobby is weeded out, root and branch, the influence on Indian policy of the US, France, Russia, Israel and the UK will remain unchecked, and the resulting corruption will end up soiling the BJP Government’s escutcheon, doing Modi’s reputation and his 2019 re-election prospects no good.


Published in ‘Open’ Magazine, March 17, 2017, at

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 arms exports, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, corruption, Culture, Decision-making, Defence Industry, domestic politics, DRDO, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, indian policy -- Israel, Indian Politics, Israel, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, North Korea, NRIs, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Relations with Russia, Russia, russian assistance, SAARC, society, South Asia, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Technology transfer, Terrorism, UN, United States, US., Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to More Disruption Please

  1. On J&K joint mgmt seems like a bad Idea to me. The Islamist stratagem is simple.

    1) Every Muslim population should live under Islamist rule.
    2) If that is not possible get special rights for Muslim population.
    3) Until you are in a position to take over.

    Any compromise is temporary for the Islamists its part of point 2 above.

    For GOI decision is simply this. If India has a moral position in J&K which it certainly does. Then any compromise with Islamists is foolish. It’s inviting more brazen demands later.

    GOI has to learn that not all Muslims are Islamists just as not all Germans were Nazi.

  2. Rt says:

    Peace with pakistan should not be at the expense of giving up territory by india. Coopting pakistan can also be done by targeting military elite funds through sanctions and more unilateral strikes if provoked

  3. i have been reading your articles and videos in you tube is very inspiring for indian nationalists like us …..but you r too much confident of modi magic and madi turning around india and reforming institutions of higher defense management….modi is a media-driven man and wants sensation for every step or move he takes….he is a superficial man with no real intellect and ideas…..what does one has got to do with his state election mandates ?,,,,wat stopped him from reforming defense ministry ?…he boasted to whole world as 56-inch chest man reality , he is a pygmy with no real guts to reform…..iam sorry to say , i voted for a man whose only real purpose is winning next election in 2019 rather than focusing on governance….(note–iam not congress supporter)

  4. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Re. “Since the addiction of Indian armed services to foreign military goods could cost the country $250-$300 billion over the next 25 years, going ‘cold turkey’ is the only remedy.”

    =10*(1+7%)^(25-1) = approx. 50.72 billion USD.

    In next 25 years the cumulated figure would be closer to 600 billion USD;
    In next 30 years the cumulated figure would be closer to 1000 billion USD;
    presuming an year on year growth of 7% on a base of 10 billion capital budget in year zero, which I agree is not strictly possible for the capital side of the budget. But broadly speaking it will hold, given the GDP growth rate, the fetish and the sheer scale of success in hoodwinking the voter.

    May be a nitpick but then the nexus between dalals-netas-officer class-intel czars-NRIs-RNIs would be at least 3 times more keen then your estimate to do what they have been doing.

    These budgetary possibilities are the reason why failures of other methods of gaining budgetary resources like demonetisation was simply brushed aside as minor nitpick. Indian Navy got frightened and tried to block the closing door by issuing the RFI for the naval fighters with no frozen engine specs.

    For comparison, DRDO gets about 1 billion USD per annum for its 7500 scientists spread thin at 2/3 heads to a subproject.

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      Oh! forgot to mention that DRDO gets that 1 billion USD for its entire requirements including salaries, housekeeping staff, T&A, new capital purchases, study tours – EVERYTHING.

  5. &^%$#@! says:

    Those parroting the Make in India (MII) initiative where everything but portions of the screwdriver are MII, might venture to read the following links as to how China is swiftly moving from a “Made in China” low cost manufacturer to the world to an advanced State with a “Made By China” policy. This is in the strategic area of High Performance Computing:

    Click to access NSA_DOE_HPC_TechMeetingReport.pdf

    • &^%$#@! says:

      The first line of the above post should read as:
      “Those parroting the Make in India (MII) initiative where everything but portions of the screwdriver are imported, might venture to read the following links as to how China is swiftly moving from a “Made in China” low cost manufacturer to the world to an advanced State with a “Made By China” policy.”.

      Apologies for the error.

  6. &^%$#@! says:

    Those parroting the Make in India (MII) initiative where everything but portions of the screwdriver are imported, might venture to read the following links as to how China is swiftly moving from a “Made in China” low cost manufacturer to the world to an advanced State with a “Made By China” policy. This is in the strategic area of High Performance Computing:

  7. Apna says:

    You write ” Modi can play off the US against Russia, Russia against China, the US against China, and generally position India as the global power balancer able to twist the outcomes of regional and international forums to India’s ”
    India will do these things which the west is doing to India now? Hardly possible.
    It was in Indian interest to align with Russia and China and iran to counter anglosaxon bullying.
    Americans recognised that and American agents inside India started this division in Brics by making villain of China for 62 but Indians forgot villainy of usa and england in wars of 65 and 71 and also Sikh terrorism funded and supported by anglosaxon in 80s.
    Indians -as thick as a high boulder- are easy prey to Anglos flattery and deceit.

  8. andy says:

    The islamists in pakistan need to be shown that there is no alternative to having peace with India.As long as they have supremacist tendencies all peace efforts will be futile.Eg.Z.A.Bhutto,pretty daughter in tow,lying through his teeth about finding a solution to the Kashmir problem but begging for more time to make it happen from Indira Gandhi during the Shimla talks, after the Pakistani nation was on the mat following a crushing defeat in the 1971 conflict.What India got in return for showing magnanimity in the Shimla accord is a Pakistan turning on the jehadi terror tap at will with impunity under a nuclear overhang.A better example of lying, two faced diplomacy would be difficult to find.

    Peace between India and Pakistan will happen only when the powers that be in Rawalpindi realise the futility of trying to match India on equal terms,but that will not happen with a one off surgical strike,the Indian effort has to be of sustained strikes making the jihadis and their masters pay for any terror attack in India.Getting rid of hafeez saeed and masood azhar using covert means would be a good start.Only when India starts to strike with hard power,irrespective of nuclear weapons,will the rabid islamists be brought to heel.Any peace talks that happen before such strikes are doomed for failure.

  9. Apna says:

    Now the unelected minister jetley has gone for sudden buying of Israeli missiles to the tune of one billion dollar over and above the 2.5 billion dollar worth of another Israeli cramp decided in last fortnight.
    No tender no discussion.
    Compare with 17 years that India is waiting for fighter planes.
    In favour to Israel is because the cookie type Indian elites think that butteressing Jews will please the Americans.
    Collie Indian elites do this all as bribe to USA to get their wards sons sons in law and dAughter as cyber collie working in great usa.
    For that India pays dearly in defence.
    Russia must not give s400 or t50 to india because the traitors on India will disclose the secrets to angkoanericans whose pet dogs Indians are_one of hundred such dogs.

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