Time for India to Break Free


Image result for pics of India's military power

The March 2019 edition of the ‘Swarajya’ magazine has published ‘The Right Manifesto’ on the eve of the general elections, containing short pieces by domain experts. C. Rajagopalachari — the rightist ideologue and free market enthusiast, who left the Congress party in the early years of the Republic because he believed Nehru was too steeped in socialism to do the country any good, it may be recalled, founded this magazine.  A version of my short contribution (relating to foreign and military policy) was published in this Manifesto. The original  is reproduced below.


Notwithstanding its attributes and natural assets, not the least of which are an extraordinarily resilient people who never lost hope or their belief in the manifest destiny of the country to be a great power, India is very far from realizing its potential.

Jawaharlal Nehru was an imaginative statesman who turned the country’s all-round weakness into moral leverage to carve out a role for India and for the Nonaligned Movement as the balancer of power between the US and USSR and gaining from the competing attention of both. He appreciated that, while soft power is good, but hard power is what matters. Nehru seeded the dual-purpose nuclear energy and space programmes and the first jet combat aircraft project in Asia, which last, he hoped, would lay the foundations for the cutting-edge Indian aviation industry. Most importantly, he articulated a stunning strategic vision for India as the fulcrum of power in the arc Maghreb-Indonesia, marred only by his blind spot for China. Succeeding Prime Ministers, lacking his “map reading habit of mind”, foreign policy intuition, historical insights, and the confidence to prosecute surefooted diplomacy, began the country’s slide.

Ironically, it was post-1971 War and post-nuclear test three years later that the county’s prospects darkened. India’s military policy shrank, its focus on a weak and truncated Pakistan and, in the strategic realm, the benefits of increased global heft from full-scale nuclear weaponization were lost because the government developed qualms. India, in the new Century and under different party dispensations, forsook “strategic autonomy” for the comforts of American camp follower and, with near total reliance on imported armaments, has become a second-rate military power to match. To recover for India its inherent significance, it is necessary for an expansive national vision to be defined in geostrategic terms of making India the foremost power in the quadrant Caspian-Central Asia-South China Sea-southern Indian Ocean-the East African littoral-Gulf and by the by, ensuring that the Indian Ocean once again becomes an “Indian lake”. It is imperative that India embrace disruptive policies to force itself back into international reckoning.

To achieve the above aims, the Indian government needs to have the following foreign and military policy priorities. These are here presented in bullet-points.

In the foreign policy sphere: India should

  • seek to undermine with actions all international and multilateral agreements and regimes that impinge on the national interest and which it had no role in negotiating;
  • incentivize countries in the extended neighbourhood, including Iran and the Central Asian Republics, and particularly adjoining states, especially Pakistan, with generous grants, financial and trade agreements, to join in an extended southern Asian economic, trade and eventually security schemes;
  • align all external, economic and trade, and national security policies of government with reference to China as the most credible comprehensive threat to India, especially using denial of access to the vast Indian market as lever to obtain more equitable trade and less aggressive Chinese policies on the border and in the subcontinent;
  • implement severely reciprocal measures to signal Beijing that whatever bad it does will be returned to it in trumps. Thus, for instance, its deliberate policy of nuclear missile arming Pakistan should be the precedent for India equalizing the situation, a little belatedly, by transferring sensitive strategic armaments and technologies to all the countries on China’s periphery;
  • cobble together a loose and informal organic security architecture in Asia of rimland and offshore nations, including Taiwan and Japan, to ring-fence China without according any role for extra-continental powers, such as the US;
  • on the larger stage, to prevent the US and China from setting the security agenda in Asia and the world, structure equally loose military cooperation collectives of BRIS (Brazil, Russia, India, South Africa), i.e., BRICS minus China, while retaining BRICS for economic purposes only, and of the Modified Quadrilateral or Mod Quad with India, Japan, Australia and militarily capable Southeast Asian states, the last mentioned to replace the US in the Quadrilateral, with the US being free to engage in such activities of the Combine as it may choose to.

In the military sphere, India should

  • abandon its defensive-passive-reactive mindset and become proactive and expeditionary;
  • equalize the military situation with China by strategically missile arming states on China’s  border;
  • urgently build-up military use foreign bases (in Duqm, Oman, the Agalega Islands in Mauritius, the Gan Island in the Maldives, Nha Trang in Vietnam, Sabang in Indoenesia, and Subic bay and Clark’s air base in the Philippines, and man them with forward deployed Indian forces;
  • rationalize and restructure land forces by forming a single composite armoured and mechanized corps from the current three strike corps meant for the Pakistan front, channeling the freed up manpower, war materiel and financial resources into speedily raising three mountain offensive strike corps equipped with light tanks and high-altitude terrain specific weapon systems to take the fight to the PLA on the Tibetan Plateau;
  • constitute a dynamic cyber warfare force capable of preemptive and ceaseless offensive and defensive operations manned mainly by highly paid IT specialists and algorithm-writers from the private sector and universities;
  • resume thermonuclear testing to upend the global nonproliferation regime and to obtain proven and tested warheads/weapons, ranging from those of megaton- and tailored-yield to micronukes for battlefield use, and atomic demolition munitions for placement in Himalayan passes to deter the PLA, and canisterised long range Agni missiles for launch-on-launch and launch-on-warning capability to firm up the country’s deterrent posture;
  • create an exclusive nuclear cadre of officers and men in the three armed Services to run the Strategic Forces Command;
  • scrap large aircraft carriers and their construction, secure strategic and relatively invulnerable reach and punch for the navy with an augmented fleet of SSBNs and SSNs, and for the air force with 2 squadrons of Tu-160M2 strategic bombers taken on long-term lease from Russia but for tactical and theatre-level air operations rationalize the air order-of-battle with Tejas LCA as the bulk aircraft, Su-30 MKI upgraded to “super Sukhoi” configuration for air superiority, with Rafales and  upgraded MiG-29s, Mirage 2000s and Jaguars providing specialist mission punch.

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, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Central Asia, China, China military, civil-military relations, Culture, Cyber & Space, Decision-making, Defence Industry, disarmament, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian Navy, Indian Ocean, Intelligence, Israel, Japan, Maldives, MEA/foreign policy, Military Acquisitions, Military/military advice, Missiles, Myanmar, Nepal, nonproliferation, Northeast Asia, Nuclear Policy & Strategy, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan military, Russia, russian assistance, russian military, society, South Asia, Sri Lanka, Strategic Forces Command, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Taiwan, Terrorism, Tibet, UN, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Time for India to Break Free

  1. Rupam says:

    Bharat Karnad ji, do you think India should send in the forces in Afghanistan so as to help US evacuate safely but also as a power that balances the situation there, there by emerging as a major player not to trifled with. Not only that it would also provide as a good area for training our soldiers and SF as well. What do you think?

  2. It is in India’s interest that the US stays mired in Afghanistan, and to remotely try and shape the situation there. It is absolutely not in India’s interest to get physically into the fight ourselves.

  3. Deepesh says:

    Resp. Bharat sir,
    Of all the measures you suggest of taking on china( on trade front and arming of its neigbhours on periphery) will in all likelihood lead to much greater pressure put by china on india at its northeastern states, naxals and kashmir etc. For managing which we do not have a robust and technologically advanced internal security forces . So dont you think while building an agile and offensive external force ( army,navy,a.f.) we should equally if not more concentrate on mordernizing our internal defences?

  4. Sonu says:

    Hello Bharat,

    If India resumes nuclear testing….then surely it will face the wrath of US sanctions, how will India deal with it, we have a lot dependency on US in terms of technology use and outsourcing of jobs which will take the hit, can we afford that.

    When buying an S-400 from Russia could invite CATSA sanctions in the form of cutting India from Global Financial System which is dominated by US…..how would India deal with a much broader sanctions which will be imposed on us by resuming nuke testing.

  5. vivek says:

    Resume thermonuclear testing doesn’t seems to be practical anymore for india. What about sanction that India will face? Better find way to obtain tested design , either from Israel,Russia or may be NK.

    • Sanctions will not be imposed by US because that will lose it the vast Indian market American companies are depending on now that the China market access has become more problematic. Even if US imposes them, Europe won’t necessarily follow. And then you overstate the impact of sanctions on an Indian economy that’s one of the largest and gathering momentum. And, no country’s is going to transfer fusion weapon designs to us for love or money.

      • Mr Raj says:

        Honourable Bharat Sir ,
        1. As You Have Said India’s Nuclear Program Was Ready To Test 6 Months Before China Did Its 1St Nuclear Test In 1964 , So What Were The Reasons Due To Which India Had Not Tested Before China ( What Was Pandit Nehru Ji’s & Stategic Community’s Vision Behind That As He was Alive Before China’s Nuclear Test ) & Even After China , Because We Could Had Done The Test In The Name Of Nuclear Deterrence After China’s Nuclear Test .
        If Had Done So NPT’s Spectre In NSG Had Not Occurred .

        2. Why Does India Did Its So Called ” Peaceful Nuclear Explosion ” In 1974 , I Mean For 10 Years What India Was Doing ???

        3. After 1974 Why Again India Did The Same Mistake In 1998 Too , Why Didn’t We Followed China In Terms Of Its On Record 45 Nuclear Test & Weaponisation In Terms Of Our Only 4 Nuclear Test ( Although Not Taking USA (1030) & Russia (715) & France (210) Nuclear Tests In Account As They Are Far Ahead )

        4. How We Will Seek Parity Against This Vast Nation’s ???

        5. What Do You Think When Will India Resume Its Nuclear Test ???
        ( By Seeing India History & Geopolitical Position It’s Quite Hard Until 2030 )

  6. raja says:

    Resp sir,
    The quality of grains will always shows up in the taste of the food…..

  7. Mr Raj says:

    Honourable Bharat Sir ,
    1. In India Conference 2015 @ Harvard Kennedy School , You Had Said That Finally India Has Made Up Its Mind To Transfer ” Brahmos ” Missile To Vietnam !

    2. In PM A.B. Vajpayee’s 2001 Visit To Vietnam He Had Signed The Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement With Vietnam & In One Of Your Discussion , You Had Said That If Vietnam Makes Nuclear Weapons Out Of It , India Will Not Be Responsible Fot It ( Tit For Tat ) !

    So , What’s The Current Status Of Both The Scenarios In 2019 ???

    Lastly Thanks For Aridhaman & Carriers !

  8. Rob. John. says:

    I endorse the strategy laid out and have been advocating much of the same for a long time.We have to be v.tough with China economically, reducing the $60+ billion deficit to zero with sanctions-cum- massive duties; a ban on Huawei, etc.Stapled visas for all Chinese visitors and a national campaign against Chinese goods.

    Secondly, with our huge landmass and island territories, there is a lesser need for large CVs.Instead a slightly larger sister ship to IAC-1 can be swiftly built and
    the 4 amphibious ships bd designed as multi-use platforms/ light carriers. They should have flight decks capable of operating aircraft using ski-jumps, etc., for aircraft like the NLCA and STOVL fighters like the F-35B or a future hinted Russian equivalent.This way the 30K t amphibs will be dual-use light carriers very useful in any crisis.

    The basing of v.long-range bombers on the unsinkable ” INS India and A&N”, like Blackjacks and Backfires equipped with the latest hypersonic and ultra-long range Kalibir missiles, will give the IN reach right into the Pacific apart from the Indo- China Sea.Russia still uses the upgraded Bears- which we phased out , in Syria and elsewhere.They have the range of flying to S.Africa and back without refuelling! The absence of long-ranged bombers in the IAF is deeply mystifying and shows myopia of sorts.Let’s hope that this becomes a top priority with the IN as the maritime sphere will determine the result of any war on land as it did in WW2.

    Lastly, but not least is the immediate task of upgrading and enlargening the sub fleet.Given the arduous task of developing anf series-building our SSN series, we should increase the number of Akula SSGNs leased to at least 3 boats.The conventional sub lines should have two, one for the latest Russian boat and the other preferably the latest U-boat design ( with the best current AIP system) since the Scorpene leak has compromised the design and the French have promised the Australians not to give anything equivalent to India, which swung the deal for them.We need at least 36 nuclear and conventional AIP boats keepingbin mind that Pak will possess at least 12 in the future and the Chinese at least 80.

  9. Vishnugupt says:

    @Prof Karnad My question to is a fundamental one.

    Since you address yourself as a conservative strategist, i have often wondered if you ever wondered how toxic Nehru’s legacy is?
    Lets take a look at who he was, a “Fabian Socialist”, with a strong sense of brotherhood towards communist states. But was cunning enough not bear hug them as his narcissistic mindset enabled him enough reason to see that if he do go all out to hug the Ruskies and the Chinkis, he will soon be overthrown to establish an “egalitarian” South Asia being ruled from Peking or Moscow.

    Not to forget his invaluable contribution in inculcating and cementing the “Socialist” mindset into the Indian psyche. Which is even today suspicious of entrepreneurship and free market. Where Phd holders seek coolie’s & peon’s job in government offices even to this day as they seek “job security” more than anything else.

    Now, let us examine who are his biggest bhakts in today’s time.
    Strategically dim witted congressmen like the likes of Tharoor, “for sale” corporate media houses,Communists & Leftist of all hues and last but not the least, scholars with a soft corner for wahabi Islam.

    Now being a proponent of right wing economics and foreign policy, i am deeply concerned when people hail Nehru because of the aforementioned reasons.

    I cannot wrap my head around the fact that you call Nehru a strategic thinker despite his Himalayan blunders, i.e giving India her biggest enemy (China) and crippling India of her entrepreneurial spirit.( He probably had a strategic thinking ON/OFF switch,unlike other strategist)

    And BTW i am not saying this with the benefit of hindsight, as the critiques of Nehru are often accused of.

    As it is well documented, his contemporaries( Patel,Rajagopalachari and many more) saw how evil Mao/Chinese were and how destructive commmunism/Soclialism really was for India. So if they could see things clearly, why couldn’t our beloved “Chachaji”?

    Undoubtedly he did a couple of things right, like Nuclear/space & Education.


    • Nehru was wrong about many things, particularly China. But he was also the only classical statesman the country has had. To wit, his nursing of the dual-use N-program and his seeding of an advanced Indian aerospace industry with the Marut HF-24 project — both programs that subsequently were run into the ground by PMs without his strategic insights and intuition. You must read my book ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security’ — the first revisionist study of Nehru’s foreign and military policies, to get an idea of just how ambitious he was for India.

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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.