Tarzan of the subcontinental jungle

Image result for pics of modi after 2018 election successes

The first statements by any elected leader returned with a huge majority are a fairly good indication of what’s to come.  By this reckoning the country can expect, as the previous post noted, a more populist swing towards social welfare-ism without any compensatory trade-offs in terms of off-loading — privatizing if you will — all socialist-era white elephants in the industrial and services spheres, all of whom are loss-making. So Air India will continue to fly to far corners with deplorable service standards, the railways will hobble along, the defence PSUs will keep producing stuff the military doesn’t want and ordnance factories will output shells that split the barrels of artillery guns, this even as the telecommunications prospects of the country have brightened with private companies allowed to enter the field marginalizing the public sector telecom entities. But it is lessons from which experience — that privatizing government owned units will fill the treasury and improve the economy — that the Modi government will studiously ignore.

In fact, a BJP leader is quoted with respect to Modi’s flagship political venture — ‘Make in India’ as saying that it will be an employment generator. It doesn’t apparently matter what’s manufactured within the country as long as it provides jobs. This is manifestly the wrong way, I have long argued, to go about the business because it will lead to more and more international companies dumping their obsolete production jigs and assembly lines in India to output completely useless goods and hardware marketable in no other country in the world. Like the F-21 fighter — a strange attempt by the US defence major Lockheed Martin to resurrect, nomenclature-wise at least, its old Northrop-Grumman F-20 Tigershark built as a “low cost fighter aircraft” for the Third World India of President Jimmy Carter’s time, except instead of the then newly designed Tigershark, the old and weary F-16 is being led out of the stable dressed up suitably for a brain-dead Indian government to go gaga over and the Indian Air Force, which knows better, to accept this wretched warplane that the home-grown Tejas can run circles around. This when Tejas can spearhead the country’s intent to rely on armaments it designs itself and to make India an arms exporter of note. Except, a Defence Ministry note to be put up soon to Modi reportedly places these same malfunctioning DPSUs and Ordnance factories in the lead for increasing arms exports. Well, Good Luck! And also, good-bye to achieving genuine arms self-sufficiency.

Consider the first effusions from Prime Minister Narendra Modi stepping into his second term in office. Most striking of all were the terms in which he congratulated the PMO — his personal secretariat which pretty much runs the entire show because it does very little thinking and merely takes cues from the boss — and headed by babus he has long worked with, won’t contradict him, and trusts implicitly. The PMO’s success, Modi said, was because it strove not for “effectiveness” but “efficiency”! With this as metric one can see why he prizes bureaucrats able efficiently to carry out his orders and realize his instructions than domain experts able to think up more effective solutions for the myriad problems facing the country. And why his second stint in government will be as bereft of expertise, and grand new but risky ideas emanating from the top — because his own strength lies only in effective and efficient politicking. And why the same plodding policies will be pursued that promise only incremental gains (which by 2024 and the time of the next general elections will be totted up as huge benefits for the people).

This deficiency will be particularly evident in the foreign and national security areas where staying with the policies of his first term which, in turn, were a continuation of the themes from the Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh eras, will not only ill-serve the country but ensure India flounders among the also-rans. In keeping with a shrunken view of India’s place in the world, Modi’s initial words were equally galling. India he declared has “national ambitions” and “regional aspirations” which suggests, correctly, that during this Prime Minister’s time in office, India can say good-bye to any role that will have global impact or even result in a consequential impression in Asia, and that it will reduce its sights to South Asia and to playing the “Dada” on the block whom Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives, Bhutan and perhaps Myanmar, defer to. With Modi’s willingness. moreover, to play footsie with the transaction-minded US President Donald Trump, gone too are the big plans for consolidating relations with Iran and enlarging India’s footprint in Afghanistan and Central Asia ex-Chabahar. But Washington’s potential objections to upsetting the status quo will also mean that the one thing Modi can do with the majority he will soon have in both Houses of Parliament to amend the Constitution by removing Articles 35A and 370 that endow Jammu & Kashmir with special status within the Union, he will refrain from doing. This will guarantee that the Kashmir issue remains on the boil and the entry point for diplomatic intervention by extra-territorial powers, namely, the US, China, UK, et al to the detriment of India’s sovereignty, security and national interest.

Then again, Delhi’s condescending, big brother, attitude will likely obtain a Pakistan, Nepal, etc that will prefer to be tributaries of Beijing than kowtow to Delhi. None of this really bothers  Modi, who seems content to play second fiddle to an aggressively expansionist China in Asia and the Indian Ocean basin and to the entirely unreliable US in the ‘Indo-Pacific’. This while Modi is being jollied along by Washington and West European capitals with warm hospitality shown him in return for capital purchases (mostly antiquated military hardware)  from their countries. Meanwhile, the short-sighted idiots in GHQ, Rawalpindi, will happily keep  providing the periodic excuses of terrorist acts for Modi to mount “surgical” strikes, Balakote-type “attack” sorties, and to thump his chest. (Who is to say the Pulwama episode which set up the Balakote operation didn’t swing the elections for Modi and  the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party?) So the PM’s restricted ambition for India is apparently for it to be the Tarzan of the subcontinental jungle!




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.
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14 Responses to Tarzan of the subcontinental jungle

  1. Mala shukla says:


  2. Nirmalya says:

    I read your book ‘Staggering Forward’ and modi. I was shocked to see so much of US influence upon Indian policy circles. Matter of great concern regarding these think tanks Carnegie and all. It was a great read and I came to know so much regarding Indian foreign policy. As you are in certain think tanks close to the Government you must make your opinions and voice heard in Indian policy circles. While Modi is a great leader and has been doing a lot he needs a lot more to do to make India a superpower. I’m looking forward to read NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND INDIAN SECURITY.

    • Prime Ministers, especially Modi, and governments, rarely listen to viewpoints contrary to the ones they hold.

      • Quickboy says:

        Touching BSNL will be the last nail in Indias coffin, Why did they stop telegrams , not profitable, sending emails is more profitable sure!!!
        Now with this Govt and chest thumping , we are scared that a useless war may break out, Ho not with China of course,
        We did miscalculate the Pakis response right, For a neutral thought they came in broad daylight, shot down a jet, In the heat of the moment, well we shot down our chopper too, Increasing causalities, No cool head there.

        well so coming to the point, an economically weak pak wont be very cooperative to have a long war, It is easier to press the button and cheaper too, where will it leave India. Do you really assess the damage to this country in such scenario. Dont see any research on that.
        In your estimate do you see such a situation?.

  3. DR. BOSE says:

    George of the Jungle I wager Mr. K

  4. devraj says:

    Sir.modi is last smart leader for bjp as he was trained under advani and have entrepenure brain of sucessfull gujrat.he knows how to talk and convince world leaders.he used hindu hardliner tag and intelligently succeded in politics.But a big But.yogi is trying same line of hindu hardliner to sucess but in national politics yogi is not good strategist .he simply talk at hindu hindu but cannot have good skill to get deal for national benifits.all win for bjp are of modi charisma after him yogi and other leaders fail like rahul gandhi and that will end of bjp.Simple example modi has good business sense but yogi is simplecpriest.modi can talk and deal world leaders as good business mind.while yogi will only repeat issues given to him by his counterparts .what congress facing due to average mind rahul today .bjp will face it when modi and shah leave it due to age and average mind yogi face it to bjp next decade or years

  5. Gram Massla says:

    Outside of the Semitic religious ideologies the reality of India was and is caste. HIndu is a meaningless term. This has been upended, possibly for the first time, from the bottom. That a backward caste person has been able to amalgamate a bewildering array of disparate groups and communities is no mean feat.There has been some form of consolidation from the time of Gandhi but the top down attempt of unification is unsustainable. Indians can now be encouraged to know that the political longevity of India has been considerably strengthened. This is the biggest takeaway from this election. The next stage which is the accumulation of wealth and the acquisition of technology cannot supersede a sense of unity and purpose. India is now ready for both.

  6. Avatar says:

    USA is a good example of how much private companies charge for useless products in defence industry compared to the same or better weapon systems in Russia at one tenth the cost of American ones. Only stupid Indians buy the expensive stuff and privatisation is a dirty word.

    • Devraj says:

      Privatisation birthto competition mean good product.while government companies has no pressure of competition so they work relaxly and result poor product .regarding expensive defense product .defence product high price from private sector can be controlled by government as it did in oil sector.in india where educated youth are in millions .huge privatisation of defense give them millions job.as u see to make car or laptop needs very few technocrats but if a private company design tank or aircraft it needs vast pool of technocrats means huge employment of indian youth.cost of product can controlled by government.it is called mixed approch to capitalism

      • “High price” is the domain of DPSUs,not private sector Cos. because of competition and if the regulatory mechanisms are fair and exports are allowed from the get-go.

  7. B K says:

    Is the hypersonic Brahmos being killed like Trishul ??? Long delays???

    • Let’s put it this way: Russia is willing but India seems happy with the supersonic it has than exploring the Hypersonic B.

      • Bharat kumar says:

        Brahmos aerospace have picked up from K. Subramanyam school of thought…. Minimum credible deterrence and other nonsense…..
        Need to cleanup the org… I hold Indian navy responsible for this situation.

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