Jaishankar in cabinet, next, F-16 in IAF

Image result for pics of S. Jaishankar foreign secretary

Whether or not Narendra Modi delivers on any other election promise, one goal he will realize, with S. Jaiskankar, the former Foreign Secretary and virtually Washington’s Man in Delhi in the Union cabinet, is to, in fact, make India a full-fledged American “ally” — a label used by US President Donald Trump just yesterday. “Ally” is a loaded word but if India warrants this designation it is in no small part because of Jaishankar’s successful endeavours over the years, in connivance with soft-headed political leaders, to rob this country of its policy latitude and freedom of action, reduce it, in the process, to America’s subsidiary ally as apprehended in my last two books — ‘Why India is Not a great Power (Yet)’ [2015], and ‘Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition’ [2018].

Subrahmanyam Jaishankar comes straight into the cabinet from his job with the Tata Group where he looked after its foreign interests, mostly trying to force the US defence major Lockheed Martin’s F-16/F-21 India project down the Indian Air Force’s throat.  That  Modi thinks highly of him there’s no doubt. That he was instrumental in nudging Modi into getting the Indian foreign policy to tilt far more towards the United States than the PM was originally inclined to do, is also not a secret in Delhi corridors nor that he has been assisted by a whole bunch of Indian-origin Washington thinktankers, like Ashley Tellis at Carnegie, who frequently visits Delhi and meets with the PM.

Indeed, Modi was so keen that Jaishankar keep pushing the American line from the outside, that he generously waived the “cooling off” period required of civil servants and senior military officials on their superannuation before taking up private sector jobs. There is delicious irony here. It was Jaishankar as FS who in 2015 or thereabouts warned the retired former naval chief,  Admiral Nirmal Verma, against taking up the job of lecturer at the US Naval Academy, Newport, Rhode Island, immediately after ending his stint as High Commissioner to Canada. The “cooling off” period is there to ensure national secrets are not compromised. Verma paid no heed and now performs duties that small time outside lecturers pull at the Academy!

When Jaishankar moved directly from MEA to Tatas (as he did from Tatas into the cabinet), he used his past connections to push the case with the PM for Tata-built F-16s for the Indian Air Force.  Lockheed Martin chose Tatas to license-manufacture the frightfully old, Museum-ready, F-16 combat aircraft, designed in the late 1960s, for IAF service in the 3rd decade of the 21st Century. And Ratan Tata, in turn, selected Jaishankar to get the F-16 contract through the Modi government. Now that he is the external affairs minister one can expect that among his first orders of business, will be to fast-forward the F-16/F-21 license production agreement for  Tatas to implement.

Jaishankar is being suitably pumped up for the task, hailed by the Indian media as the foreign policy brain trust for the PM and a strategic avatar of his venerable father, K. Subrahmanyam. News 18 called him “one of the mightiest brains on strategic affairs in the country” which, if true, will be entirely in the service of a foreign country. More such puff pieces can be expected in the media in the days to come, In any case, his being credited with the “mightiest [strategic] brains” is problematic considering, that like his father, he has not published a single book — very different from compiling op-ed articles into books as Subrahmanyam did, which is easy. But unlike his father, who had a deep intellect, was well read and had schooled himself in the arcana of nuclear deterrence while in service, the son in this regard is, well, not so much.

Jaishankar’s progress has interested me from the time I first came in contact with him in Washington, where he was political counselor in the Indian embassy in the early- to mid- 1980s. Like all JNU leftist types, he was, I could see, smitten by America. Washington, in turn, marked him out as a person who would be useful and whose career needed to be suitably nursed and pushed with well placed tactical successes to help grow his reputation in Delhi as someone who could get things done vis a vis the American government. It helped  him climb the ladder in the Foreign office. This and the fact that his father– an old IAS hand with considerable influence in government — planned his career and managed his rise by importuning foreign ministers of the day to place him in select MEA and foreign posts.

Meanwhile, the American hand propelling Jaishankar’s career trajectory upwards didn’t hurt. A minor peak was reached when he was appointed Joint Secretary (Americas) during Manmohan Singh’s time. In this capacity he negotiated the one-sided and ruinous civilian nuclear cooperation treaty with the US courtesy which India, in effect, signed away its freedom to resume nuclear testing and become a thermonuclear military power of note. This was the sort of payoff Washington was looking for when it first identified him as a comer who would be useful in advancing US interests in Delhi — the “long view” strategic thing the US government, aided by its Delhi embassy, has always done. His record was buttressed during his time as ambassador to the US in which post he won Modi’s heart by mobilizing the BJP-leaning NRI crowd culminating in the intoxicating event for Modi — the massive Madison Garden do. The bigger payoff to the US came when he was ensconced as Foreign Secretary by Modi. Jaishankar doubled down on benefiting the US by pushing the PM to accept the “foundational accords” — LEMOA, CISMOA and the soon-to come BECA that a strategically limited visioned Modi was not averse to. Incidentally, MEA worked on these agreements  with  the initial negotiating drafts provided by Washington for each of these treaties. May be this was to ease MEA-GOI’s and Jaishankar’s work-load! In reality, these accords will result in the outsourcing of India’s strategic security without in any way shoring up India’s defences. It is a defeatist policy based on the mistaken belief that India cannot tackle China by itself, which is simply not the case.

Starting with Brajesh Mishra as Vajpayee’s NSA and ending with the Modi-Jaishankar duo, India’s slide into the US camp has been a guided affair. What’s new is that Modi felt his NSA, Ajit Doval, couldn’t hack it and cut him off from policies and decisions pertaining to foreign and military affairs, his role all but zeroed out with Jaishankar formally outranking him. This the PM arranged, perhaps, also with a view to taking down Doval a peg or two. It may be noted that Modi denied one of Doval’s sons a BJP ticket to contest the general elections from a hill state.

Jaishankar’s attraction to Modi owes much to the latter’s conviction that an “aspirational and assertive” India requires to canoodle with America to find its place in the world, when exactly the opposite is true and would fetch the country far greater leverage and improve its international standing as a strategically autonomous entity that’s not to be trifled with. Modi expects Jaishankar to leverage the country’s strengths except, given his track record, he will very likely lever India right into Washington’s lap.

The PM is apparently also impressed by Jaishankar’s formulation of a China policy based on the principle that “differences” need not become “disputes”. This is fine but ignores the basic fact of China being a geopolitical, ideological, economic and military rival of India in Asia, and unless differences are indeed treated as disputes, China will walk away with the prize. I mean, all the renewed bhai-bhai stuff has got India what? Absolutely zilch, nothing, except demands to strengthen the status quo exclusively benefiting China!

With Jaishankar in place, the US-supportive policy “eco-system” in Delhi detailed in my latest book ‘Staggering Forward’ and led by the Delhi chapters of Carnegie and Brookings, will become even more active. This is a circle Jaishankar is connected with via immediate family links. His every move will be cheered by Indian media columnists and commentators from Delhi to Singapore, and this eco-system, generally, will continue oxygenating the thinking by retired and serving diplomats, senior civil servants and military officers, and provide them platforms to voice opinions about making Indo-US relations the central pillar of this country’s foreign policy. This entire caboodle constitute the Trojan Horse that is already at the centre of government, and helping root in the socio-political milieu a mindless hankering for all things American and this at a time when US’ unreliability as partner is manifest.

In this context what happens to protecting and furthering India’s vital national interests, which are at huge variance to US interests in the Indo-Pacific and in the nuclear security, advanced technology and other realms? This is apparently nobody’s concern. National interests are, in fact, now orphaned as Modi-Jaishankar get into their stride. And contrary, realist and uncompromizing and uncomprizable nationalist views, however substantively argued, will get short shrift.

But, hey, India and IAF will have the F-16/21 good enough, alas, only to play at war not actually to fight wars with!

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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37 Responses to Jaishankar in cabinet, next, F-16 in IAF

  1. vivek says:

    what is your view on s jaishankar as foreign minister?

  2. a B c says:

    Which nirmala couldn’t jaishankar would… modi 1.0 rafale disaster,, modi 2.0 has junk f 16 to be inducted… he talks of business running in his blood…

  3. Joydeep Sircar
    bharat karnad

    31 May at 11:35 am

    Dear Mr. Karnad,

    Thank you for unravelling Jaishankar’s
    DNA. Modi himself is a shameless US-bhakt, like most of our mid-upper
    classes – had he had an iota of self-respect he would not have gone
    and slobbered his gratitude over a country that denied him a visa for
    ten years.The BJP itself is strongly pro-US. These people equate
    patriotism with Pakistan-bashing, and having no sense of true national
    pride, are always willing to overlook the multiple kicks in the ribs
    administered to India by the country of the Almighty Dollar. I need
    hardly add that the Congress is no better. So you and I are perforce
    consigned to a helpless minority while our India abandons the S-400
    deal and marches bravely towards Banana Republic status.


    J. Sircar

  4. A B C says:

    Could the IAF reject the F-16 for Su-35 or any fighter like they ditched hf marut , ‘coz anyway they don’t want the Tejas?

    • Yes, they can. The hardest thing for Modi-Jaishankar to do is to convince the IAF brass to buy the ancient US warplane. But an amenable officer in the CAS’s chair can do anything.

      • Vivek Bandopadhay says:

        That is precisely why they are fully into supersession!! Two already done and the third (IAF) in the pipeline!!

      • Som Mukherjee says:

        F16 and Su35 are two different class. There is a distinct requirement for a single engine fighter jet. F16 block 70/F21 is a very decent fighter jet with its weapons and avionics package and there is nothing in its class at the moment in IAF inventory

  5. Rupam says:

    Bharat Karnad ji would it have been better if Gen (Retd) VK Singh was made DM but was not due to the fear that political and bureaucracy class have of the military and never want it to grow strong. And it seems following on the shoes of previous PMs Modi is no different in trying to get the pat in the back from western powers at the cost of India’s National Interests.

    • Not sure, how good a DM General VK would have made.

      • Rupam says:

        Bharat Karnad ji any idea why are they purchasing more T-90 when we have Arjun MBT platform and why any dedicated project has not been initiated for mountain specific armoured vehicles. Also could you point to a site where the full documents of these agreements is available?

      • Raj Singh says:

        He would have been much better than the previous incumbents who have done nothing to improve things rather created more hurdles. Armed forces cant be expected to fight with ageing technology…

      • No, but they should be expected, at all cost, to minimize imports to the absolutely minimum necessary while spearheading indigenous armaments design R&D programmes.

  6. The same old story of our mil services preferring foreign hardware even when it is tested and proved to be not as good as the indigenous stuff.

    • Unni says:

      With all due respects,
      I prefer a different opinion on this.
      The reason is that the indigenous stuff takes umpteen years for final prodn and whatever be the product – good or bad – the defence forces have to accept it… And on cost comparison, we could have purchased double with a long AMC for the same amount….

      • Not clear. So, you’d rather IAF have a 50-year old aircraft than a home-designed 21st century one?

      • Indian says:

        That is not how its works. You need decent number of orders for defense manufacturers to keep producing them and making it cost effective. Indian Army cannot just order 100 odd tanks and keep complaining about the costs. Who pays for the R&D of these projects? For example, do you think 100% of Chinese equipment is battle proven and that their equipment is all glory? Chinese strategy is simple – keep building them in huge numbers. This will help them learn and improve on a continuous basis. Do you know how long it took the US to build F22 Raptor and B2 bombers? Both these are examples of cost-ineffective projects, yet, are invaluable to them. DRDO/HAL and other companies cannot produce anything with the current policies. You need to give them export licenses as and when they build them (though degraded versions) and that is how you improve the entire ecosystem. Not simple.

  7. Avon says:

    Dear Bharat,

    You have always firmly stated that India needs to retest its fusion bomb, to be taken seriously on the nuclear table. However, any scenario where India resumes testing will invite massive sanctions, including from US, EU and Japan. Our comparatively small, growing economy will not be able to handle them, at least till the size of our economy becomes larger than the US and EU economy. Let’s face it, that day will not come before 2050.

    Meanwhile, how about another proposal? How about a joint ISRO-DRDO mission, which flies a fusion bomb to a small asteroid (beyond the orbit of Mars), for the purposes of testing a so-called “Planetary Shield” (deflecting or breaking up an incoming meteorite by the force of a nuclear blast). Such missions are already theorized by the likes of NASA, and we can declare that the protection of our planet from a rogue meteorite is not the sole responsibility of the Americans etc.

    This “peaceful” mission will achieve the secondary goal of testing our fusion designs as well, with no radioactive fallout on Earth.

    What are your thoughts about this?


    • A wonderful idea. But will it have the political impact of a terrestrial Bang? Further, we are too quick to assume that US, EU, et al will line up against India when there’s China for them to constrain — which effort cannot be successful w/o India’s participation. And will any of these countries want to miss out on access to the Indian market? These are leverages I have long advocated should be used ruthlessly, but which a pusillanimous Delhi has desisted from doing.

  8. Nirmalya says:

    Mr Karnad can we not buy more rafales.why are we going in to US lap.u should do something to higlight this issue.

    • What more can I do beyond writing books, this blog and when, occasionally, I am asked to do an op-ed by “mainstream” papers/periodicals? The fact is most of the mainline newspapers and publishing houses — always susceptible to govt dictation — are leery about publishing my stuff.

  9. S Jaishankar says:

    Bharat ji, What has better odds to stop this? Political obstacles(Rafale 2.0) or the IAF itself saying No? I would certainly expect men in uniform to show, greater spine than civilians.

  10. V.G. PILLAI says:

    Alarming! Nehru made a big mistake by supporting Krishna Menon. Is Modi in for the same debacle?

  11. Indian says:

    I’m neither an expert on defense nor a political/bureaucratic insider. I’m an aeronautical engineering student who understands ‘abc’ of it. To this day, I don’t understand why anyone in successive governments fail to understand some basics. My 2 cents
    1. Tejas
    From any account, we have a beautifully designed indigenous aircraft that the country can build on. Having a GE engine, Tejas can go rounds against a MIG 21 fighter (since we seem to bank on it and use it). Why cannot IAF/Navy induct these aircrafts in the current configuration to develop an ecosystem in the country and later use these for “intelligence gathering” in the foreign airbases (which even though we were offered by various countries, not made it to an operational status). You dont need state of the art aircrafts for basic intelligence gathering and developing assets/relations with militaries/countries abroad. Once you have an ecosystem, manufacturers (HAL or the kinds) will eventually build on these to make next gen fighters.

    2. Kaveri engine
    This needs to be a priority for India, if it ever plans to be a Vishwaguru. Money need to be invested and Prime Minister should take this under his umbrella. I’m astonished when so called experts in the media suggest that due to lower number of engine orders, this will not be a meaningful efforts. The common sense element they lack is that the investment is to learn the technical know-how and be ready for developing these if necessary (even if you continue to buy from foreign companies). Once this technology is mastered, it can be scaled to support transport aircraft or next generation fighters and develop an ecosystem of research and manufacturing.

    3. Navy submarines and destroyers
    Whatever one may comment, Navy is one bright spot in the Indian defense arena. They are given the least amount of resources, yet, have managed to develop some at par with World hardware. This does not mean they are all glory. The navy should STOP any carrier development until the day where they will have supporting battle group BEFORE a carrier is built. Since we currently have the basic structure of one carrier, they should simple try and have a nuclear powerplant IF possible and get done with it. The focus should be to get more submarines, for which the in-house designs are readily available.

    4. Transport aircraft and AWACS
    An interesting news that I recently came across is that HAL has given two proposals to the government to upgrade IL-76 transport aircraft and the IAF is not interested. There is a valid point here as these aircraft lack the ramp capabilities that are a must for quick transport for military hardware and resources. Instead of being stuck in limbo, WHY NOT make use of these aircraft and convert them to AWACS? With a new engine refit, they should still have some 20 year period and Indian NETRA system would be a perfect fit.

    @Mr. Karnad – Anything that does not make sense?

    • Well done! Except re: N-plant for carrier. N-carrier will be an imaginably expensive boondoggle. In any case, hope you will not go off to the West, ostensibly for ‘higher education’ in aeronautics and stay on there to aid their defence industry.

  12. Vijay pawar says:

    I appreciate your view

  13. Sanjay says:

    Trump has just withdrawn certain export privileges and imposed extra duty on Indian goods. He is hell bent on flexing his muscles and wants to narrow down the trade deficit with India which is 25billion dollars. So to placate him, F16 will surely be coming in soon and host of other military paraphernalia. Why because here in the name of security you can purchase anything and no one would question. And if you do question, you will be labeled anti national and numerous other similar coinages. And will it go to TATAs, I don’t think, it has to go to some Guju Bhai. Adani, Ambani or some new avatar from Gujarat. God bless India or is it Gujarat!!!!

  14. It was somewhat surprising that BJP had no other choice for external affairs minister. Is there any precedence of someone who has held the post of foreign secretary becoming EAM? I don’t think so. The revolving door you mentioned is a real worry too.

    As you mention I can’t find one media report raising any question on this choice.

    Looks like PM Modi expects to drive the external affairs ministry himself. In which case he should have simply kept the portfolio with him. Why have a retired bureaucrats hold that post? What political weight does he carry?

    Modi’s tilt for US is quite evident since the beginning. But I still don’t see the F16 deal going through after all the Rafale deal noise.

  15. Amrendra Singh says:

    I personally favour allying with Trump USA, He is a man of courage and having US as our ally would help us to take on China and Pak.
    Good for India in the long term perspective of the balance of the twenty first century.

    • Your kind of view assumes that India just cannot take care of the C, P and C-P threat by itself. This is simply not correct, as I have made plain in my last two books.

  16. Indian says:

    Well! Mr. R Clarke Cooper is visiting India soon to “discuss” $15billion aircraft deal with the sole agenda of pushing for the deal. He will be meeting RM and EAM. I wish nothing happens.

  17. pegasus191 says:

    A series of half truths and assertive thoughts. You do give enough food for thought. Incidentally, I feel this Govt would go for a repeat order of the Rafale since it has been exonerated. Perhaps leverage the US for the ISTAR and other ISR platforms while maintaining the fighter platforms with France and the air defence with S-400. The Russians will probably give us that with alacrity and a few more Su-30s.
    What is of crucial importance is India’s entry into the NSG and the UNSC… for that even if we have to conjoin with the US, it is worth it.
    After all don’t all aspirant youth run to the Us? Have you ever seen lines outside Russian or Chinese embassy of prospective citizens hailing from India??!

  18. Deepak says:

    Totally foolish analysis.

  19. Deepak says:

    If we analyse India’s diplomacy of past 20-25 years Modi Govt has been most successful on most fronts. First time we are seeing Pakistan diplomatically on Blackfoot and India getting massive support from all across , isolating Pakistan and even putting China on Blackfoot.
    Mr Bharat your analysis is biased by your distorted views and far away from truth.
    Further F16 is still a very formidable aircraft and their advanced versions would be much better. Russian aircrafts have much more glitches then US and western aircrafts which can never become flying coffins. You will not comment on those things due to your bias.

    • You should read my books. I have been just as critical of Russian military goods, except they are more rugged and inexpensive compared to their Western counterparts which, moreover, are never top of the line.

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