10 Aug, 1997    ·   10

Lt. Gen.(Retd) K.S. Khajuria provides a strategic review of fifty years of Indian independence

The past 50 years have been witness to great changes in the world. Triggered by World War II, scientific change in the decades surpassed what the previous thousand years had seen. Consequently, nations and peoples of the World witnessed a changed way of life. As a Nation, India is also in its Golden Jubilee year having started its "tryst with destiny" on 15 August 1947. After an epic peaceful struggle independence was achieved.



The towering leaders of this struggle who were in direct communication with the masses, had great hopes for the nation. These leaders along with expression of great emotional sentiments to produce a strong, poverty- free and educated India also voiced caution that should the future leadership falter and become self seeking and venal, the future would not be rewarding. Looking back today from the difficult situation that the Nation has landed in, one cannot help marveling at the clairvoyance of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr Rajendra Prasad and others who laid stress on probity.



Economists, experts and politicians have periodically talked of the "take off" stage of Indian economy and every time something has happened to set this back. Once again we hear of this giant leap and sure enough ominous signs are upon us. It is therefore again a question of whether we will make it or will we again be denied?



The past 50 years have seen significant successes as also dismal failures. Was this the outcome of any strategic aim or have we been too engrossed in our myriad problems trying to solve them before new ones cropped up? The tragic example of the population explosion from 33 crores to 96 crores stare at us. Any progress made has to be shared with 2 crore additional mouths every year. This affects everything from food to education and infact governance itself. It is not that we did not try but we did not succeed and this is what we need to focus on. Why do we not succeed, as we should?



Two aspects of a nation's ability constitute its prime interests. First, the economic well being on a sustained and lasting basis and second, its ability to project power as a means of demonstrating its interests and resolve. These are mutually complementary as can be seen from the examples of Japan and China , countries that declared their resolves/intent clearly and pursued the same relentlessly to succeed in a time frame; one that was available to India also.



An adjunct to these basic interests is the means of projecting the same in a manner acceptable to other nations. Thus foreign policy must be always active to project prime interests diplomatically, which by suggestion means making the bitterest truth acceptable.



Progressively our leadership has lost sight of national interests and we have been found wanting in most fields. Jawaharlal Nehru had a feel for strategy and in the turmoil of the aftermath of World War II, and the intractable East-West divide, he chose an independent path for India . Panchsheel and Non-alignment which he espoused found favour with most and were acceptable to the majority. India gained in stature although in the bargain the West isolated it. Nevertheless, India 's contribution to the World during this period was significant.



Nehru was a colossus but unfortunately nothing really grew under this mighty banyan. His departure thus produced a vacuum which few could fill. The great sufferer was a coherent National Strategy. By this time we had not fulfilled any of the promised economic or power parameters. The socialistic pattern of command economy did produce state owned industry but erected a permit raj. State intervention stifled progress and growth and massive mismanagement and corruption proliferated. The "generalist" of the Administrative Service sidelined experts and technocrats with disastrous results. The private sector entrepreneurs were burdened by the permit-raj in which the venal politicians and the bureaucrats flourished. And with time the calibre of the political class further declined. The only silver lining was that democracy took root.



Although progress was slow and tardy and corruption a malignant cancer, expansion of the industrial infrastructure was still attained. As no competition existed, quality suffered. But by the end of the seventies India produced every consumer item that its population demanded. Exports however did not increase due to lack of quality. It was important that for an aware and increasing middle class some consumer satisfaction existed. Later when liberalisation came and I feel it was 5 to 8 years late, it resulted in higher quality or demise of unsatisfactory products.



On the power projection front the nation started wrong. The military was seen as a colonial instrument of maintaining control over a huge country and thus enjoying special status. The new leadership therefore felt little enthusiasm for it. The experience of the Indian National Army and the euphoric feeling that free India would be a friend to all and have no enemies resulted in downgrading of the Army. This despite the stellar role, the Army played in preventing or restricting carnage and providing safe conduct to refugees of the partition whose number were in the millions. Pakistan 's perfidious act of invading Kashmir in October 1947 again involved the Army and the Air Force in an undeclared war, which saved Kashmir . To consolidate the new Republic, action was needed in Hyderabad , Junagarh and later in Goa .



All these were not part of any strategy but were reactions to the situation. The loud and oft repeated slogan was that as a peace-loving nation, India 's armed forces were only there to defend territorial integrity. The Chinese attack in 1962 put paid to all this and a semblance of strategic thinking evolved. Realisation that military weakness meant marginalisation came about slowly but surely. Pakistan joining SEATO and CENTO showed that it gained militarily to even threaten India . In fact the 1965 War was a consequence of the perceived weakness of India . Pakistan failed to achieve its objective and but Indian policy makers realised that being militarily weak was an invitation to trouble.



Indira Gandhi as the Prime Minister showed remarkable guts and a feel for strategy. Her power play was truly extraordinary and her sense of timing a gift. 1971 saw a manifestation of this and the emergence of Bangladesh . The `Iron Lady' gained respect worldwide. However a sense of fair play (misplaced), saw her lose out at the Shimla Conference and she also did not consolidate, after Pokharan, the demonstrated nuclear capability. Blue Star proved to be her Waterloo and she paid for it with her life.



One can only conjecture whether Blue Star could have been avoided. Lack of intelligence, contrived intelligence or even disinformation perhaps had suggested that a declared Khalistan would elicit immediate recognition by the USA and the West and Pakistan . This would have implied moral and physical support and consequently would have been bigger trouble!!!. There is a Big silence on this.



The period from 1964 onward saw some bright sparks under Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao which were strategic. Sri Lanka and liberalisation stand out. The period also saw great internal changes and upheavals like Mandalisation, Communal fractures due to Hindutva policy, Babri Masjid demolition and near bankruptcy when gold serves had to be pledged and handed overseas as collateral. Many governments and quick elections resulted. Liberalisation had to be implemented and luckily an extremely able expert, Dr. Manmohan Singh got an opportunity to reset a chartered course. The economic factor thus gained ascendency and is the main strategic plank of the nation today. The internal upheavals put a great strain on the military in the Northeast, Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir . Valiant efforts have helped to keep the nation together but despite their signal services and efforts, the armed forces continue to be deliberately neglected and downgraded.



Strategic planning, thinking and policy have been too diffused in our country and the main reason is the complete blocking out of the military establishment from every decision-making forum. Blunders and weaknesses of the politico-bureaucratic combine have been many and to cover the same, the defence establishment is downgraded and let down. The nation's vulnerabilities are thus being increased. This should be immediately addressed. It would be a disaster if this neglect leads to a demoralised and de-motivated military machine. The signs are there and they are ominous in the shape of an arrogant and self-seeking bureaucracy and a faltering political leadership.



The world sees us today as a market for their consumer goodies and a captive one operating on their terms would be suiting their interests best.