Squaring off again in the Himalayan heights
Impact on modernisation
The foremost among them is the sharp decline in the Indian economy after demonetisation, further battered by the Government’s poor handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic. It means that New Delhi is unable to generate enough resources for military modernisation. Ashley Tellis had calculated in 2016 that the Indian Air Force (IAF) would need about 60 fighterjet squadrons by 2020 for a serious two-front threat from China and Pakistan but is down to 30 and losing numbers sharply. The Indian Navy Chief’s pleas for another aircraft carrier have been rebuffed for want of funds. The parliamentary standing committee on defence has repeatedly warned about the abnormally high share of vintage equipment in the Indian Army’s profile. So rapidly is the technological asymmetry with the PLA increasing, that in a few years it is feared that India and China will be fighting two different generations of war.
Editorial | Dangerous deadlock: on LAC talks
The second factoris the increasingly divisive majoritarian politics practised by the ruling party that has left India vulnerable. The ruling ideology has also held captive the country’s foreign policy in the neighbourhood, adversely affecting Indian interests. The United Arab Emirates-brokered backchannel deal with Pakistan fell through apparently because of New Delhi’s policies in Kashmir,reactivating the challenge of a two-front collusive military threat. The ceasefire on the Line of Control is barely holding up, with infiltration from the Pakistani side adding to the local Kashmiri youth willing to pick up the gun, opening another half-front forthe military. The recent fracas with Bangladesh on the treatment ofreligious minorities orthe ongoing turmoil overthe influx of Myanmarrefugees in Mizoram has left India, internally unbalanced, weakerin the region to deal with China. The third is the geopolitics arising out of the great power competition in the Indo-Pacific. Many strategic commentators Marginal increase in Chinese patrolling in eastern sector across LAC: ALSO READ Army strengthens fire power along LAC including Tawang ALSO READ Army trains officers along LAC in Tibetology in India had pinned their hopes on the externalrebalancing via the Quad (India, the United States, Australia, Japan) but the grouping does not have a ‘hard power’ agenda yet. Thatrole seems to have devolved upon the AUKUS (the trilateral security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States). Closerties between Washington DC and New Delhi, short of an alliance, leave the questions of actual support during a Sino-India military crisis unanswered. With the Chinese border assertions, is it now that India needs the U.S. more than the U.S. needs India?
The executive’s shadow
Finally, the lack of institutional checks and balances on the political executive, which imposes an even bigger cost in decision-making on national security issues. In the Ladakh border crisis, the Government and its supporters were in denial about the Chinese ingress into Indian territory for months, including the Prime Minister’s statement that no one had entered Indian territory. Use of euphemisms like ‘friction points’ for places of Chinese ingress orthe removal of an officialreport about Chinese presence across the LAC from the Defence Ministry’s website or nonacknowledgement of Indian soldiers in Chinese captivity afterthe Galwan clash have been done to evade political accountability. Parliament has not been allowed to ask questions or seek clarifications; nor has the parliamentary standing committee deliberated upon the issue. Large sections of Indian media have been complicit in this cover up, keeping the public in the dark and blocking the feedback loop that keeps democratic governments honest and responsive. The costs and consequences of a government taking decisions after buying its own spin on national security issues will be inconceivable forIndia.
The amplitude of New Delhi’s stance on the Sino-India border crisis in the last 20 months has oscillated between denial and bluster. Dampening the oscillations, New Delhi’s avowed aim is to restore the status quo on the LAC in Ladakh that existed before May 2020. That has not happened so far. In areas of disengagement, a new status quo has been created which curtails Indian patrolling rights while the PLA remains ensconced on Indian territory in Depsang, Hot Springs and Demchok. Having publicly rebuffed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s 2015 offerto delineate the LAC, Beijing seems to have taken his 2014 prescription of ‘Inch towards miles’ratherliterally on the disputed border. India now has no choice but to be prepared for all eventualities on the Sino-India border.