By Jaideep Saikia
“Bharatavarsha” is as old as Indic civilisation and it did not have to wait for either the arrival of the hordes of invaders that crossed either the Indus or the Irrawaddy on either ends of the subcontinent, or for the matter the seven seas to become India. To that end, the “Idea of India” had already established itself in India when seers of yore went into the “depths of their silence” or figuratively the Brhadaranyaka (great forest) in order to contemplate reality. The Vedic corpus or cogitation that came together collectively understood “existence” and saluted “fire” (Agni) for the first time as the primordial source of life and also felt that the implicit truth is “existence”, “consciousness” and “blissful” or sat-chit-ananda. That is precisely why one has phat (the fire in the commencement of the time) in every ritual although it is now attributed to a mystical syllable that “annihilates” everything that is bestowed onto Agni. After all fire is the essence which preserves, sustains and destroys! This was sometime between 1500 and 1200 BC and although the wisdom that spewed forth was a shared affair and the focus was never on an individual, there was—if one explored well enough—always a mantra drasta (seer of the mantra) for each of the sukta (hymn) or collection of mantras. For instance, the Agni Suktam is attributed to the son of Sage Vishwamitra, the composer of the famous Gayatri Mantra, Madhuchanda.
In any event, knowledge of the infinite can never ever be conceived in finite space and time. Therefore, humankind contented itself in its wonderment of some the exquisite marks of that infinite such as fire which is a representation of that infinity. Prometheus stole fire in Greek lore and Rudyard Kipling gave voice to his wolves in Jungle Book by calling it the Red Flower which “Mowgli’s people” could tame. Incidentally, the fire that is worshipped is not just any fire. It is the sacrificial fire that had to be “brought” forth from the one of the three realms that it exists in, sky, earth and water!
The fire simile is, therefore, fascinating and if it were to be superimposed in the manner in which national security in present day India has to be conceived, calibrated and harnessed than there has to be also be a drasta who understands not only what national security is, but one who can actually strap together the ingredients that are necessary to harness it meaningfully so that the nation can not only be preserved and sustained but can actually realise its full potential. Unfortunately, India has not produced such a drasta in recent times.
It must also be understood that the fire has in its innards the strength to destroy the conceiver if proper heed is not paid. It is with an eye to the triadic schema of the fire metaphor that this author has tried to carefully liken national security of India to. It has been chosen because it provides a good analogy by which to comprehend the manner in which comprehensive national security can be correctly yoked and utilised for a nation’s security, ensuring at the same time that it does not destroy the delicate fabric that India is made up of.
Unfortunately, the accent of the day has been on parts that are expected to make up the whole when components do not actually make up the total. The whole is actually greater than the sum of the parts. One doesn’t have to read Aristotle’s Metaphysics to ferret out a plausible definition of what constitutes comprehensive “national security” in the Indian context.
National security did not—quite like the Vedas—come to be all of a sudden. As aforesaid, it is a corpus that has to be integrated with a particular waypoint in the nation’s security at a particular point in time in mind. In other words, it is ever-changing despite the fact that the spirit would always remain the same, ie. The Fire!
Therefore, what was prudent in 1971 when India decided to break up Pakistan into two is not necessarily the case when it embarked upon Operation Brasstacks (1986-87) when at least Pakistan felt that the event was an Indian exhibition of India’s overwhelming conventional might. But the fact of the matter is that Operation Brasstacks was merely a validation exercise of an “integrated deep offensive strategy” and not meant for an actual invasion! Gratefully it ended with a smug Gen Sundarji who wanted to gauge Pakistan’s response to a full-scale armed mobilisation and a “cricket diplomacy” by Zia-ul-Haq, the happy consequence of the latter was an absorbing visit by this author—along with another fellow Stephenian—to Islamabad as State Guests in June-July 1988. Operation Brasstacks tested and led hopefully to the evolution of India’s “unwritten” security doctrine, and if there were enough neuronal wire even in India’s incapacitating memory certain lessons would have been learnt about the adversary and the manner it reacted.
The issue pertaining to the boundary with China is one of the most important challenges that India is faced with. The problem has a legacy of its own that can be traced back to at least—for ease of comprehension—to 1914 and the Simla Conference. Much water has passed down both the Indus and the Brahmaputra ever since and indeed the history was punctuated with the unfortunate border war of 1962 and not too long ago l’affaire Galwan. Eastern Ladakh, incidentally, does not have any easy answers and while it is clear that it was the PLA which intruded and fired the “first shot”, the fact of the matter is that—at least to this author—the entire episode was for the consumption of the United States. China was attempting to message its number one opponent that India could not be used as a countervail against it as also trying to “inform” India’s neighbours that the latter could not be relied upon for their security. Beijing was also guided by its maritime ambitions and was consequently striving to contain India to its land commitment and away from its overtures in the Indian Ocean region and beyond. Now, if the above makes sense then the endeavour on the Indian side should be on trying to solve the boundary issue, especially as a thaw is being presently experienced in Eastern Ladakh. If pragmatism permitted India to “take-the-side” of Russia in its “operations” against Ukraine, then it is not understood as to why New Delhi cannot read the entrails and reach out to Beijing and solve the boundary issue on an “as-is-where-is” basis, especially as most observers of the India-China boundary problem are of the opinion that it would be to India’s gain. While it is understood that China is no longer offering the “East-West Swap” proposal and probably would not do so anytime soon (unless India fortifies itself with the sort of regional and extra-regional arsenal that can press China to renew its 1959 and later 1980 offer!), the fact of the matter is that there should have been sufficient action in the non-traditional realm to ascertain that China is also similarly messaged. “Integrated Battle Groups” and such other aspects that are being readied to mirror deterrence is all very well, but there should be simultaneous moves on a front that is patent visible and unambiguous, and one which prepares the ground for the possibility that could well have a boundary settlement as one of the many options. National security, it must be understood, is not confined to sabre-rattles, production of films that showcase “surgical strikes” that didn’t quite happen in the manner in which the celluloid sought to portray it or for the matter engendering of psychological operations that tom-tom “undercover” embodiments of a “rickshaw-puller” that never existed in reality.
The reality is to take stock of India’s place in the changing world order, its flagging identity as a regional power, its “Act East” policy that refuses to “Go East” and the manner in which North East insurgent groups are readying themselves in a fully equipped “Joint Fighting Force” in a “Southern Cluster” in Myanmar for the next strike on the Indian security forces.
The reality is also that organisation such as the “China Study Group” does not visit places such as Kibitu and Chaklohagam and ordains the Indian army’s “limits of patrolling” in the vicinity of Madan Ridge in the Walong Sector from Raisina Hill. The reality is also that New Delhi was attempting to replace the Indian army officers in the Assam Rifles with the IPS sounding thereby the death knell of a fine force whose border management posture and counter insurgency record has been better than all the other para-military forces in the country. Incidentally, it must be stated that denizens of this world abhors change from a particular status quo. Pax Britannia paved way to a bipolar world after World War II after grandiose attempts to retain its seat at the high table. Today, an almost inevitable Pax Sinica is being vehemently resisted. But paradigm shifts happen despite the desire to maintain status quo. In the universe of discourse that constitutes the Indian bureaucracy and its functioning there has been massive opposition to any sort of change in the manner in which it ordains the business of governance. Indeed, it is this resistance that has to be defeated if India that is Bharat is to once again enjoy the fruits of the Agni Suktam.
(Jaideep Saikia is a celebrated conflict analyst and author of several bestselling books on security and strategy)