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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 51 December 16, 2023

Review of India’s National Security Challenges Edited by NN Vohra

Saturday 16 December 2023, by K S Subramanian


Reviewed by KS Subramanian IPS (retd)

India’s National Security Challenges
Edited by NN Vohra

India International Centre, New Delhi
Primus Books

HB ISBN : 978-93-5852-037-8

This is a collection of articles on India’s national security, edited by N N Vohra former J& K Governor (2008-18) and Life Trustee of the India International Centre (IIC), New Delhi, devoted to promotion of discussion on national security and similar issues.

The Covid 19 pandemic had made it difficult for the IIC to organise physical debates in 2021 but a series of online debates were held later, on the issue of national security. Participants included retired veterans of the three defence services, a few former practitioners and some commentators but not academic specialists. The focus was on i) government policy on national security and the responsibilities of the Union and the states; ii) Issues relating to defence management and the need for systemic reforms. The opinions of known veterans plus a summary of discussions were the intended part of the proceedings.

At the outset, national security is not just an external or military problem; it can be internal or on social problems as well.

There are ten articles in all in the book including a detailed paper by N N Vohra on the pressing need for a national security policy and a national security bureaucracy perhaps in place of or in addition to the existing IAS-IPS bureaucracy and the three-tier Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs).

Sujan Chinoy writes on the way ahead for national security; Arun Prakash provides a conceptual overview on the challenges; Ajay Sahni writes on Internal security; Deependra S. Hooda on managing ‘two adversaries’; Arjun Subramanian on Airpower; Philip Campose on national security reform; C. Uday Bhaskar on centre-state responsibilities; Srinjoy Chowdhury on higher defence management: and Bipin Rawat on ‘progressive defence reforms. Notes follow on the Editor and the Contributors.

NN Vohra makes a serious opening presentation calling upon the national security planners to be prepared for all kinds of threats to national security since future wars may not be limited to traditional adversaries. A whole range of new threats are around relating to cyber threats, artificial intelligence, robotics and so on. These unknown adversaries make the wars of the future different from those of the past. A new national security policy that is pragmatic, holistic, inclusive and cohesive is needed. This insight seems to be based on Vohra’s ten-year experience as governor of the conflict-affected state of J&K.

The keynote speaker, the former National Security Advisor (NSA) Shivshankar Menon and moderator Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran, made interesting oral presentations. Menon noted that without national security, we will have no economic development. If there is no growth, we will have very limited national security.

If there is no growth there will be limited national security. India needs to be powerful enough, well organised enough to deter potential enemies.
NN Vohra also drew attention to the lack of understanding between the Centre and the states on matters of national security. The states should be taken into confidence on matters of national security. The lack of a holistic approach leads to ad hoc responses to policy problems. Menon noted that there were three attempts in the past to produce a national security policy. In each case, hesitation came from the political echelons. One of them was perhaps in 1960 when Premier Zhou Enlai made a compromise proposal on border settlement but India had proved rigid.

C. Udai Bhaskar noted the secrecy over the Henderson Brooks-Bhagat Report (HBR), 1963. But the journalist Ananth Krishnan in his book ‘India’s China Challenge’, had drawn attention to the role of BN Mullik the then IB chief who had repeatedly claimed at official security meetings that China would never respond with force to India’s ‘Forward Policy’ which was not borne out by facts.

The Indian Politician and the IB love secrecy. LP Singh Committee was set up in 1979 to provide accountability to the IB but the committee failed to achieve its purpose. Singh as Home Secretary wanted less secrecy and set up the Research and Policy Division to write non-secret reports to place in Parliament. I became director of the division from 1980 to 1986. I wrote many reports. BJP when it assumed power wound up the division since it loved secrecy.

In 1982, the govt of Bihar reported several deaths in so-called Naxalite violence. IB reported 12 deaths. Parliament demanded action. PM set up a field visit to Bihar led by Dr Manmohan Singh with me from the MHA as a member. The district officials were proud of their effective law and order action. But Dr Singh stressed rural development action. Officials were silent. PM ordered CS Bihar to report in Delhi. CS admitted 59 dead but no Naxalites. All were agricultural labourers demanding minimum wages.

In 2006, under Dr Manmohan Singh, the Planning Commission set up an expert committee on development challenges in the Naxalite-affected areas. Expert committee report in 2008 demanded development action. But the IB stressed only law and order. Dr Singh was not courageous enough to place his report in Parliament.

In Northeast India, where I have worked, national security challenges take the form of Human rights violations by the Assam Rifles and the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958.

These are some national security challenges in India.

(Dr KS Subramanian, a former IPS officer, was Director of the Research & Policy Division of the MHA (1980-1986). He was DG Police, Tripura and DG of the State Institute of Public Admin and Rural Development in Tripura.)

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