Context: It is clear that ‘national security’, after being sufficiently politicized, is a poll issue for the forthcoming Indian general elections in April-May 2019. National security, considered a hitherto taboo subject for the masses (normal times in general and election times in particular), finding a prominent place in the mainstream political narrative, entails several lessons for the state and its citizens. This is the first of a five-part series on the issue – construction of a political narrative on national security issues (and its deconstruction embedded within the arguments put forth) in the Indian context. Five fundamental questions elude Indian state and its citizens: Can / should individual instances of state acts related to security be used to serve political purposes? Can / should such instances be independently interpreted or part of a larger issue on national security? Can / should acts performed by the state be indicators of the location of the state in the current global geopolitical landscape? Can / should acts of state action be considered a national /regional/international strategic template? Can / should the state act on security – internal or external – and continue to achieve limited or comprehensive strategic objectives that are tactical in short-term but strategic in long term future?
First things first: can/should individual instances of state acts related to national security be used to serve political purposes? The immediate answer to ‘can’ is yes; to ‘should’ is subject to debate.
Whether one likes it or not, whether one ponders deep and in-depth, whether one finds oneself at a cross-end of endless intellectual argument, the fact is that ‘national security’, however erroneously interpreted, has been placed at the high political table for the coming national elections.Consider these:
India tolerated Pulwama incident for a few days and then decided to act through a carefully calculated precision strike at Balakot (post-Balakot development thus far are well known), denoting an act of reaction (we will respond, whenever you provoke) and connoting an act of national strategic intent (intangible messages sent to international community, including passive adversaries) Refusal by China to acknowledge or support India’s attempts to diplomatically or otherwise punish Masood Azhar as one of the prime targets Announcement by the Indian Prime Minister on the scientific achievements of denoting India’s capabilities in the strategic sphere of ‘anti-satellite warfare’ And last but not the least, concocted actions taken by the state to weed out unwanted elements from J&K as well as the borders of north-eastern states (through military acts aimed at driving out immigrants and insurgents alike from the borders).
Each one of the above considerations has been wonderfully politicized, to say the least. This is evident from the statements of Modi, Shah and other prominent national political figures from BJP, in dozens of political rallies where they have overtly emphasized on national security issues by citing instances of surgical strikes, among others. Primarily led by Modi and Shah, the poll narrative that has been built around conforms to the argument that the country will not take any terror stupidity for granted, can strike back with all its might at any terror provocation and ensure national security for the country at any cost. Consistent advertisement of this notion reflected in all aspects of reaching out to the last citizen of India, BJP has actually carefully crafted to bring in ‘national security’ issue into political domain, a subject potential to open a ‘pandora’s box’, otherwise.
A shuttle reference to
India’s anti-satellite capabilities, announced by Prime Minister Modi himself through a nation-wide address during the poll season, has overt political connotations for the very simple reason that political ‘Modi-versus-the Rest’ argument gets into poll action. Coupled with Balakot, the A-SAT capabilities have been embedded into a political narrative that denotes India’s muscular security capacity, which can be used as a deterrent at the international stage. If diplomacy does not deliver, the state can deliver with a concocted overt and covert/diplomatic muscle for India.
This is exactly what the current Modi regime aims to attain. BJP wants to raise the issue of national security to bring it on the national political table. How political parties interpret nuances of the issue remain. However, politics is politics. Whether BJP’s attempt to bring in national security into electoral political domain remains to be seen.
Deba Mohanty is a New Delhi-based strategic affairs analyst.
The second part of the article series can be read . here