Context: Whether politicisation of national security during election times will bring in electoral dividends or not will be clear in a few days from now. National security issues with internal and external dimensions and dynamics have been added to political discourse in India. This entails significant implications for Indian polity in the coming times. This is the fourth 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. Among most India watchers, who closely follow India with specific or composite interests, geopolitical risk analysts or advisors will be the ones who will face the biggest challenge from electoral uncertainties or future scenarios for their clients or target audiences – from national governments to multinational entities as well as big investors. The more politicisation process embeds national security or vice versa, the more complicated it will be for the analysts to predict possible outcomes. Challenges would certainly multiple when one thinks of India because of its sheer size, diversity and societal complexities.
A set of clues, outlined by one of the globally renowned geopolitical risk analysts of our era – John Hulsman – may be of much relevance. Hulsman, the author of
To Dare More Boldly: The Audacious Story of Political Risk (New Jersey: Princeton University Press; 2018), lays out a set of ten commandments of political risks, which invariably includes possession of adequate knowledge on contemporary world we live in, a country’s real location in the world, knowing when geopolitical risks occur, knowing the game changers, among others. He also emphasises a balanced approach in foreign policy choices and watchful of excessive concentration of power in one person or a chess player whose actions can create ripples. The central idea is to identify risks and let these be known to decision makers for effective mitigation or management. It will also help stakeholders understand the likely future directions of the polity and help take informed decisions accordingly. Hulsman’s tools for analyses, that appears more dependent on social sciences than data driven, are probably the most formidable ones for laying out such a landscape.
As national security gets further politicised, a set of three fundamental questions need to be asked here: a) is politicisation of national security issues a designed political strategy?; b) will politicisation lead to dilution of institutional neutrality, especially for the armed and security forces?; and c) will politicisation be a temporary phenomenon or will it take a shape that will be too volatile in future? Extended further, larger political landscaping entail three questions: a) what kind of political power will the Indian elections produce; b) what impacts will it have on different aspects of the state in immediate future; and c) will current situations be seen as enabling or disruptive in distant future.
How should a geopolitical risk analyst look at the current Indian electoral scenario from a national security prism in a narrow sense and the directions in Indian polity in a larger landscaping effort? Answers to these questions are not easy, but nevertheless necessitate attempts.
Whichever way one may argue – from allegations to defence on issues ranging from Rafale to Balakot – it is amply clear that different aspects of national security have been a part of deliberate design for politicisation with a narrow aim to influence voters. The larger problem is when such issues once politicised during election times get lesser or no attention beyond elections. Politicised issues may impinge on voting behaviour, but more importantly politicisation affects institutional neutrality, thus creating further confusion within. Established norms of traditional rule based and neutral institutions like armed forces will (not probably but definitely) thus get diluted in the process of politicisation. This is problematic but worrisome. Incremental reforms within armed forces, arguably the most pragmatic way to see desirable results, will get affected by politicisation of national security issues. An ill-designed politicisation project is thus likely to get disastrous results in future. This means that politicisation may be a temporary project to achieve limited objectives, but a select few politicised issues have the necessary ingredients to become volatile in future in some form or the other. This may sound alarmist, but seeds of discontent have already been sown.
In the larger landscaping efforts, whichever political formation takes shape post-elections, it is almost clear that consensus would be required for governance, unless BJP gets a landslide verdict again (like in 2014). Broader national policies, in this scenario, are likely to continue with requisite reforms here and there rather than a clear departure or installation of an altogether new policy attempt. It is argued that consensual governance appears slow but is largely able to manage major disruptions. However, individual or single polity-led governance like Russia or China do not have a bad record either. If the disruptive giant comes from outside (like the financial crisis), consensual governance may take time to address such disruptions, but it is not necessary that a cult-led or exclusivist political entity can manage it better. If disruption comes from within (like polarization or societal divide), then even consensual governance will be weak in either suppressing or managing such disruptions.
If it is a battle between inclusivist and exclusivist approaches to politics, which is already evident, then a distant future looks grim from either side for the very simple reason that inclusivists will take a long time to be effective, while exclusivists would take less time for consolidation. A fault line would be the corollary of this nation-building process – Indian civilisational resilience will be put to test in not too distant a future.
Politicisation of national security will definitely be a factor in this larger scenario.
Deba Mohanty is a New Delhi-based security affairs analyst.
The first part of the article series can be read
The second part of the article series can be read The third part of the article series can be read