Ladakh Debacle: Indian Union rudderless under UPA government – Gautam Sen

Dr. Gautam Sen“It is a testament to the despair of many that Narendra Modi’s assumption of political power nationally is viewed as the only way to halt India’s ignominious decline. Whether he will succeed against the determined opposition of a politically bankrupt central leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party remains to be seen. However, the principal architects of the BJP’s Karnataka self-immolation have had their collective noses comprehensively rubbed in the ground.” – Dr. Gautam Sen

Chinese intrusion into LadakhIndia’s recent debacle in Ladakh confirms that the India Union is now rudderless under the United Progressive Alliance government. The events in Ladakh of the past weeks highlight sheer incompetence that in any respectable country would have led to immediate sackings and more severe sanctions in some. It appears India decided to remedy the disadvantage of being one-sidedly overlooked from higher ground by Chinese forces at the Ladakh LAC by installing bunkers of their own, in order to create compensatory facts on the ground. It was inordinately asinine to undertake such a policy without appropriate strategies to anticipate Chinese responses.

Instead, India has been led into a humiliating standoff that appears to have compelled suspect concessions that imply a worse position than it enjoyed before. Yet, the Congress president’s personal retainers continue to masquerade as ministers in vital offices of state without appearing capable of discharging duties incumbent on them.

From all accounts, it seems the Chinese are to be allowed to retain the advantageous status quo ante. Dismayingly, India has apparently relented on the entirely justified quid pro quo it had sought to establish though without adequate political or military preparation. So much for the conceited Mandarin-speak of India’s China Study Group, whose shenanigans suggest a talent for embarrassing pirouette rather than astute political calculation. It appears that, like the Bourbons, they have learned nothing and forgot nothing, echoing Jawaharlal Nehru’s juvenile Forward Policy that led India to disaster in 1962.

Nehru & MenonFirst we had an opinionated Nehru himself being misled by the over-confident and wholly misguided Krishna Menon, and comprehensively wrong-footed further more by an incompetent adviser, Sarvepalli Gopal. He was sent to London by Nehru to consult the archives, but the pompous bureaucrat entirely missed crucial evidence on file. The disastrous consequences of his dangerous affirmation of the solidity of Indian territorial claims were compounded by the inept B.N. Mullick of the Intelligence Bureau who proffered inaccurate intelligence. It was left to ill-clad and ill-equipped brave-hearts of India’s armed forces to confront a well-organized Chinese assault and perish in the icy Himalayan wastes.

Such national political and military reverses have much wider foreign-policy implications. The defeat suffered by India in 1962 prompted a Jihad-minded Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to triumphantly proclaim a prostrate India’s capital could be captured and manoeuvre the Pakistani military dictator, Ayub Khan, into attacking India in 1965. The recent Ladakh setback reinforces Chinese territorial claims, creates a psychological disadvantage for India in any future negotiation of an agreed international boundary, and, once again, constitutes an invitation to Pakistani adventurism. Perhaps the United Progressive Alliance and its disgraceful leaders perversely imagine domestic political mileage in the Ladakh failure, even vindicated by the Karnataka assembly election outcome. But at bottom, it constitutes yet another nail in the coffin of India’s aspirations for regional power status and a much larger loss of international prestige. No wonder the Indian prime minister was treated with indifferent disregard by the third-rate leader of second-rate South Africa during the BRIC summit.

Army Chief Bikram SinghThe second United Progressive Alliance government misspent huge political energy and inflicted untold damage on India’s armed forces in its bid to emplace the current chief of staff through an astonishing public mission to discredit the incumbent, General V.K. Singh. The competence of his successor must now be in some doubt though perhaps the calibre of senior officers in Indian armed forces is increasingly judged by the number of golf courses they manage to build and their golfing handicap. The commander of the 3 infantry division apparently busied himself with the gallant task of building a zoo in Leh while Pakistani intruders infiltrated a key height, Tiger Hill, in Kargil. He ignored warnings from a tough Colonel, whom I happen to know personally, although the commander of XV Corps was equally responsible for cavalier disregard of pleas for reinforcements.

The United Progressive Alliance has also precipitated conditions for growing involvement of India’s armed forces in kickbacks from hardware and supply purchases, demoralising other ranks. The price of the Manmohan Singh government’s profound damage to India and its integrity will become apparent should the non-commissioned ranks fail to be inspired in the field of combat by officers they judge immoral and unfit to lead.

India does not have the worst prime minister imaginable since independence on account of the fact that it has no prime minister at all in the true sense. It is being run by a treasonous kitchen cabal presided over by a lowly factotum, a political secretary, massively engaged in compromising the Indian Constitution. The cabal is preoccupied with the United Progressive Alliance retaining political power at all cost and shielding the worst plunderers the nation has known since Nadir Shah and Robert Clive. Quite clearly, the so-called Union of ministers and their medley of reprehensible spokespersons, not least the dishonourable duo, Mani Aiyar and Manish Tewari, do not subscribe to notions of shame or decency.

Congress wins Karnataka 2013They and their colleagues have no time or scope to govern since the preoccupation is with unrelenting robbery and miserable spin, now evidently rejuvenated by the Karnataka electoral outcome. This distraction from the principal task of diligent governance is the reason for India’s defeat in Ladakh. The government is too busy protecting its own from investigation by the Supreme Court to pay attention to the serious business of defending national integrity and prestige.

The outcome of the Karnataka elections deepens the sense of impending doom because India’s incomprehensible voters are apparently prepared to countenance utter national rout provided the retreat occurs along orderly caste lines. The contemporary upholders of the legacy of empire in Britain, which catalysed caste and religious divisions so effectively, more than a century ago, might be feeling exultant at the sight of pesky Hindus, as they regarded nationalist protesters, poised to finally have their comeuppance. And it is a testament to the despair of many that Narendra Modi’s assumption of political power nationally is viewed as the only way to halt India’s ignominious decline. Whether he will succeed against the determined opposition of a politically bankrupt central leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party remains to be seen. However, the principal architects of the BJP’s Karnataka self-immolation have had their collective noses comprehensively rubbed in the ground. Yet one cannot underestimate the baneful resilience of the real estate, mining and other assorted mafias in India. Among these luminaries is Hasan Ali Khan who appears to have extended his largesse to the hypocritical protagonists of political morality in the Lok Sabha.

Should Narendra Modi become prime minister overcoming the anti-national forces massively arrayed against him, he would have his work cut out on many fronts. He will inherit a mandate worse than the poisoned chalice of financial disaster and economic ruin handed to Barack Obama, if only because India is a much poorer country. He will be new to foreign policy-making, but there exists in Delhi a nationalist constituency of serving and former Indian Foreign Service officers and commentators able to augment his reflections on the urgent issues India confronts.

Narendra ModiAmong the options he might consider is a comprehensive policy of containment for Pakistan. Reducing interaction with that villainous entity to an absolute minimum should be India’s default setting without the embarrassment of Manmohan Singh’s Sharm el-Sheikh missteps and what one retired Research and Analysis Wing officer recently denounced as policies towards Pakistan emanating from abroad. China needs to be deterred militarily and diplomatically, requiring the accelerated creation of mountain divisions as reserves. India should also stop pussyfooting about some major diplomatic options that could be exercised. The United States’ concern for India’s welfare in the face of Pakistani-sponsored terrorism has failed to take material form. This chimera should cease to be the article of faith that the Indo-US nuclear accord had made it.

Instead, careful consideration might be given to treaty arrangements with Japan and Vietnam and perhaps other Asian neighbours, defining the circumstances in which they will offer specific assistance to each other. One additional option would be joint production of critical military hardware that the Defence Research and Development Organization has failed to produce despite decades of expenditure and effort. Japan might find it attractive to overcome post-war treaty and domestic commitments to produce major items of defence hardware in India and co-operate on nuclear defence issues as well. Vietnam could also become a partner in a bilateral or tripartite relationship in this context.

Finally, Narendra Modi’s advisers should pay serious attention to the deteriorating relationship with Russia and the basis for continuing arms acquisition from it. The cooling of the Indo-Russian relationship has been prompted, in part, by inadequate concern for long-term international political realities and a possible overestimation of the benefits of substantial diversification of arms acquisition, perhaps because of kickbacks. Nothing has been sacred for the supreme leadership of the United Progressive Alliance and its fingerprints are visible all over this unpardonable crime. – NewsInsight, 10 May 2013

» Dr Gautam Sen has taught Political Economy at the London School of Economics.