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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 46 New Delhi November 3, 2018

National Security Adviser Sermonises on National Governance

A Hard Approach Ignoring Inherent Weaknesses

Saturday 3 November 2018

by Gautam Sen

India’s National Security Adviser (NSA), Ajit Doval, has given a clarion call for a strong and decisive government for at least ten years, while delivering the latest Sarder Patel Memorial Lecture entitled “Dream India : 2030”. The NSA has rationalised his advocacy on grounds of national consolidation, economic growth and international stature. This is unexceptional. However, the NSA, in the course of his lecture, has also dwelt on many issues like requirement of a strong government, against a multi-party-based government which he has forecast as weak and indecisive, incapable of taking hard decisions in national interest, and contrastingly on the requirement of an assertive international policy, etc. The NSA has gone on to advise against so-called false narratives, disinformation campaigns which extensively damage the nation and democracy, and the need to avoid erosion of law for political gain. Furthermore, the NSA has predicted that India would be the third largest economic power in the world by 2030, inter-alia opining that the economic woes of the present and the weakening of the Indian rupee are transient phenomena, and the impact of rising oil prices would be short-lived and the need for our citizens to put up with the present sacrifices for our future well-being. The NSA has also stated that 100 per cent defence technology is being obtained which does not appear to be factual.

All the points made by Doval would have been alright if the NSA was functioning as the political mouthpiece of the present NDA regime even while delivering his oration eulogising the greatness of one of our national stalwarts whose efforts to consolidate India’s polity and nationhood need no emphasis. The officer would have done well if he had spoken on the present security perspective, national and international, which actually is his domain; and the factors which impinge on it in a more wholesome and comprehensive manner encompassing different or rather various facets of the national narratives on a myriad of issues affecting our people at large. It would also have been in the fitness of things if the NSA would have spoken on how the type of hard-line approach he is advocating would lead to optimum outcomes in the international sphere in support of India’s national interests. The NSA could have further highlighted the outcomes of India’s foreign policy in the peripheral context, and to what extent the present government’s policies and actions are impacting our immediate and distant milieu. Doval has just not touched on the huge socio-economic factors, the inequities, the extreme postures on many social, cultural and economic issues, which are jeopardising national cohesiveness. The lecture, unfortunately, does not have the people of this nation as its centricity.

Maoism, Naxalism, fissiparous tendencies, externally inspired and promoted violence have to be dealt with firmly from the security perspective. In this respect, there can be no two opinions. However, their underlying causes have to be perforce obviated. The NSA did not seem to have anything substantive to mention on this aspect. Animosities and differences among castes, communities and people professing different creeds, bedeviling the country at present, have to be controlled by the state and a national narrative built up towards this end, as part of national unity and consolidation efforts. The NSA is either unconcerned on this critical need owing to the political compulsions of his government, or is not consciously convinced on this need which would be regrettable to say the least. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, in whose memory the NSA was delivering the commemorative lecture, was fully conscious of the above-referred needs throughout his lifetime.

Finally, Doval‘s opinion on the negativities of multi-party governance vis-à-vis a strong, single-party rule and that too for a decade, cannot but be regarded as a political statement and, as has been termed by a large section of our media, a reflection of the ruling dispensation‘s fear of a prospective multi-party government. The remarks are so inapposite for a national lecture, considering its skewed approach and parti-cularly because, there is nothing on record to show that Sardar Patel, in whose memory the NSA was lecturing, had ever opined as such during his lifetime or in the nascent days of our independent life. It would have been redeeming if the NSA had suggested that, notwithstanding a multi-party government coming to power, the essentials of maintaining the rule of law and the authority of the state, be considered as prerequisites for democratic governance and be not lost sight of, while the state works towards alleviation of economic deprivation and inequities in many areas.

Moreover, there are factual inaccuracies in the memorial speech. For example, the observation on 100 per cent transfer of technology for defence, is not understandable and on the face of it, inaccurate. The statement on oil prices declining in the near future, is also not sustainable on fundamental international economic trends. A substantial content of our defence related technology continues to be obtained under license from foreign sources. It will be a gross controversion of facts to claim that for our entire defence systems, whatever we need from the technology transfer angle, is being obtained. Are there no areas where, further foreign technology is needed? It however could be that the NSA was trying to take credit for reduced political or strategic constraints in obtaining foreign technology for defence manufacture in India as compared to that one or two decades before. As regards oil prices, the trends indicate that, they would remain at a high threshold for quite some time. The efforts of Crown Prince Salman of Saudi Arabia, one of the most crucial international oil producers, is geared in that direction. US President Trumph‘s efforts with the Crown Prince seem directed towards supporting the Saudi efforts to undermine Iranian and Venezualan efforts to get back to the international oil market and influence prices at a lower band than at present. In other words, there is nothing in the horizon to show that the financial impact of India’s oil needs will be alleviated in the near future. Doval would have done better to enlighten the country on the status of the two strategic oil reserves in the country under execution in Odisha and Rajasthan respectively, and the political strategy vis-à-vis our importer countries in matters of obtaining, on a long-term assured basis, petroleum and petro products and commodities under more economic arrangements to improve our current account balance.

The content of the latest Sardar Patel Memorial Lecture, raises a question on the utility of such august platforms towards building and upholding a national ethos and promoting a national consensus in a democratic spirit. The moot point is whether the platform should be allowed to become a means of propagating a political line in harmony with that of the ruling dispensation.

The author is a retired IDAS officer who has served in senior appointments with the Government of India and two State governments. The views expressed here are personal.

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