You are here: Home » Beyond Business » Books
Business Standard

Framing the debate on national security

A collection of essays frames India's security challenges as emanating from internal and external threats, by state and non-state actors

Nitin Pai 

One big challenge in teaching - and studying - national security policy in India is the lack of good textbooks. This shortcoming affects not just national security but most aspects of public policy. Most of the that exist are written in the narrative tradition, recounting events chronologically - or at times thematically - but seldom in an analytical style. Consequently, one has to rely on written by foreign authors even with the attendant disadvantage of having to deal with unfamiliar examples from different political contexts. Therefore, that attempt to bring in analytical perspectives in discussing India's policy issues address an important need.

India's National Security: A Reader, part of the Oxford University Press series on "Critical Issues in Indian Politics", is a compilation of essays, papers and extracts that covers topics in internal security, nuclear strategy and defence reforms. Editors Kanti P Bajpai and Harsh V Pant have curated a dozen readings that provide a very good foundation in what might be called "traditional" national security issues. Both editors teach the subject, and the book benefits from their experience in what an essential national security syllabus must contain.

The editors frame India's security challenges as emanating from internal and external threats, by state and non-state actors. Given the inward-looking grand strategic goals of India's political leaders, it is appropriate to start the book with internal security. The centrepiece of this section is K P S Gill's riveting account of the how the insurgency in Punjab was defeated. Mr Gill unambiguously accords the successful counter-insurgency campaign to the use of force. He is dismissive of political overtures, especially those made by prime ministers V P Singh and Chandra Shekhar, blaming them for reversing the gains made in the preceding years. (To be fair to them, Sanjoy Hazarika credits the latter with giving the army the leeway to put the screws on the militants in Assam.)

It was the Narasimha Rao government that gave the security forces the necessary space to decimate the strength of the militant groups and finish off the insurgency. Mr Gill reminds us of the "cooperative command" relationship between the police and the army, where police officers would be attached to army formations and carry out joint operations.

Praveen Swami is among the few who write on the subject to trace back the roots of Pakistan's support for militancy in Jammu and Kashmir to 1947. His essay brings out the reality that the violence in the state is intimately connected with the preoccupations of the Pakistani state, and an ideological agenda that goes well beyond the boundaries of the state. His conclusion is chilling enough to warrant a concentration of minds: "No simple resolution is possible till one or the other system succumbs - [India must] mirror the Pakistani model to reinvent itself as an exclusionary Hindu state ... or Pakistan must find a way to reimagine the basis of its own national identity."

Several chapters in the book attempt to relate Indian practice with what theory suggests. This is problematic from a methodological point of view. Social science theories - especially in strategic and security studies -are based on Western experience. It should, therefore, not be surprising if Indian reality does not conform to what theory suggests. It would be wrong, though, to blame Western scholarship for this, for few Indian scholars attempt to evolve analytical frameworks based on observed practice and policy outcomes in India.

Essays in the two sections on nuclear weapons are particularly well chosen. From Bharat Karnad's discussion on "Traditional Indian statecraft, Mahatma Gandhi and the Atom Bomb" to a debate between Sumit Ganguly and S Paul Kapur on whether nuclear weapons have brought strategic stability to the subcontinent, the reader is exposed to various aspects of India's complex relationship with nuclear weapons.

Standing out prominently are the late K Subrahmanyam's personal recollections of India's nuclear policy from 1964 to 1998. These provide authoritative answers to "why India did what it did" on the most important questions concerning nuclear weapons. It is safe to say that one's education on the subject is incomplete without reading Subrahmanyam's account. An extract from George Perkovich's book on India's nuclear bomb supplements this by providing a detailed account of the Vajpayee government's decision to conduct the Pokhran-II nuclear tests in 1998.

Curators of a book of this nature face the acute dilemma of balancing coverage and thickness. It must cover as much as possible without becoming too fat. So while Anit Mukherjee's important essay on defence reforms makes it into the volume, a number of topics ranging from cyber security to environmental security do not. Also, many of the essays were first published five to ten years ago, which implies that the curators have chosen vintage for the cutting edge. This does come at the cost of missing out on more recent advances in our knowledge.

The reviewer is director of the Takshashila Institution, a public policy think tank

Edited by Kanti P Bajpai and Harsh V Pant
Oxford University Press; 496 pages; £32.50

Dear Reader,

Business Standard has always strived hard to provide up-to-date information and commentary on developments that are of interest to you and have wider political and economic implications for the country and the world. Your encouragement and constant feedback on how to improve our offering have only made our resolve and commitment to these ideals stronger. Even during these difficult times arising out of Covid-19, we continue to remain committed to keeping you informed and updated with credible news, authoritative views and incisive commentary on topical issues of relevance.
We, however, have a request.

As we battle the economic impact of the pandemic, we need your support even more, so that we can continue to offer you more quality content. Our subscription model has seen an encouraging response from many of you, who have subscribed to our online content. More subscription to our online content can only help us achieve the goals of offering you even better and more relevant content. We believe in free, fair and credible journalism. Your support through more subscriptions can help us practise the journalism to which we are committed.

Support quality journalism and subscribe to Business Standard.

Digital Editor

First Published: Tue, July 09 2013. 21:25 IST