A letter was doing rounds on Twitter last week, written in 1981 by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to what seems like a Kashmiri Pandit acquaintance in New York identified as Dr (Mrs) N Mitra. Gandhi communicates helplessness at her inability to do anything to address the distress of Pandits in the Valley and the Buddhists in Ladakh, as she could not face the heat from a difficult press – both domestic and foreign. As 2019 bids adieu, Buddhist Ladakh is a Union Territory that breathes free of the complexities of the valley, with the rest of the Jammu and Kashmir charting what seems like a slow but steady recovery from the clutches of separatism. I write this on a day when the modern-day equivalent of Oxygen of life, internet, has been partially restored across Kashmir. Narendra Modi just chose to do it.
What began as a test of tough love in the post-Burhan Wani cauldron of 2016 in Kashmir, got sharpened with the Doklam standoff with China in 2017, and by the close of 2019 has got institutionalized as the Modi government’s hard state doctrine, hopefully permanently addressing a long-standing charge of the strategic community of the country that India punched below its weight as it was a soft state. Here I list ten big-ticket markers of that hard-state institutionalisation.
- Balakot: India carried out its first known surgical strike in 2015 along the border with Myanmar against the Naga insurgents, made it more punitive and public with Uri in 2016, but Operation Bandar by the Indian Air Force taking out the JeM seminary in Balakot marked an escalation that underscored the resolve to make enemy misadventures disproportionately expensive. I personally know there were jitters of an uncontrolled escalation, but then as they say courage is not absence of fear but control of fear. With Balakot strike, India showed how it had evolved the offensive defence doctrine.
- Cornering Pakistan: For almost the entire first term, the Modi government fiddled with its Pakistan policy from sentimental Lahore dash to furtive Ufa process. It looked like it was falling between two stools with the Pindi generals having the last laugh. Not anymore. Denying Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status was so effective that despite bravado, Pakistan has twice changed its rules to buy medicines and other crucial goods from India. The kind of clarity that has emerged post-Pulwama in India’s security establishment on giving no quarters to Pakistan and brooking no indulgence has put the neighbour in a pincer. Proof? From top generals to PM Imran Khan have spoken of the possibility of a false flag operation by India at least five times in last five months.
- A-SAT: It attracted politicking charge as it happened during election campaign, but it was a statement of intent not limited to the western neighbour. The anti-satellite (A-SAT) test demonstrating India’s capability to handle anti-kinetic weapons in space was a not so subtle message to China that Doklam was not a one-off affair.
- ICJ: While approaching the International Court of Justice at the Hague itself was an act of nimble-footed flummoxing of the enemy, the manner in which the might of Indian state was used to make sure Pakistan lost the case reflected an aggression and willingness to project India’s power in international arena like we have not seen in recent history.
- Article 370/35-A: Speaking a day after the Pulwama terrorist attack, Modi said “Pakistan has made a big mistake. It shall not go unanswered.” If the Pakistani deep state thought the warning got over with Balakot, then they have invested very poorly in understanding Narendra Modi. It is still a work in progress, but Modi and his Home Minister Amit Shah have secured their name in history for this one act.
- Inviting BIMSTEC: Having made SAARC redundant post-Uri terror attack, the Modi government took isolating Pakistan to next level, inviting BIMSTEC to his oath-taking ceremony, including mo
- Nuclear triad: Though this had been in the making for some time, the induction of nuclear-capable submarine INS Arihant this year made India the only country outside the P5 (permanent five) members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to have the capability of projecting nuclear weapons through all three arms – Army, Navy, and the Air Force.
- Muscle flexing in South China Sea: Apart from increased Navy patrols in the troubled waters of the South China Sea that is claimed by China to the exclusion of rest, India also supplied war frigates to Vietnam, and a submarine to Myanmar for patrolling the same waters, Wuhan spirit notwithstanding.
- RCEP: Despite multiple attempts at influencing the tariff structure, the manner in which the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was shaping, it would have given a free trade area to China through the backdoor, seriously compromising India’s trade balance. While it is not good to close the doors to the world, Modi government did show courage to not buckle under the weight of international pressure just to be the Mr. Nice Guy.
- CDS: The creation of the new post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) and the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) within the Ministry of Defence shows Modi has executed a long-felt need of the strategic community to make India’s defence architecture more agile and responsive to the ever-changing security environment. The sweeping changes would hopefully bring intended results in terms of power projection.