The uncertain course of India’s political and economic development in recent years raises the question of whether our policy framework is in sync with our own strategic culture at all, or has become a captive of some borrowed doctrinaire approaches packed into an arid planning process.
The strategic culture of a people is a product of their awareness of the national identity and commons, their shared perceptions of the world outside, and their historical memory.
Three planks of our strategic culture that can be easily identified provide a good diagnostics of what ails India today.
First, India’s strategic culture always promoted and held in great esteem entrepreneurship and legitimate wealth creation. As a nation of sea-faring people our mythology is full of stories of our merchants sailing across turbulent waters and returning with fruits of their enterprise to a great welcome by the society at large.
Even the king bestowed honors on them and recognised them as trustees of the wealth they had created – an idea that Mahatma Gandhi tried to put into the nation’s psyche after Independence.
Many of India’s rich did have the social image of a giver and a philanthropist. The growth story of India premised on liberalisation, encouragement to investment, and legitimacy of profits that got mired in corruption, which caused a disconnect between wealth and respectability, between development and equity, and between political power and public service.
In the mid-90s the Vohra Committee report on the politician-bureaucracy-criminal nexus might look harsh but has been proven right by events in subsequent years. The line of separation between those who benefit from the system and a much larger number of common people who feel left out, is what helped the rise of the slogan of political empowerment of the ordinary citizen on one hand and the spread of Left-wing extremism, on the other.
We have not defined the contours of an Indian model of development within the overarching globalisation that would among other things, take care of the special needs of a nation of 1.25 billion two-thirds of whom are below 35 years in age.
The unfortunate reality of 65 per cent dropout rate at the middle school and the alarming situation in the area of child health, caused weakening of the nation, which is reason enough for us to declare education and health as ‘strategic’ sectors making Centre the prime player in their management, of course with adequate involvement of the States.
There is private investment in higher education and specialised hospitals as they are good business too, but the lower half of the two verticals of education and health will always fall in the lap of the State in a developing country like ours.
This is only one illustration of how our economic security will not be guaranteed by any borrowed strategies.
The second defining paradigm of our strategic culture is that people of India place national security above everything else – even above their personal concerns of poverty and want. They want the defenses of the country to be built up to a point where they created an effective deterrence for the enemy.
In a historical perspective our strategic culture has always favored a strong security and intelligence infrastructure in the service of the State. If a non-hegemonic country like India which is also a nuclear weapon state adopted the doctrine of ‘no first use’ this had to be backed with an effective ‘second strike’ capability.
The strategy would hold if we worked for having a veto in the global decisions on world peace and harmony. We are not there at all.
Finally, the substratum of our strategic culture that guaranteed harmonious existence of a multiplicity of customs and creeds under the Indian umbrella is being damaged by our polity. The politics of India had to be in tune with the call of ‘one man one vote’ that a democracy rested on.
The Hindu-Muslim divide perpetuated under the cover of the majority-minority debate affects India’s stability. Our strategic culture validated the principle that political governance would not be affected by faith-based identities. Sage Charwak, the protagonist of atheism, was a respectable figure in the court of Ram.
In the hierarchy of human enlargement the ‘cultural’, ‘social’ and the ‘political’ represent the shift from personal to the national domain. Culture – largely fashioned by faith – determined one’s personal value system. Social sphere put an obligation on everybody to follow some do’s and don’ts in interacting with others, and this included respecting each other’s faith.
The political aspect demanded living under a common umbrella. A potential threat to our domestic front after Independence is the projection of religion into electoral politics. The line between secularism and appeasement encourages this.
Our leadership must realise India’s vulnerability to a communal divide has prompted a hostile neighbour to manipulate Indian Mujahideen for its proxy war objectives against us.
If we get our strategic culture right we must not mix politics with religion and security. This is the single most crucial requirement of India’s internal stability and integrity.