Earlier last month PLA tanks retreated briskly from forward position in the Pangong plains

by Lt Gen Kamal Davar (Retd)

Since its independence, India with its sub continental geographical vastness and diversity in countless and unfathomable dimensions, has never been an easy country to govern. Yet its adherence to democratic values, tolerance towards all—despite some hiccups off and on—its economic rise, political stability and growing military strength, India, by all standards, remains an example to emulate for most developing nations in the world. India’s rise as an emerging global player can hardly be questioned.

Having witnessed a catastrophic 2020 where, owing to the Chinese originated Wuhan virus, the world experienced unprecedented misery, lakhs of fatalities and millions afflicted with the COVID 19 pandemic and consequently economic upheavals, 2021 now heralds some hope for betterment for the entire humanity. India too is beset with countless problems currently inherited from the external environment and some, definitely, self-afflicted. Thus it will be eminently prudent for the Modi government 2.0 to carry out in-depth analyses of its policies and undertake mid-course corrections, where required, after 2 years of its rule. It brooks no emphasis to state that governance wisdom lies in continually addressing national challenges with alacrity, dedication and importantly, selflessness.

The ongoing Eastern Ladakh conflict with an overly ambitious and revisionist China, is far from over and India better be prepared for a localized kinetic conflict with the melting of the snows in the strategically important Aksai Chin, especially in the Sub Sector North region. The Corps Commander level talks between the two neighbours appear to have hit a roadblock after some agreement on the disengagement in the Pangong Tso and Galwan sectors. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had stated in Parliament, a couple of weeks ago that serious differences towards disengagement in some other sub-sectors in Ladakh persisted. Thus India will have to muster not only diplomatic finesse in handling the capricious Chinese but the now well deployed and adequately strong Indian Armed Forces will have to be prepared for all eventualities. Anyway, the Chinese can be suitably handled militarily by the Indian Armed Forces. The Chinese are more than aware of the superior fighting skills of the Indians. Nevertheless, the Indian government must analyse the reasons and responsibility for the intelligence lapse in April-May 2020 in Eastern Ladakh wherein the huge Chinese build-up to the west of their Aksai Chin R 219 Highway went undetected initially. The stronger the Indian government stands vis-a-vis China in the current impasse will history record favourably PM Narendra Modi. Perhaps his direct intervention with Chinese President Xi Jinping settling matters may be worth giving a shot. That the Chinese are sitting inside in some portions of our territory in Eastern Ladakh is public knowledge, widely reported by the global media with the C-in-C US Pacific Command also testifying before their Senate Committee that the Chinese have not vacated the gains made in Eastern Ladakh. India must press for a permanent settlement of the LAC with China, otherwise this problem will lead to conflicts in the future too.

Equally on the security front, Pakistan with myriad problems on its hands will hardly be in a position to initiate any major mischief against India. Barring being forced into some provocation against India by its mentor, China, Pakistan’s establishment fully comprehends the outcome of any misadventure by it against India. The recently concluded Cease-Fire Agreement for the Line of Control (LC) between India and Pakistan however, augurs well for the two nations.

Meanwhile, India must keep up its guard inside J&K and ensure that any terrorist oriented activities from across are dealt with firmly and gradually minimized. There will be no harm for the senior Indian political leadership to engage with the Abdullah and Mufti families and bring them on board on the futility of their persisting with Articles 370 and 35A. However, a watchful eye on reports of growing Wahhabism, the reported presence of IS elements in the Valley and money laundering needs to be scrupulously monitored by Indian intelligence agencies. Pakistan’s ISI has not displayed so far getting over its J&K obsession. Pakistan, however, comprehends the strong Indian retaliation which may take place in case it indulges in any major terrorist action in J&K or elsewhere.

It is a commonly accepted fact that India’s major problems traditionally lie within. Internal cohesion and unity inside the nation can thwart all diverse challenges to it. However, regrettably, this aspect has been thrown to the winds primarily owing to transient electoral considerations by some political parties. If this growing tendency is not discarded, it will give birth to many fissiparous tendencies within the nation which it can ill-afford. India’s top political leadership, cutting across all hues and ideologies, will have to shed any communal and partisan tendencies for the overall national good.

The Centre, must speedily address the farmers agitation for not only it is causing great hardships to the common farmers in North India but will adversely affect agricultural production in the country besides giving India a bad press internationally. Just one statesmanlike act of repealing the Farm Laws will bring not only succour to the farmers but infuse peace and harmony to a large number of our toiling brethren. The government, after repealing the aforesaid laws, can establish an agricultural commission to go into various aspects agitating the farmers and the government’s own policies to improve agricultural practices in the country. The PM’s direct intervention will certainly assist the resolution of the impasse. Many well-intentioned citizens of the nation have been writing frequently on the freedom of the media and the independence of India’s constitutionally mandated institutions. Both are critically vital pillars of the state and their functioning has thus to be far pious than Caesar’s wife’s reputation. Unfortunately, in public perception it is not so. The Hon’ble Supreme Court must suo moto take cognizance of any such anomalies and address these with vigour and firmness.

Most economists in India and some abroad unanimously opine of the current prevalence of a severely economically stressed environment. The government must take into confidence well reputed finance, industrialists, scholars and economics experts within the country to suggest measures to repair the faltering economy. The government must seriously consider taking stringent steps against those managing and responsible for debt-ridden non-performing assets. The huge number of such defaulters—whoever they are—need to be severely dealt with as per the laws of the land. In addition, unnecessary governmental expenditures needs to be eliminated as part of the exercise for improving fiscal discipline in the country. Importantly, financial bureaucrats and other governmental advisers must not forsake their professional responsibilities at the altar of pleasing political masters.

The Modi government’s efforts in fostering better relations with its neighbours and with other major powers in the world cannot be criticized. However, to achieve total success in all its policies is well nigh possible. The latest initiative to despatch Covid vaccines to a very large number of nations in the world has been highly appreciated by the recipient nations.

Despite earlier reservations, it is becoming abundantly clear now that the newly established Biden administration will be following, overall, predictable and sane policies, on most vexed issues whether it is China and its expansionist tendencies, Iran, nuclear proliferation, Israel and Palestine, terrorism, the Indo-Pacific, global trade et al. Thus it will be eminently advisable for India to keep its plate clean as regards certain irksome issues, mostly internal, and work towards an equal and mutually beneficial partnership with the global superpower. Without forsaking its traditional strategic autonomy, India and US must work out a roadmap to achieve strategic convergence in various areas and their relations will define the outcome of many global problems especially those to combat an overly assertive China with its unbridled regional and global ambitions.

As India endeavours to fend off Chinese conceived machinations in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar and the larger Indo Pacific region, India must impress upon the Quad nations to formalize a strategy to keep China in check. It is imperative that Quad must ensure an internationally accepted rules-based order for all who sail through the Bay of Bengal, East and South China seas. It is time that the Quad, even without any formal military alliances sets up SOPs to manage Chinese naval bullying in the waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.

Newly appointed US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit to India is harbinger of deepening India-US defence ties. India must emphasise to the US not to be in a hurry to exit Kabul and leave the poor Afghans at the mercy of the medieval Afghan Taliban. In the Doha parleys, many analysts opine that already too much has been given away to the Taliban for hardly any assurances regarding cease-fire from their side. India must get far more proactive on the Afghan front by endeavouring to get US, Russia, Iran, the Ashraf Ghani government and itself on board for a consensus on permanent peace and stability for Afghanistan.

These are indeed challenging times for India and thus the Modi government 2.0 must carry out mid course corrections in spheres where and as required. Every nation faces countless crises and accordingly, adaptability and alacrity in decision-making is imperative. India, confident of itself, does not ever has to be in denial. Arrogance and intolerance towards those with differing opinions is self-defeating. India with its intrinsic wisdom and adherence to its ancient civilizational values embellished with constitutional norms passed on by the nation’s noble founding fathers makes us more than ready to confront and surmount all emerging challenges to the nation.