The discourse on matters strategic and national security in India has always been a matter of what-ifs and missed opportunities. A lack of coherence in protecting our national interests and half baked initiatives that mostly play to the gallery is the only common thread in our brief seven decades since Independence. In the information age too, we have shown this trait, wherein nations that were never considered a competition a mere decade and a half back like China has pulled far ahead. I recently attended a book launch at the Constitution Club for Data Sovereignty: The Pursuit of Supremacy. A compilation of essays by some of my fellow travellers, whom I have had the good fortune to interact with over the years in making the Indian citizen aware of the pitfalls of embracing the Information Age blindly.
Speaker after speaker very frankly elucidated on the nuances of the information age, surveillance capitalism, information warfare etc. Matters I have attempted to highlight in my various essays and talks delivered in the last few years. The most important of the speeches was finally delivered by the Chief Guest Shri Sunil Ambekar, the National Organising Secretary of the ABVP the student wing of the ruling party the BJP. The speech in Hindi showed a remarkable understanding of the nuances of the strategic contours of the information age and to my surprise touched upon the naivete of the government in initially blindly accepting offers of free internet connectivity by foreign ICT giants and sweet talk of a global village while ruthlessly pursuing data colonisation. The acceptance of naivete by a senior party functionary promises a new change in Indian strategic discourse and marks this government as one that has India’s best interests in mind.
The acceptance of naivete by a senior party functionary promises a new change in Indian strategic discourse and marks this government as one that has India’s best interests in mind.
The Military Dimension. The ABC of military language is accuracy, brevity and clarity. In normal discourse, it might be classified as blunt. The military over its very long evolution has understood the necessity of accuracy, brevity and clarity in communications. Misunderstandings are paid with blood. Euphemisms, on the other hand, are usually used by speakers to package policy or an idea made attractive through disingenuous or flowery language. In speech or writing, we usually use euphemisms for dealing with sensitive subjects. It can, therefore, be called the language of evasion, hypocrisy, and even deceit; the language of the Durbar. But to categorise all euphemisms in only its negative connotations would be unfair, as they also soften the harsh, and smoothen the rough.
In the Indian context, where the citizens are multilinguistic and multicultural, to use euphemisms in seminars and workshops on policy formulation, can be hugely misleading and easily misunderstood by the audience. Seminars and workshops are useful tools to disseminate knowledge on new topics in policymaking. In such situations to use euphemisms to handle difficult realities are dangerous and self-defeating. The temptations to use euphemisms in situations that are difficult to justify are understandable but needs to be eschewed. Now that in a very public book launch that had many luminaries from the government and the military in attendance speaking bluntly, the military needs to do some introspection on its approach to the subject of ICT de novo.
It is not the military leadership’s job to defend or justify poor and incoherent policymaking by civil servants not responsible for the military defence of India, especially in internal debates. In fact, it is the bounden duty of the military leadership to highlight policy initiatives that make it difficult for the military to uphold their constitutional responsibilities of the defence of India. Cyberspace was not considered a venue for military activity when the IT act was enacted. The military now needs to take the leadership role in ensuring suitable amendments to this act by engaging with think tanks and the law ministry to sponsor a bill which would reflect current strategic realities.
Likewise, it has been opined that the Defence Procurement Procedure and Defence Procurement Manual are de facto, tailor-made for import. This policy has limited relevance for the information age and the realities of the post-Snowden world; both militarily and economically for the Indian nation. These need to be amended and draft amendments need to be circulated for comments from all stakeholders. As a senior bureaucrat confided in me, “the military has the tendency to blame the bureaucracy for a variety of ills plaguing the system, but nothing prevents the military from coming out with draft amendments to existing policies and putting it out for comments.”
For the Indian military then, not to take the leadership role in ensuring that a domestic ecosystem of companies is formed to build our 5G networks will be an arguable abdication of constitutional responsibilities.
Modi 2.0 is a government widely perceived to have won a resounding mandate partly due to proactive measures on national security issues. It has also made certain fundamental changes to India’s economic fabric by launching schemes like Make in India and Startup India that is both, still a work in progress. The Prime Minister in his first term was reported to have found the military leadership unimaginative in his interactions. This is a sharp indictment of the Indian military and can be reversed by the military taking proactive measures to build on indigenous technologies that can substantially augment government policies and make them successful. The Raksha Mantri and the MoD will have to take the lead in this and give the necessary political backing for the military to achieve this. One such field is 5G wherein numerous MSMEs have niche technologies that need to be stitched together and handheld to be made into a coherent whole for forming a viable ecosystem.
A 5G network built on foreign technology will render the central nervous system of modern India under the control of other nations. For the Indian military then, not to take the leadership role in ensuring that a domestic ecosystem of companies is formed to build our 5G networks will be an arguable abdication of constitutional responsibilities. I say this as a 5G network built by other nations will render a military defence of India at the mercies of the foreign OEM.
There will be many that might not agree with my views and cry military overreach, but to them the naysayers; let me quote the example of a COAS who started Mission Olympics in 2001 that has given modest but sure dividends to the nation. No one cried then, that the military is stepping on the toes of the sports ministry! Such actions will make the Indian military more relevant to the Indian economy and reverse the perception of an unimaginative military. The military has a choice to make, to cry hoarse on its relative decline vis a vis, the bureaucracy or show the path to the nation by taking a leadership position and reverse its marginalisation in national security.