Review of "Security Policy of India: Modi Doctrine"
As a topic of public interest, security very rarely makes its way to the top of the Indian public’s list; petty politics, the lives of Bollywood stars and even vegetable prices often take precedence in the fish market that is the Indian media outlet. However, this seeming constancy of the Indian public’s apathy for security policy and security issues changed with the Union government’s ‘surgical strikes’ in Pakistan-held territory in response to a terror attack on a military base in Uri on 18 September 2016. Suddenly, security was in vogue. The details of the attack, and more importantly, India’s response to the same, were in the news almost continuously in the immediate aftermath and the Army’s surgical strikes at the end of the same month further pulled in the media’s attention to national security.
It was in this environment that Col Dr Narendar Singh’s (Retd) “Security Policy of India: The Modi Doctrine” was written, before its release in March 2017. Col Singh does not claim to stand on neutral ground, writing that he draws on his experiences as a soldier and military man before going on to admonish the Indian media, in true military fashion. Singh is not unaware of his biases, noting that while he tried to be neutral on the more controversial topics, “the assertive habits of being a professional soldier cannot easily be set aside.” His military background is most evident, however, in the clear and concise language used, allowing Singh to simplify complex facets of strategic theory.
The ‘assertive habits’ show up several times throughout the book, at times in less than reassuring ways. Statements like “In fact, all who raised this issue, including editors of the Indian Express, should be tried for high treason in strategic and security interest of the nation” do not inspire much confidence in the neutrality of any author – and certainly not of their respect for the media. However, despite some statements to that effect on points of minor importance, Narendar Singh does a remarkable job staying neutral on the bigger questions and on technical points, refusing to resort to data manipulation or fact obfuscation as would most politicians. Singh’s Nehru-bashing, while entertaining in parts, is frustratingly detailed, bordering on the irrelevant and is too often a waste of Singh’s analytical talents.
Singh begins the book by exploring the history of strategic thought and the intersection between history, international relations and power. Singh goes into immense detail, covering concepts as well as their history and development; for example, he discusses how in the Western world, Greek ideas of strategy and war were built upon by the French and then the Germans. However, his primary focus is on Indian conceptions of strategy and statehood and he refers extensively to Chanakya and more modern Indian theorists, such as Anand Coomaraswamy. The effect of such detail and depth is that the reader is armed with immense detail and background going forward, which helps immensely when Singh moves into his discussion of India’s relationship with its neighbours and then its relationship with the ‘world powers’.
Despite the fact that a lot of his early descriptions and comments are in line with the broad nationalist/RSS-BJP conception of what India should do in the international arena, Singh’s predictions and proposals are at times significantly divergent from the RSS-BJP line. He advocates ‘tough love’ with Nepal, urging the government to repeal its visa-free regime for Nepali citizens and to and focuses on Iran and Israel to the detriment of the Arab nations – fully aware of how difficult it will be in the Indian circumstance. Even where there is a seeming agreement, such as on policy with Bangladesh and Myanmar, Singh’s view differs in the details. If anything, aside from a short overview of the Modi government’s actions relevant to foreign policy and security, Singh seems to avoid focusing on the Modi government’s policy on national security, preferring instead to advance his own ideas of what an ideal national security apparatus should look like, mentioning Modi only when his views align with Modi’s actions - rather unusual practice in a book titled “The Modi Doctrine”. Kashmir is also a notable exception; while he does discuss the issue, he refrains from suggesting any clear policy on the same.
No book on security and terrorism is complete in our generation without at least a chapter on radical and political Islam and it is here that Singh’s eye for detail and disregard for political correctness shines. Singh identifies several militant Islamist movements in the Indian subcontinent and identifies their origin not to the upheavals in the Islamic world caused by the Iranian Revolution and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan as often cited, but to movements dating back to the early 20th century during the Indian independence movement. Singh very clearly draws on the work of Maher Shiraz in this regard, preferring to attribute radical Islam to the participants themselves and not to global politics. it is interesting then, that the Kashmir situation doesn't explicitly fall into this category. Singh on one hand clearly states and identifies Pakistani support of terrorist movements in Kashmir, and the role of militant Islam in the same, he takes care to insist that this support is of a manufactured cause, and not one endorsed by the people, as in other radical Islamist causes around the globe and country. It would be interesting to see Singh’s take on India’s precarious situation on its border with Bangladesh, and more importantly of the various radicalization programs taking place in the state of West Bengal.
There are few authors with Singh’s ability to understand the Indian geopolitical story. He discusses the strategic significance of Bhutan to India and notes that the Doklam plateau is key – several months before India and China’s current and ongoing standoff over the very same plateau. Nonetheless, predictions as accurate as his flatter to deceive in a book that should have focused on the way ahead more than it did on Nehru’s failures.
by Nikhil Mishra