Jaswant Singh, a thinking politician, is also a prolific writer with more than a dozen books and impressionistic diaries to his credit. Some of his books has got rave views and created controversies too.
India At Risk, Mistakes, Misconceptions and Misadventures of Security Policy is his latest book seeking a pragmatic regional order for India. The book takes readers through the entire gamut of India’s security concerns starting from 1947. On the basis of his personal experiences and his unique understanding of regional power balances, Jaswant presents a comprehensive picture of the security issues before India.
In an exclusive interview with rediff.com’s Sheela Bhatt, he shares his views on why India is at risk.
Sir, you are saying ‘India is at risk’. Why do you say that? What is the premise of your new book?
I am saying so because the book itself is an examination of the political and military challenges that we have faced from the birth of the country, that is from 1947 onwards. So the first challenge is of course the vivisection of the land. The phrase vivisection was first used by Mahatma Gandhi. It is a cutting of the land and in three weeks time, Cyril Radcliffe drew a line to define the country.
In two weeks time the joint army, which was first established in 1758 in Madras, was broken up. It is an amazing situation. And I do wish to say, as the French said, we must accept the 1947 as the greatest communal riot our land has ever seen. Even Nadir Shah did not do what happened on this land in 1947 and we must also accept that almost 10-20 million humans were killed. We still don’t know how many were uprooted. It was the biggest mass migration that the word has ever seen. Not a single Englishman was killed.
…those who were cause of it.
Who did it? Who called the communal riot of 1947? I treat it as one riot. It was the Congress, the Muslim League and the British combined. We must recognise the reality. So from 1947-1949 the first conflict over Jammu Kashmir happened, then examine 1962 war with China, then the short lived Kutch conflict, then the 1965 war, then the 1971 war, and then you move onto, what I term as the ‘destructive decade of the 1980s’, in which we examine Assam and illegal immigration, we examine Sri Lanka, we examine also the Punjab episode.
Then there are others. We also spend some time on examining the new challenges of the 21st century. The nuclear question etc this is broadly the structure of the book. It is therefore an ambitious project because I am trying to encapsulate the entire 66 years of security experiences with observations, which are political-military.
I also saw what Stephen Cohen says about the book. He said that you are writing, ‘with an appreciation of the importance of a military capability to back up such diplomacy,’ the diplomacy that you are talking about in the book.
Do you still think that after India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear test, military capability is still a vital deterrent?
See what was applicable, what was real in 1998. We have to ask the question that in 1998 what we found as a nuclear policy was based on nuclear being a credible deterrent. Is it still a credible deterrent is what this book attempts to question. Read the book. You’ll get an answer there.
Increasingly people believe that war is not at all the solution for anyone of India’s current security problems and India will have to find political solutions with neighbours with whom we have any issues. Do you agree with that broadly?
I have said in this book that India sits at the junction of four collapsed empires. In the early 20th century, the Ching dynasty of China collapsed that led to a revolution and the whole eastern international boundary of India was thrown into turmoil. In about 1920, the Ottoman empire collapsed, it had consequences for us. It still has. In the middle of the 20th century, the British empire collapsed. The results of that are obvious to us. And thereafter in 1989 the Soviet empire collapsed. Now each of these has had a consequence.
And the consequence is that India’s foreign and security policy has got trapped between four lines. The Macmohan line, the Line of Control, the Line of Actual Control and the Durand line. So our policy has got confined. Unless we break free from these lines, India will never be able to achieve its true status in the world. How do you break free of these lines? By finding an answer.
They must not remain just lines, but they must become recognised international boundaries. India is the only country of its size with the largest land border, undefined after 66 years of independence. These are confinements.
But how can India alone do it?
I am not saying that. You can’t do it alone. This is a bilateral problem. Or is it only bilateral? That is what we have to think and do.
But broadly you agree that war is not the solution. The military cannot be a helpful thing.
The military is a helpful asset. If you read the book you will realise why the military is essential. Can the military alone solve issues? No it can’t.
What is the reason that since 1947, increasingly whenever we meet experts and scholars like you, they always tell us that there is a lack of strategic thinking culture in India? Don’t you think it is currently even so? And, why is it so?
The book attempts to do that. You read the book and don’t ask me to repeat to you what I have written in the book.
But broadly speaking, share with us what is it? Are we fatalist? Believers?
We lack a sense of territory, firstly. Indians don’t have a sense of territory. The first map of India, which we now know as India, really comes into being only after the East India Company enters India. Do you have any sense of Indian territory or a definition of map pre-British or the Mughal empire. We just don’t have that.
China, upon gaining independence after the revolution, first attempted to settle issues internally, only thereafter having settled its boundaries and internal issues they could move on, we, straight after independence, started flying internationally without solving issues on the ground.
Recently, the prime minister visited China and signed the Border Defence Corporation Agreement. As you know that both countries understand that the border has to be peaceful and tranquility has to be maintained there. But do you think this kind of arrangement, of talking peace at the border and then getting busy doing trade would help in a long term? How do you see this as a security arrangement between the two?
This is not the first time there is a border peace agreement. So I treat it with caution and not euphoria. China will never abandon its national interests. There is no border as yet because the Line of Actual Control is just a line, and even that line is yet undefined. So all that we are writing, time and again, is that on this line let’s not kill each there. I don’t think we need very high marks to understand that. It’s a long way to go.
When the A BVajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance government was in power, did you try and inculcate a different strategic culture? You did handle important portfolios.
I do think so. Like trying to resolve issues with Pakistan. If you don’t succeed at one go, don’t give up. We tried to do it with China, too.
Do you think the genesis of the India-Pakistan problem is that after the division of India in 1947, the issues of Hindu-Muslim identity within the country and outside is coming in its way? Pakistan is not accepting India as a secular country and is instead trying to brand India as a Hindu country. Is it so? Like Kuldip Nayar says that if the Hindus and Muslims fight within then it affects relationship with Pakistan at the broader level. Do you agree with this?
I don’t normally agree with what views Kuldip holds. But I will put it this way that this partition was a consequence of a false theory that Hindus and Muslims are a different nation. We are not different nations. We speak the same language, we have lived together for centuries.
Yes we follow different religious perceptions and practices. It doesn’t make us separate nations after the line got drawn (Radcliffe line) and Pakistan came into being, what was aptly put by the late General Zia (Zia-ul-Haq), people asked him why do you peruse this kind of aggressive Islam and he said ‘if Turkey is not aggressively Islamic, it is still Turkey. And if Egypt is not aggressively Islamic, it is still Egypt. But if Pakistan is not aggressively Islamic, then it will be India. So we have to maintain a posture of aggressive Islam.”
Sir, how do you see the future of India’s security in the short term?
We need better governance, clearer governance, we need to be free of this tyranny (the Nehru-Gandhi family) and the misrule of this family. We need a clear headed government that combines the talent of India and draws together the talent. We need a new resurgence.
Do you think in case the NDA government comes under the prime ministership of Narendra Modi it will help solve security issues?
I don’t want to answer this because it’s a loaded question!
Tell me what is new in the book?
It is the first attempt to comprehensively address all the possible security issues that confront us today and the background is given of the major conflicts and issues that we have faced in the last 66 years. That’s why it’s new.
Do you think in the last ten years, Manmohan Singh has tried to do something about this?
The proof is always in the pudding -- in the eating of it. When you eat that pudding, why is it sour nowadays?