Our ancient texts have universal applicability and drawing the right lessons would help us not only in strengthening our cultural values but also in building credible national security architecture
|The Author is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army|
Addressing a national webinar recently on ‘Indian Ancient Knowledge System - Relevance to National Security and Defence Management’ organised by the College of Defence Management, Secunderabad, Army Chief General M.M. Naravane said, “Study the vast repository of Indian ancient knowledge with greater rigour and draw lessons for cotemporary relevance from them. Our ancient texts have universal applicability and drawing the right lessons would help us not only in strengthening our cultural values but also in building credible national security architecture.”
The two-day webinar was to discuss the concept of culture, civilisation and nation as enumerated in ancient Indian texts and also bring out various aspects as constituents of national power. Strategic culture, principles of statecraft, use of force and Indian approaches to foreign policy making were to be discussed.
Theory provides cumulative wisdom harvested through cumulative strategic study of campaigns that help exploit practical opportunities.
There is no doubt that our ancient texts are repository of all this. General Naravane having commanded the Army Training Command, topic of this webinar appears to have been chosen in line with the national mood of the political hierarchy to go back to our roots. At the same time, while strategy has been defined as the science and art of employing political, economic, psychological and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war, the military in India has little say in strategic security formulation.
Our tumultuous democracy is quite different from the ancient Kingdoms where Chanakya’s prescription of ‘Yogakshama’ (well-being and security) of the people being highest responsibility of the ruler was applied. The finance minister in her budget speech also quoted Mahabharata saying, "The king must make way for Yogakshama, that is, welfare of the people”, missing out the security part. But view this against India’s ranking of 131 out of 189 countries in the United Nations' Human Development, host of insurgencies within, estranged Centre-State relations and political parties at each others’ throat.
Theory provides cumulative wisdom harvested through cumulative strategic study of campaigns that help exploit practical opportunities. Strategic theory also facilitates the fit of ideas with conditions that matter, not the age of ideas – new thinking may or may not be relevant to old thinking. Moreover, strategic theory facilitates the recognition of our own limitations. To this end the study of ancient texts, like Bahgvad Gita, Ramayan, Vedas, Arthshastra etc is essential. The Army Chief is right that these should be studied to draw lessons for contemporary relevance.
Strategic theory also facilitates the fit of ideas with conditions that matter, not the age of ideas – new thinking may or may not be relevant to old thinking. Moreover, strategic theory facilitates the recognition of our own limitations.
But have our policy makers studied any of our ancient texts and drawn lessons from them and their application to the betterment of the nation other than quoting them for election purposes? Just one small example is the Ministry of Defence (MoD) sitting on the Navy’s proposal of raising a Marine Brigade past two decades plus– haven’t we failed to learn the importance of navy and the use of naval infantry from the Chola Empire from late 9th Century to 13th Century and their overseas exploits including in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia?
Chanakya told us how the King should deal with his neighbours but look at India’s relations today in our immediate neighbourhood. We are battling proxy war past three decades plus but we have not been able to establish credible deterrence against it? Why are we so nervous when it comes to standing up to China?
Great nations must remain committed to lofty moral principles and humane values, but it merits repetition that the power of principle can be most effectively pursued when it is complemented by the principle of the relevant power of the times. Today is the era of hybrid, asymmetric and unrestricted warfare. Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw had once questioned whether any of our policy makers have studied any book on military history or strategy?
Many years back, the United Services Institution of India (USI), a premier Think Tank in the National Capital, had proposed a strategy capsule for 50 parliamentarians. First day all 50 came, next day the attendance dropped to below 50 per cent and third day only one MP turned up who after half an hour said, General Sahib jo aap bolte ho who hamen samajh nahin aata”, and left.
The government should hold strategy capsules periodically not only for parliamentarians but also for the bureaucrats of the MoD and Ministry of External Affairs (MEA)
Perhaps, General Naravane could persuade the government to hold similar strategy capsules periodically not only for parliamentarians but also for the bureaucrats of the MoD and Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), even though some MPs don’t attend full sessions of Parliament and bureaucrats consider themselves Dr Know Alls. Much as we refuse to acknowledge, our timid response to China in Eastern Ladakh is because the policy makers want to control and dictate every military move, even at tactical levels.
The Military no doubt has been studying contemporary history and campaigns but in addition to studying ancient texts, we need to also study the following:
Above are just a few suggestions. The military has been talking of a two-front war past few years but has this ever been discussed at the national level? Ironically, we continue to operate without a National Security Strategy and Comprehensive Defence Review – obviously we don’t acknowledge the fallout of such voids.
War making and peace keeping are definitive features of any state but our war making capacity has been systematically factored out of our foreign policy and national security matrix. India must allow its military to substantially participate in national security decision making process and framing of the defence policy. This would enable India to wield its military as an instrument of national power.