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a) To be fighting fit

“Army critical of defence budget,” was a headline in this newspaper on March 14, with other newspapers also focussing on the “dashed hopes” of the Army while reporting on Vice-Chief of Army Staff Lt. Gen. Sarath Chand’s interaction with the parliamentary standing committee on defence. Television debates which followed had the all too familiar trend. The ruling party’s spokespersons talked about how the government had worked to strengthen the military while the Opposition accused them of paying inadequate attention to the forces.

Reality check

What is the reality? As usual, it lies somewhere between the two extremes. According to a recent report by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, India was the largest arms importer in the last five years, accounting for 12% of global imports. The Indian defence budget has now overtaken that of the U.K. to become the fifth largest in the world.

Despite this, as the Vice-Chief of Army Staff pointed out to Parliament’s standing committee on defence, the current capital allocation is insufficient even to cater for “committed liabilities”, which is payments for equipment under contractual obligation. Also, 68% of the Army’s equipment is under the ‘vintage’ category and the situation is unlikely to improve in the near future. Equally worrying is the adverse impact on infrastructure development and strategic roads where there is a severe shortage of funds.

An insufficient defence budget impacts not only modernisation but also the current operational readiness of the force. Reduction in revenue allocation means cutting down on training requirements and routine replacement of items like surveillance and protective equipment.

The strategic environment in Asia is well known. Asia is developing into a multipolar system, with Russia, China, India and the U.S. jockeying for greater influence. As John J. Mearsheimer points out in The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, “(Asia) will be an unbalanced multipolar system, because China will be much more powerful than all other Asian great powers, and thus qualify as a potential hegemon… And when you have power asymmetries, the strong are hard to deter when they are bent on aggression.”

It is a reality that conventional state-on-state conflict is on the decline, particularly between nuclear nations. However, one region where such a possibility exists is South Asia. India faces not only a long-term strategic challenge from China but also the continuing efforts by Pakistan to somehow maintain a semblance of military balance with India by keeping the Indian Army tied down in Kashmir, and developing a credible nuclear force.

India’s dilemma is neatly summed up in the U.S.’s National Intelligence Council report, ‘Global Trends: The Paradox of Progress’, “Geopolitically, [South Asia’s] greatest hope is India’s ability to use its economic and human potential to drive regional trade and development. At the same time, Afghanistan’s uncertain prospects, extremism and violence in Pakistan, and the ever-present risk of war between India and Pakistan probably represent the greatest challenge to unlocking the region’s potential.”

Can India, India ranked at 131 in the 2016 Human Development Report, and with 55.3% of the population living under “multidimensional poverty”, afford a higher defence budget? Conversely, can a weakened military support India’s ambition to achieving great power status? Japan, despite being the second largest economy at one time, was never considered a great power because of its limited military capability.

Regular strategic consultations between the political and military leadership are rare, and when they do take place it is generally for crisis-management, not long-term strategy. But the security challenges, both internal and external, facing the country have to be squarely addressed. The government and the military need to quickly come together and be on the same page. Currently, there does not seem to be a coherent or common assessment, and one example of this is the debate on the two-front war.

The two-front war

The service chiefs have constantly reminded the government that a two-front war is a real possibility and of the need to prepare for it. It is quite obvious that the government does not take this too seriously, as evidenced from budgetary allocations and glib statements that the forces are ‘reasonably and sufficiently equipped’. The first step to resolve this contradiction is for the government to order a comprehensive strategic review of the future threats to India. This will provide a clear picture to the political leadership, and also directions to the military on its doctrine and force structures. A long-term capability development plan can then be prepared by the military and approved by the government. This will form the basis for the defence budget. The annual bickering over the mismatch between what the military demands and the actual allocations made will be avoided.

The government must also take a holistic look at all border-guarding forces — the Army, Assam Rifles, the Border Security Force and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP). While the Army leads in responding to all Chinese provocations such as Depsang, Chumar and Doklam, the border is technically the responsibility of the ITBP under the Home Ministry.

Recently, it was announced that the government was planning to raise nine ITBP battalions to “reduce the inter BoP (border outpost) distance” along the China border. Not only does this reflect an inadequate understanding of how the border is to be manned but completely ignores the existing deployment of the Army. A comprehensive and an integrated approach to border management could result in considerable savings.

The military’s challenge

The military also must understand the realities of India’s finances and look to reconstruct itself. Military capability is not all about money. As a RAND monograph, “Measuring Military Capability”, points out, “Military effectiveness (is) the outcome of the resources provided to the military and its capability to transform these resources into effective warfighting capability. A country may provide its military with generous budgets and large cadres of manpower, but if the military’s doctrine is misguided, the training ineffective, the leadership unschooled, or the organization inappropriate, military capability will suffer.”

The military must stop talking in terms of numbers, of squadrons, ships and divisions, and focus on capability. This is much more challenging than harping on raising divisions and squadrons because it confronts us with the crucial issue of defining the type of capability that India needs for future warfighting. It will force us to search for the new and the unexpected, and to look at technologies such as robotics, autonomous systems and artificial intelligence to enhance our military capability.

There is a crying need to move towards greater integration among the three services and with the Ministry of Defence (MoD). The luxury of each service running its own training, administrative and logistics system is no longer affordable. The MoD, staffed entirely by civilians, seems oblivious to defence requirements and follows a procurement process which appears completely broken. An internal report prepared late last year by Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre pointed out that only 8-10% of 144 proposed deals in the last three financial years fructified within the stipulated time period. Greater integration could improve efficiency.

Civil-military differences over defence budgets are an inevitable part of any democracy. However, these differences can be minimised if there is a common understanding of the contours of a national security strategy, and of the genuine requirements of the military for putting this strategy into effect. On its part, the military must focus on capability for future warfighting, not mere numbers.

b) Towards 2019 — on Congress plenary

As president of the Congress, Rahul Gandhi seems to be taking on a more aggressive avatar, attacking the BJP for its divisive ideology and its failings on the governance front. But at the Congress plenary in Delhi, he had little to say by way of presenting an alternative vision, other than claiming for his party the space given up by the BJP. Most of his speech was a tirade against the party and its two main leaders, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. Mr. Modi was linked to corruption with a reference to the bank scam, and Mr. Shah to murder with a reference to the Sohrabuddin encounter killing. To the BJP’s quest for absolute power, Mr. Gandhi posited the Congress’s fight for truth. He contrasted the BJP’s commitment to an organisation (the RSS) with the Congress’s voice for the entire nation. But mere aggression is not enough and such words will ring inevitably hollow in the absence of a clear and granular action plan. Even the resolutions passed at the plenary had little use for particulars. The party’s economic resolution faintly echoed Karl Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach: “We have heard the clamour for change. It is now time for change.” There was no point beyond this. The resolution on agriculture, employment and poverty alleviation seemed more like a budget proposal, the highlight being a 5% cess on the richest 1% to help the poor. The party is clearly seeking the middle ground: equal economic opportunities for all without, however, instilling the fear of tax terrorism or overbearing regulation. So, fostering of business confidence and rewarding of risk-taking were mentioned in the same breath as promoting employment and security. The relevance of the public sector in critical areas such as defence, transportation and financial services was noted, while resolving to win back economic freedom for India’s entrepreneurs. Couched in such vague generalities, there is little to separate the Congress’s policies from those of the BJP.

If the economic resolution took the middle path, the political resolution was open-ended with a call for a “pragmatic approach of working with like-minded parties and evolving a common workable programme to defeat the BJP-RSS in 2019”. Although the Congress will undoubtedly be the single largest party in any anti-BJP alliance, it will have to play the role of a very junior partner in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. In States such as Gujarat and Karnataka where it is a dominant party, it needs the help of smaller allies. Besides allies, the party will need post-poll backing from the Left, however reduced in numbers, to piece together a coalition against the BJP. A common workable programme will thus have to be forged with parties with very different orientations. In this context, the vague generalisations are understandable, but will they find favour with voters?


1) Dashed hopes

Meaning: To destroy someone’s hopes.

Example: “Saturday’s 2–0 defeat dashed their hopes of reaching the final”

2) Cater

Meaning: Take into account or make allowances for.

Example: “The scheme caters for interest rate fluctuations”

Synonyms: Take into account, take into consideration

3) Contractual

Meaning: Agreed in a contract.

Example: “A contractual obligation”

4) Vintage

Meaning: Denoting something from the past of high quality, especially something representing the best of its kind.

Example: “A vintage Sherlock Holmes adventure”

Synonyms: High-quality, Quality

5) Jockeying

Meaning: Struggle by every available means to gain or achieve something.

Example: “Both men will be jockeying for the two top jobs”

Synonyms: Compete, Contend

6) Hegemon

Meaning: A leader, country, or group that is very strong and powerful and therefore able to control others.

Example: Could the United States lose out to another global hegemon, China?

7) Deter

Meaning: Discourage (someone) from doing something by instilling doubt or fear of the consequences.

Example: “Only a health problem would deter him from seeking re-election”

Synonyms: Put off, Discourage

Antonyms: Encourage

8) Credible

Meaning: Able to be believed; convincing.

Example: “Few people found his story credible”

Synonyms: Acceptable, Trustworthy

Antonyms: Untrustworthy

9) Dilemma

Meaning: A situation in which a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, especially ones that are equally undesirable.

Example: “He wants to make money, but he also disapproves of it: Den’s dilemma in a nutshell”

Synonyms: Quandary, Predicament

10) Prospects

Meaning: A person regarded as likely to succeed or as a potential customer, client, etc.

Example: “Norwich’s unbeaten heavyweight prospect”

Synonyms: Candidate, Possibility

11) Afford

Meaning: Provide or supply (an opportunity or facility).

Example: “The rooftop terrace affords beautiful views”

Synonyms: Provide, Supply

12) Squarely

Meaning: Directly, without deviating to one side.

Example: “Ashley looked at him squarely”

13) Coherent

Meaning: (Of an argument, theory, or policy) logical and consistent.

Example: “They failed to develop a coherent economic strategy”

Synonyms: Logical, Reasoned

Antonyms: Incoherent, Muddled

14) Glib

Meaning: (Of words or a speaker) fluent but insincere and shallow.

Example: “The glib phrases soon roll off the tongue”

Synonyms: Slick, Pat

Antonyms: Sincere, Thoughtful

15) Threats

Meaning: A statement of an intention to inflict pain, injury, damage, or other hostile action on someone in retribution for something done or not done.

Example: “Members of her family have received death threats”

Synonyms: Threatening remark, Warning, Ultimatum

16) Bickering

Meaning: Argue about petty and trivial matters.

Example: “Couples who bicker over who gets what from the divorce”

Synonyms: Squabble, Argue

Antonyms: Agree

17) Holistic

Meaning: Dealing with or treating the whole of something or someone and not just a part.

Example: “My doctor takes a holistic approach to disease”

18) Provocations

Meaning: Action or speech that makes someone angry, especially deliberately.

Example: “You should remain calm and not respond to provocation”

Synonyms: Incitement, Rousing

19) Battalions

Meaning: A large organized group of people pursuing a common aim.

Example: “A battalion of women promoting the latest perfumes”

Synonyms: Crowd, Army, Mob

20) Monograph

Meaning: A detailed written study of a single specialized subject or an aspect of it.

Example: “They are publishing a series of monographs on music in late medieval and Renaissance cities”

21) Cadres

Meaning: A small group of people specially trained for a particular purpose or profession.

Example: “A cadre of professional managers”

Synonyms: Small group, Body, Team

22) Harping

Meaning: Talk or write persistently and tediously on (a particular topic).

Example: “I don’t want to harp on about the past”

Synonyms: Keep on about, Go on about

23) Procurement

Meaning: The action of obtaining or procuring something.

Example: “Financial assistance for the procurement of legal advice”

24) Fructified

Meaning: Make (something) fruitful or productive.

Example: “They were sacrificed in order that their blood might fructify the crops”

25) Stipulated

Meaning: Demand or specify (a requirement), typically as part of an agreement.

Example: “He stipulated certain conditions before their marriage”

Synonyms: Specify, Set down

26) Divisive

Meaning: Tending to cause disagreement or hostility between people.

Example: “The highly divisive issue of abortion”

Synonyms: Alienating, Estranging

Antonyms: Unifying

27) Plenary

Meaning: Unqualified; Absolute.

Example: “Crusaders were offered a plenary indulgence by the Pope”

Synonyms: Unconditional, Unlimited

28) Tirade

Meaning: A long, angry speech of criticism or accusation.

Example: “A tirade of abuse”

Synonyms: Diatribe, Invective

29) Scam

Meaning: A dishonest scheme; a fraud.

Example: “An insurance scam”

Synonyms: Fraud, Swindle

30) Posited

Meaning: Put forward as fact or as a basis for argument.

Example: “The Confucian view posits a perfectible human nature”

Synonyms: Postulate, Put forward

31) Inevitably

Meaning: As is certain to happen; unavoidably.

Example: “Inevitably some details are already out of date”

Synonyms: Naturally, Automatically

32) Granular

Meaning: Including small details.

Example: The analysis needs to be more granular.

33) Thesis

Meaning: A statement or theory that is put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved.

Example: “His central thesis is that psychological life is not part of the material world”

Synonyms: Theory, Contention

34) Clamour

Meaning: A loud and confused noise, especially that of people shouting.

Example: “The questions rose to a clamour”

Synonyms: Din, Racket

Antonyms: Silence

35) Cess

Meaning: A curse on.

Example: “Bad cess to the day I joined that band!”

36) Fostering

Meaning: Encourage the development of (something, especially something desirable).

Example: “The teacher’s task is to foster learning”

Synonyms: Encourage, Promote

Antonyms: Neglect, Suppress

37) Rewarding

Meaning: Providing satisfaction; gratifying.

Example: “Pilgrims found their journey a highly rewarding experience”

Synonyms: Satisfying, Gratifying

Antonyms: Unrewarding

38) Relevance

Meaning: The quality or state of being closely connected or appropriate.

Example: “This film has contemporary relevance”

39) Couched

Meaning: Express (something) in language of a specified style.

Example: “The assurances were couched in general terms”

Synonyms: Express, Phrase

40) Pragmatic

Meaning: Dealing with things sensibly and realistically in a way that is based on practical rather than theoretical considerations.

Example: “A pragmatic approach to politics”

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