Monday, 19 September 2022 What to make of Modi’s ‘war is history’ thesis? In his bilateral meeting on the sidelines the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit with President Putin of Russia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “I know that today's era is not of war and we have spoken to you many times on the phone that democracy, diplomacy and dialogue are such things that touch the world.” Modi was referring to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, expressing his dismay at Russia seeking to further its national interest through the instrumentality of war. That Modi was speaking in the context of an ongoing the Ukraine-Russia war into its sixth month, in wake of outbreak of the Armenian-Azerbaijani border hostilities and Kyrgyz-Tajik border skirmishes next door to Samarkand, where he was at the time, his regarding war as outdated, intrigues. No room for war The idea that war is passĂ© has been around now for some time. Modi’s national security adviser in an address to cadets passing out of the Hyderabad-based Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel National Police Academy had spelt out the idea, saying, “(T)he new frontiers of war — what we call the fourth-generation warfare — is the civil society. War itself has ceased to become an effective instrument for achieving your political or military objectives. They are too expensive and unaffordable.” Doval borrowed the idea from then Chief of Defence Staff, Bipin Rawat. A recurring feature in Rawat’s speeches in various forums had been on hybrid war. Though he takes hybrid war as an instrument of Pakistan in its proxy war in Kashmir, he considered only two options in response: ‘offensive (hybrid war waging) option’ and ‘proactive defense’ against hybrid war. He settled for proactive defence, with limited proactive offensive hybrid operations conducted in support of the latter. This was in line with Doval, in his famous Balochistan reference, averring to the offensive option, but only in response to higher order provocations as the one at Mumbai. Understandably then, Rawat’s concept called for all kinds of proactive defensive responses ranging from governance to empowerment of central police organizations and narrative warfare. Evidently, his known proximity with NSA, Ajit Doval, allowed him to indoctrinate Doval with the same reticence on war as an option. In turn, Doval having the ear of Modi on national security matters, Narendra Modi’s ‘war is in the dust bin of history’ thesis lies in such thinking. Interestingly, in Rawat’s laying out of the concept, there is no mention of war as a counter to hybrid war. Considering he was a military man, his leaving out war as an option is strange and perhaps holds the key to understanding Indian distancing from conventional war. The role of conventional deterrence was limited to deterring proxy war, restricting it to levels of intensity at which proactive defence could contend with hybrid war and wrap it up. Where the intensity was upped, India resorted to surgical strikes, broadcasting through ‘a shot across the bow’ its irritation as much as resolve to go the distance. In the event, India refrained from raining down missiles on Pakistan – allowing the United States to pick its chestnuts from the fire for it after the aerial surgical strike flopped. Room only for hybrid war Doval went on to hold that civil society was the hybrid war battlefield. The war on civil society today has this understanding that with war obsolete, civil society is game. To him, the adversary’s tentacles reach into civil society. Since the offensive option of giving the foe back in the same coin cannot overtly be admitted to, he appointed police officers as civil society defenders in case of hybrid war on India. This is theoretically problematic in that some of the pressures civil society is subject to emanate from the State, which the State perpetrator cannot - or will not - itself regulate. The problem then arises is human rights defenders pointing this out end up as the hybrid war enemy. Contrived linkages are then painted of their external inspiration or funding, allowing for an offensive option – that is otherwise to be incident on the adversary - to play out internally. Doval’s adaptation of the concept has thus led to a war being waged on Indians. In Kashmir, site of proxy war, there is a plausible case for proactive defence. But in circumstance where there is no proxy war, as elsewhere in the country, the offensive option is very much in evidence. At a stretch, the proxy war justification can be contrived in relation to Maoist ambition to upturn India’s neoliberal applecart, Maoism being taken as an import from China. To Rawat, proactive defence in Kashmir involved a political resolution. Instead, the political ‘solution’ that is currently in the works - comprising as it does the gerrymandering of the forthcoming elections to the Union Territory to engineer a win for the ruling party - is quite the opposite. It is the offensive option, a hybrid war on one’s own people. That the Supreme Court is laying-off on the constitutionality of the deflation of Article 370 indicates it too is implicate in the legally dubious maneuver, putting India’s preferred political ‘solution’ in the pail of offensive option. Whereas proactive defence against proxy war is justifiable, it cannot be put beyond a Doval-run national security apparatus to deliberately misconstrue proactive defence for an offensive option. Take the case of the Bhima Koregaon human rights defenders, social activists and advocates of alternative economic approaches. Not only have they been jailed on trumped up charges, but in jail they are also denied medical care, though one of them died from health causes. On the contrary, the right wing goons and their masters who provoked violence at Bhima Koregaon are free. The irrefutable case of this as the offensive option is that the ‘evidence’ of a conspiracy to assassinate Modi was inserted into laptops. Though tampering has been outed, the fact has been neglected by Courts. Troubling is the Judiciary’s joining the Executive on the hybrid war frontline. The case of Teesta Setalvad’s incarceration is illustration. First, the Supreme Court passed egregious comments on her pursuit of accountability for the Gujarat pogrom. Then her bail hearing for release from custody of an overzealous Gujarat police was kicked down the road by the Gujarat High Court. The continuing of Siddique Kappan in jail is another. Kappan continues in jail despite bail is not only because he is held under a second case, but the judiciary took care to spike the grant of bail by requiring two locals to stand surety. A Keralite is unlikely to have such contacts in the Gangetic belt and the intimidation of civil society has been such by Chief Minister Ajay Bisht that it would be foolhardy for locals to stand surety. In short, while hybrid war is taken as the face of present-day war, in India’s case, it’s not in a two-sided contest with adversaries, China or Pakistan. Instead, hybrid war is being waged by the Indian State on its people. Worse, it’s not proactive defence that is in evidence as much as much as the offensive option. Therefore, when Modi says it’s not a time for war he – true to form - is economical with the truth, excluding hybrid war from definition of war. Is war done with? Clearly, war is around as evident from close vicinity of where Modi made these sage remarks, Samarkand. The Ukraine-Russia face-off over the preceding eight years has seen hybrid war waged by both sides. Russia’s hybrid war is fairly self-evident in its usurpation of Crimea and propping-up dissidence in the Russian-dominant enclave of Donbas. Ukraine for its part has been carrying out offensive hybrid war of its own on its people of Russian origin by deploying nationalist forces in the Donbas, aggravating - and arguably legitimising - irridentism. The conventional war of late summarily puts paid to the notion that war - normally conceived - is no longer an option. Western capitals - that self-interestedly lauded Modi’s remarks - best know that war remains an instrument of State, if not a preferred one. They’ve been busy fueling the war over the past few months, when they realized that the knock-out blow Putin had attempted in the opening phase of the war had fizzled. They have banded closer together, upped respective defence spending, used the opportunity to corner Russia and hope to set it back in a manner as to make it a liability for its supporter, China. Thus, for them its two birds with one stone: undercut the Russia-China challenge to a West-articulated world order. Over on the other side of the Eurasian landmass, they have created conditions for another war in forcing China to respond to their needling over Taiwan. Modi may have been prompted by the Ukrainian counter offensive wresting back territory and giving depth to its second largest city, Kharkhiv. Ukraine carried out a feint towards Kherson in the south, while they built up for this offensive. Surprised, the Russians preferred to vacate the territory, falling back to a defensible river line. Even so, core Russian interests in their special military operations are not threatened: consolidation of their control over the Donbas. Russians intend to hold the now-postponed referendum as prelude to either their incorporation of these territories into Russia - as was the case with Crimea - or to create Russian supported statelets, as witnessed earlier in Georgia. The action by Western powers in Kosovo is coming back to haunt them. Since Russian gains in vicinity of Kharkhiv were diversionary and to provide depth to Donbas, while they stabilized their hold, the Ukrainian attack merely retook territory that Russians would have in any case traded on the negotiation table. Arguably, the gains allow Ukrainians a face-saver, setting up conditions for a negotiated end to the conflict as General Winter intervenes. Conventional War has not indubitably proved unviable for either side. To be sure, usually there are better ways to go about achieving war aims. Risking war that has its own logic and grammar is not always readily justifiable. Even so, war is an option that States use and shall continue to use. Their risk acceptance ability genuflects to the capriciousness of the God of War. To Russians, the war has helped give themselves an exaggerated image of their place in the world. It helps them walk the talk in their recently-released foreign policy doctrine, Russian World. To Ukrainians, who otherwise could have used the excuse of asymmetry with Russia for dignified capitulation, the war has enabled assertion of Statehood and nationhood. As for India, it has bought time for its troubled economy by buying up oil cheap from Russia, all the while keeping mum at the horse shoe table on implications for the United Nations’ Charter of Russian actions. Couched in terms as multi-alignment, it has allowed itself to also be wooed by the West. ‘Give war a chance’ Therefore, it is too early to write war’s obituary. Modi’s attempt need not detain us overly. After all, in the same breath, he also used the terms, ‘democracy, diplomacy and dialogue’. It’s no secret India is now an ‘illiberal democracy’, an ‘electoral autocracy’. Diplomacy has been marked by its absence in relation to both neighbours with which it has been at odds over the past few years. As for dialogue, he ducked the Summit dinner where he might have had a brush-by with leader of either neighbour. However, Modi’s ‘war is history’ is of a piece with his regime’s strategic doctrine. Though confronted with intrusions in Ladakh, it preferred prevarication when a border war was called for. The Fire and Fury Corps had a frontage to defend and presumably has the resources to take on well-practiced contingencies. Its mandate is preserving of national territorial integrity. When challenged, there is no looking back for a corps configured for precisely such a challenge. That it looked back and was not reprimanded shows up the national security system in place. Instead, recall in the 2013 episode of Chinese incursion into Depsang, a counter was posed it in Chumar. It is in the Modi era that Indians have started waiting out the Chinese, once each in Ladakh and Doklam. At Doklam, the Chinese were back in strength the following winter, though India had declared a victory at the end of that crisis. In Ladakh, it took Amit Shah’s vain posturing in parliament over Aksai Chin that brought the Chinese into Ladakh. Covid had not quite set in by early April. That the spirit was willing is evident from the showing of Santosh Babu’s band of merry men. Instead, Modi lied. India dithered. Was it was under-confident in its general staff being able to pull off a localized border war? Isn’t escalation control part of operational art teaching at its war colleges? Was it was over-impressed by the asymmetry in comprehensive national power with China? Was there an internal bureaucratic fight in which the military was left to its own devices, having burnt its fingers at Galwan; and the intelligence fraternity and diplomats running for cover for letting their side down with no strategic warning? What exactly passed between Modi and Xi that Xi thought he could judge his Indian interlocutor so accurately that India would not respond militarily? When India faces itself in the mirror, it might come up with the right answers. For now we are served up the logic that a nation off to developed nation status cannot afford to be distracted by war, imposed on by a neighbour wanting a competitor out of the race. We need to get up to speed militarily before taking on China. However, such self-exculpation can be shot down arguing that the much-touted economy might have held up to the test of a border war; the West would have stepped up; a border war is a limited war, fought with what one has (to recall General Ved Malik’s imperishable phrase); that comprehensive national power is a bogey, since all that matters is what can be harnessed at the spear tip etc.. War is not always Total War, as Russia’s measured actions in Ukraine show. Arguing thus is obviously as infructuous as pearls before swine. Alternately, it would only be fair to speculate that the reasons for not going to war over a legitimate and legal reason to do so – a challenge to its territorial integrity and thereby to its national sovereignty – can be only if the reason for not doing so is graver. It can only be such if national interest is taken as regime interest in its self-perpetuation in the higher purpose of consolidation of Hindutva, the regime’s defining philosophy. The regime could not chance a war, the outcome of which could be as catastrophic for it as it proved for Nehru personally. Having gained the reins of the State after a century on the political margin, it could not have a foreign policy setback deflate the image of its Champion, on whose back it rode to power. This explains Modi’s advocacy of non-war. It is a legitimization of India’s approach to war: wage offensive hybrid war on its own people in the name of proxy war in Kashmir and against liberal-leftists in anticipation of recoil from the under-classes, further deprived by the corporate orgy unleashed by Neoliberalism 2.0. Its easier. For ideological reasons, it prefers hybrid war on its own people to warring without. Holding war is not an option, legitimizes its shadow boxing in Ladakh. It puts the regime off the hook for its adoption of strategic patience to see off the Chinese, even at the cost of trading Indian spaces. It has appropriated the typical do-gooder, sweet-talking veneer that was used to good foreign policy effect by its bĂȘte noire, the long deceased, Nehru. It remains to be seen if down the line it meets the same strategic outcome that proved fatal for Nehru.