It is an axiom of the prevailing security discourse that the definition and related policy interpretation of the elements that constitute national security have to be inclusive and comprehensive. The Chanakyan formulation of the Mauryan period (circa 350 BC) emphasised an equitable approach to the production and distribution of the different elements of national security so that the sustained well-being (‘yogakshema') of the people was ensured.
This book, a compilation of as many as 20 essays and articles by some of the better known names in the field, tackles the theme of comprehensive security with admirable sincerity. In a magisterial overview of the challenges before India, K. Subrahmanyam, the doyen of security studies in the country, offers a compelling summary of the past and spells out the opportunities that beckon the nation, if it is able to strategise appropriately and act collectively.
Some empirical facts are irrefutable and, in a lucid summation of the challenges, Kapil Kak, who has edited the volume, draws pointed attention to the contradictions and anomalies punctuating the world's largest democracy. As the most recent IMF projections indicate, India's GDP will grow at more than 9 per cent this year and this indeed is creditable, given the turbulence and downturn associated with other major economies. But the distribution of India's wealth and prosperity remains skewed and very inequitable, and the contrast is striking.
As Kak points out, Jawaharlal Nehru invoked the imperative of ensuring true ‘yogakshema' as far back as December 1928 in Pune where he observed: “We shall have real security and stability … only when it has come to signify the well-being of the vast majority of the people, if not all, and not of small groups only.” To its eternal shame, 82 years later the successive governing dispensations of free India have not been able to realise the Gandhi-Nehru dream of wiping ‘every tear' — if anything, the number of the tearful has increased manifold. The book quotes Bimal Jalan to highlight this reality. He notes: "The total value of the assets of the country's five billionaires equalled those of the bottom 300 million people.”
The volume covers the entire spectrum of national security from the politico-military domain, including the core values and principles — such as democracy and non-alignment — to nuclear weapons and defence modernisation of the three armed forces, the so-called traditional sinews of national security. While the internal security challenge gets adequate attention, the non-traditional issues such as energy, food, water and climate change also find mention, which is praiseworthy. The enlightening debate on the linkages between these strands will be of benefit to the interested reader.
Among the innovative additions are: an informed discussion on globalisation and economic growth (Arvind Virmani); the correlation between economics and strategic relations (Sanjaya Baru); and the salience of information in the realisation of comprehensive security (Wajahat Habibullah). India's security challenges are many and terribly tangled. The civil-military relationship is both limited and brittle. Eminently desirable reforms mooted in the wake of the Kargil War remain elusive; structural problems persist; and, over the last decade, the ‘izzat'(honour) of the military as an institution has been sullied. Evidently, a single volume cannot do justice to all the relevant issues. Kak has done a commendable job in putting together the views of experts in various domains. The final results, however, are uneven, with some contributors opting for a long piece and some others culling out material from earlier publications.
India's reactive security culture needs radical systemic changes, and this can come about only if the elected representative gives national security the kind of attention it deserves. The manner in which the defence budget is debated and voted in Parliament year after year is illustrative of the indifference of the Indian political class. As Subrahmanyam points out, while India has the attributes and the wherewithal to take its rightful place in the global comity in the 21st century, the constraints should not be ignored. Institutional integrity and rectitude must be restored across the board, and only then can India realise comprehensive security that is both equitable and sustainable for its teeming and far-from-secure millions.