Predicting when a war will occur is a difficult task. It is the likelihood that nations prepare for and some circumstances make it more likely. Perfectly sane statesmen, even great ones, have regularly erred in their estimate of the probability of war and even more often of its consequences and outcome. The Great War of 1914-18 to which Europe unexpectedly succumbed, devastated it and presaged the end of the mighty British Empire and especially its control over the jewel in its crown, India. The omniscient, all-knowing Joseph Stalin, the single most consequential individual in world history, almost lost his realm, despite assiduous preparations over more than a decade for it, to Hitler’s Operation Barbarossa.
A mixture of rage, spite and strategic calculation prompted the British to incite latent religious animosities that resulted in India’s blood soaked break up, the implications of which have not yet ended. India had rarely been a united political entity in history despite the vast reach of its shared culture and faith. Indeed only the wilfully blind will insist its present political configuration and geographical extent are an immutable and timeless reality. On the contrary, centralised control of the region has been in retreat for many centuries, rising and ebbing periodically. It shrank successively from its historic western borders in Afghanistan to the Punjab in the west and Bengal in the east after 1947. The ceiling of India’s greatest geographical magnitude, in terms of total territory, had been reached under British colonial rule and the extant subsequent phase possibly only a historical pause.
A fresh and devastating political and military challenge to the Indian Union seems likely because deepening internal chaos is prompting foreign foes and friends alike to review their goals with regard to it. There have indeed been public discussions in China of the desirability of dealing with a pesky India before 2017. Allies, with rare exceptions are usually fair weather companions. Athens’ steadfast Plataean allies who cheerfully chose political oblivion, slavery and death are remembered with awe precisely because their courageous deed was remarkable.
India will also find itself alone if it fails to give a good account when the challenge of mortal combat is posed against it by the Sino-Pak alliance. The moment India seems unlikely to endure militarily in the face of the enemy others will make their peace with them in order to salvage their own geopolitical interests. It will begin the formal Sino-America concordat for condominium over Asia, the main loser being Japan, though all of Southeast Asia as well. The failure to respond effectively in the battlefield will nix any desire of outsiders to offer serious material assistance to influence its course because that ought to essentially come from within India. They will be aghast but cannot be realistically expected to enter the fray except at the margin to sustain Indian resistance.
There are odd parallels between the fifth century BC Peloponnesian Wars and the Indo-Pak conflict, with India the mightier Athens and Sparta the Islamic Ghazi State of Pakistan, whose sole rain d’etre is warfare. The Spartans finally defeated Athens with Persian help, which enabled them to outclass the formidable Athenian sea power. The vast Persian Empire may be compared to modern China, taking advantage of the local Indo-Pak rivalry. Athens sued for peace when its fleet was decimated in the Second Peloponnesian War. The Delian League, akin to Federal India in some respects, led by Athens, dissolved. Athens itself was cut down to size politically, territorially and conceded primacy to Sparta, a fearsomely militarized entity. It may be noted that not an inconsiderable number of Greeks, akin to a significant segment of contemporary India’s treasonous intelligentsia, sided with Persia in their own conflict with Athens. Is this the fate that awaits India in a future encounter with the Sino-Pak alliance, while its vacuous political class engages in dim-witted parleys with both in the interim?
It would not be an exaggeration for an unbiased observer to suggest that the Indian State has all but ceased to function. Even some who sympathise with the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty express dismayed agreement in private. The extent of the dysfunction of the Indian State apparatus and its bureaucracy is fully apparent to most and certainly to India’s enemies. It is being studied closely by them and specific policies, like land acquisition and arms contract investigations, that hamper Indian’s industrial development and military modernization, is being influenced by their covert intervention through proxies, who pressure politicians (like Mamata Banerjee) hostage to vote banks. In addition, vital decisions of State are emerging haphazardly from what is effectively a royal court. Many conscientious officials are looking anxiously over their shoulders and reluctant to act for fear of a CVC inquiry on any decision.
The National Advisory Council has proven an unmitigated disaster, allowing ignorant parlour chit-chat and prejudices to become State policy. Political and personal favourites, eager to gratify, though without any vestige of competence or expertise, have acquired ultimate say over policies, if they can be described as such. These are designed to please members of the first family, even as they promote their own interests and that of their own family. It is also clear that members of the ruling family, engaged in sordid business malfeasance, are directly choosing everything from seats for Air India’s freshly inducted fleet and top Delhi police brass to university vice chancellors, senior bureaucrats and Indian ambassadors. Worst of all, the chief of the Indian army turns out to be a relative of the wife of the supreme Indian VVIP. She demanded his selection, precipitating a massive crisis of authority within the Indian army.
Under the present dispensation, there seems no chance that India will manage to engage the invading Sino-Pak hordes with the unprecedented courage and determination that halted the Germans outside Moscow in 1942 and then thrashed them all the way to Berlin. Nor are preparations being mounted for a long and bitter struggle for India’s survival, guaranteed to run out of even ordnance in no time. It would be stretching the imagination unduly to expect the deputy chairman of India’s Planning Commission to reorganise India’s industrial assets for war, with the unbelievable élan of Russian wartime planner, Nikolai A. Voznesensky.
This impending catastrophe will take the shape of simultaneous Chinese assaults along more than one point of the LAC though our incumbent National Security Adviser and External Affairs Minister will probably dismiss them all as mere kerfuffle along an undemarcated LAC, until, presumably, the fall of Tawang itself and worse! There will likely also be an airborne assault on Arunachal Pradesh and widespread surprise pre-emptive strikes on airfields, perhaps India losing much of its precious fighter assets before they scramble. All Pakistan needs to do is mobilise and tie up significant Indian military resources by threatening J&K and even Delhi. They would have been taken in 1965, according to a senior Indian general, had it not been for General Chaudhuri’s reforms after the 1962 Nehurvian debacle.
Pakistan will also wave its nuclear manhood, including its low yield battlefield member, to dissuade the Indian political leadership from taking the fight to the enemy pre-emptively, to free up resources for use in the north. But the moment India is militarily exposed and prostrate in the aftermath of a successful Chinese assault, its leadership fleeing in disarray to supposed safety, the Pakistani invasion will commence. There are also well developed plans that have been drawn up by Beijing to help Nepal regain territory it lost to British India in 1816 and to which claims have been made recently. What will Bangladesh seek from India in this situation of extraordinary opportunity?
Their dreams may be easy to realise if a third of West Bengal’s population, much of strategically placed, decides to initiate a general uprising. They have already demonstrated a capacity to mobilise tens of thousands in the streets of Kolkata, when they violently protested the conviction of Pakistani collaborators, in Bangladesh recently, for war crimes. They brought the city to a halt and the government of West Bengal virtually went into hiding in terror at this display of brute force.
In any case, much of West Bengal’s Hindu intelligentsia always sought a united Bengal, even under the shariah jackboot, the aspiration of Sarat Bose and his overrated brother. This was to be the Bose family kingdom though they would have been speedily consigned to the river Hooghly the moment an independent Islamic Bangladesh was established. It was Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and N.C. Chatterjee, who thwarted this nightmare though it begins to appear temporary. The Punjab may be tempted to secede, with so many Sikhs convinced Hindu India is their real enemy. What of the rest of India is hard to tell though its venally opportunistic politicians are scarcely able to conceive a world that is anything more than the unbridled avarice of their own immediate family. Many quasi autonomous enclaves deep within Indian body politic, which blatantly subsist already in India’s capital city and swathes of Kolkata, where official authority hardly prevails, may spread.
The question is: can the Indian nation fight a long and bitter war, the outcome of which would equal the fate of its people under the darkest days of Islamic conquest. It certainly does not possess a political class that shows any signs that it can join such a historic struggle. Many of its most prominent Indian politicians seem to harbour suspect foreign ideological loyalties, both religious and political and treasonously maintain ample assets abroad. Firing off Brahmos missiles at Chinese military assets and formations may not suffice to forestall disaster. Boots on the ground, proper equipment and skilled military leadership will remain indispensable. All of these were absent in 1962 and even during Kargil where the Bofors guns, which played a critical role in the conflict, quickly ran out of ammunition. Unfortunately, Nehru’s successors have turned out to be pure carpetbaggers, making him appear saintly despite his sheer mediocrity.
It is only now that India’s Defence Minister, whose principal qualification is unsparing loyalty to the ruling family, has taken cognisance of the need for reserves as well as additional forces, the two critical factors that Hitler grievously underestimated as his armies quite destroyed much of the serving Soviet forces in 1941. The Soviet people and their leadership were stunned and reeled, but found their feet and the necessary manpower to recover and embark on a defence without parallel in history. In its current state of administrative and political chaos, military uncertainty and lack of preparation, battlefield nuclear devices must be considered for deployment by India. It will send a chilling message to its tormentors that if there is to be an end to India its neighbours will end up joining it.
Whether the ongoing anarchy will find remedy after the 2014 Lok Sabha elections is hard to predict. India’s anointed heir is no Athenian Pericles, likely to stop the rot, though like him, he has descended from an elevated social background. Even the Athens that Pericles ruled suffered dismemberment as a result of the Second Peloponnesian War. Nor is the immediate forebear of the anointed pretender a counterpart of Catherine of Russia. And it is hard to imagine India’s dismal CEOs as Catherine’s formidable principal administrator, governor general, Grigori Potemkin! One visualizes the perfumed first family fleeing India, if not to an embassy in Delhi, surely to a salubrious retreat in Europe, the moment the first signs of India’s military collapse become evident.
Among India’s contemporary politicians, Narendra Modi alone seems to possess the ideological clarity, administrative competence and pure love of motherland that would inspire India’s millions to follow him to the gates of Hades, if the worst happened. He will need his Alexander Suvorov, but the only Indian solider of the past generation, worthy of the highest esteem, is now past ninety, though without much honour in his own country. However, the moment of truth will soon arrive for Indians, who need to think long and hard about the future of their motherland. Clearly, the gods have intervened and chosen an avatar that has come into our midst from humble origins, but tempered like steel by hardy circumstance. Voting for Narendra Modi in 2014 and those who will allow him to function is the only choice.
Dr. Gautam Sen taught international political economy and Political Science at the London School of Economics for more than two decades.
Dr. Gautam Sen taught international political economy at the London School of Economics and Political Science for over two decades.