Is India spending much too little on its military and is that jeopardising its ambition to become a “leading power” and not remain a “balancing” power? Is India prepared to face the new looming threat of “hybrid” warfare?
Complaints of funds being denied to the military rear their head every time the budget-preparation phase of government approaches. It is worth mentioning that the size of funds provided in the budget depends on availability of resources and the importance attached to securing a life of dignity and freedom for India’s citizens, versus amassing an arsenal for a “two-and-a-half-front war”; that is, for preparing to confront Pakistan and China while carrying out counter-insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir and the North East.
As for the new warfare scenario, India’s Army chief had opined in the 9th Yashwant Rao Chavan Memorial Lecture on “Addressing the challenges of Hybrid Conflict in 21st century” held on 28 November 2018 that this warfare employs regular and irregular means in tandem to include “terrorism, criminals, counterfeit currency, economic means, assertive diplomacy, private hackers and other non-state actors”. This requires a sea change in equipment requirements as well as in orienting the armed forces to fight “hybrid” wars. This costs money.
If the economy is going through a slowdown and revenue-generation is dismal then to push for higher allocations for military will meet with resistance. Notwithstanding the hue and cry from strategic experts about India slipping up in meeting threats, the question is whether there is a pressing reason for upping the ante over funds?
Relations with China are on an even keel following two “informal” summits and regular diplomatic engagements. Besides, both sides are committed to not allow “differences to become conflicts”. It is only Pakistan that has been cited as the immediate cause for concern, although Pakistan’s beleaguered economy prevents it from engaging in a disastrous arms race with India.
Indeed, the government of India’s overdrive regarding Pakistani threat in Kashmir is more of a propaganda ploy than actual ground reality. Neither militancy nor infiltration are of a magnitude which invites concern. The fact that Pakistan is primarily pushing an international campaign and has restrained its militant “assets” from moving into Kashmir is a clear sign that it does not want to escalate tensions. It also seems that it is India which is proactively engaged in diplomatically cornering Pakistan. And Pakistan is returning the favour by raising its diplomatic campaign over Kashmir.
Looking inside for answers
So rather than pitch for raising allocations for the military, it might be financially prudent to look at the bloated size of the military and the personnel costs on account of armed forces prosecuting wars at home where the Army and central para-military forces (CPMFs) are deployed in large numbers.
At any time, one-third of the Indian Army is deployed in fighting internal wars. Whereas nearly 85-90% of para-military are similarly deployed. A large part of the revenue and pension budget of the military is a fixed cost and it arises on account of this penchant of the government to launch wars at home against our own people. This will not change unless the policy of military suppression changes and the result will be a cut-down of the “flab”. Instead of cutting down 100,000 personnel over next five years stopping wars at home can cut the flab over a shorter period and reduce a far greater number of personnel.
It is worth noting that in 2017-18 and 2018-19, the government reversed the manpower cutbacks it had undertaken and increased manpower size of government employees by recruiting 70,000 tax officials, 45,000 civilian defence staff and 61,000 central para-military personnel. Thus, if the Army cuts back on 100,000 posts but defence civil staff and CPMFs increase by 106,000 then it becomes a charade.
In other words, if the Prime Minister asked the armed forces to reduce the “flab” in December 2015, then how come the very same government felt no hesitation to increase the size of civilian defence and CPMFs? Surely, some of the money meant to meet personnel cost could have been better spent for much-needed defence capital requirement? Surely cutting flab cannot become an empty exercise.
It is not far-fetched to point out that the preference for armed police forces, which have kept growing by leaps and bounds, has also meant that civil police needed for law and order has been neglected. As a result, whereas the sanctioned strength of civil police is 24,84,170 their actual strength is 19,41,473 or an overall shortfall of 5,42,697 police personnel. This has directly to do with Centre’s encroachment into states’ jurisdiction by raising the banner of “internal security”, which requires para-military forces and allows everyday law and order suffer. This accounts for the growth in crimes such as rape, murder, robbery across the country and the obsession with terrorism (which also conveniently excludes terror unleashed by mob lynchers and cow vigilantes).
Besides this, fund shortages occur for another reason. India imports 70% of its arsenal to equip the armed forces. Import dependence means that India has to buy weapons priced higher and also ensure payments, whether or not the country can afford it, for example when there is a financial crisis. There has been further setback because even the 30% of military goods that were being manufactured at home by public sector unites has been affected on account of the government usurping their surplus funds in order to meet its own revenue deficit.
By denying Defence Public Sector Units (DPSUs) budgetary support, the government has compelled them to raise money from the capital market, which adds to their cost. What makes things worse is the cost overruns and time escalation of nine big ticket projects worth Rs 3.5 lakh crore.
Myth of indigenisation
Now, when the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government argues for reducing dependence on imported arsenal, it pushes for indigenisation through privatisation of the military sector. As a result, even those DPSUs that are doing well find themselves in choppy waters, compelled to turn to the market and its accompanying fluctuations and vagaries. Even worse, this also means that after decades of running operations, and acquiring skills and capability, these may go waste and cannot be capitalised.
The declining fortunes of publicly-owned military sector outfits and the push towards privatisation has carried while the Modi government’s “Make in India” has been a miserable failure. And the encouragement to private sector means that there is a push for Indian companies to become junior partners in ventures where an Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) will be in control and continue to own proprietary technology and source codes.
In other words, India’s dependence on foreign equipment manufacturers will remain; and not just that, now these OEMs will control and own proprietary technology even if they operate from India.
It gets worse. Both the Indian government and India’s private sector investment on research has been pathetically low. A recent column in Business Standard draws attention to the “best kept open secret” about the United States, the bastion of capitalism. The columnist, Ajit Balakrishnan, points out that innovation in the US is “state driven” and that high-risk investment in research by the state, especially research in the defence sector, draws others in and contributes immensely to US indigenous production.
So what is also going to impact India’s military preparedness in coming years is the pathetic investment by the government into research, combined with the BJP-led government’s determination to make Indians dumb by destroying progressive education.
Ajai Sahni, a defence and security expert, recently argued in the Hindustan Times in favour of investing in military-industrial complex with emphasis on defence research. “While investment—consequently, economics—is key, the pivot of the military-industrial complex is research; and research is based on the quality and outreach of educational infrastructure. All these, in turn, depend on policy and the state’s capacity to secure its intended goals.”
In India, dogmatic faith in the private sector-led military sector and disdain for defence public sector, with all and sundry belittling and thrashing them, has resulted in the withdrawal from high-risk research. Consider this data:
A Brookings India study recently claimed that India has 216.2 researchers per million people compared to China’s 1,200 per million; United States with 4,300 and South Korea’s 7,100 researchers per million. India also spends less than 1% of its GDP on research in contrast to South Korea spending 4.23% and China 2.11%. Significantly, in 1996, both India and China spend just 0.6% of their GDP on research.
India produces fewer research papers compared with China: 114,832 against 483,595 and India’s quality of research is also low. Also India’s patent applications of 14,961 in 2017 are puny compared to China’s 1.24 million.
Low investment on research, with quality of research low and general disdain for intellectual quests and the dumbing down of education as part of the BJP’s backward-looking ideological preoccupation are not helping.
Ideological parties like the BJP have a tendency to become dogmatic and kill the spirit of scientific inquiry, prevent search for answers and truth, and to discourage curiosity and inquisitiveness. India’s development will surely become skewed and hollow if education kills the spirit of inquiry, rational reasoning and ability to pose difficult questions. It is through battle of ideas, and not suppression of dissidents and views unpalatable to rulers that a society progresses, makes corrections and innovates. Conversely, growing mediocrity and anti-intellectualism is bound to obstruct progress.
If India remains militarily wobbly, it is far less due to size of the budget cake allocated to the military (which, at 2.15% of GDP, is quite healthy) and more a consequence of how the money is deployed at present. Unless we look deep and see the connections between the various facets that affect the military there is no way India can enhance its security. Only a comprehensive approach will work not the piecemeal ad hoc approach our rulers love so much.
The views are personal.