The Modi view on security issues

May 7, 2014

(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters)

A Sadhu or a Hindu holyman wears a badge with an image of Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, prime ministerial candidate for India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), outside an ashram in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh May 6, 2014. REUTERS/Anindito MukherjeeResults of the five-week general election will be announced on May 16, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi favoured to win.

Thus Modi’s views on major security and strategic issues facing India acquire greater salience.

The election has been marked by bitter debates and allegations and counter-allegations on television and at public rallies. Consequently, certain assertive references have been attributed to Modi, and some of his comments have elicited sharp responses both within India and in the countries mentioned – like Pakistan and China.

However, in his interviews to the print media and news agencies, Modi’s views are more calibrated and can be characterized as being a continuation of the Vajpayee formulations during the NDA regime.

In a wide-ranging interview to The Times of India, Modi made careful comments about four major security concerns that the present UPA government grappled with. These include internal security, Pakistan and terrorism, China, and India’s military procurement and modernisation.

Significantly, the nuclear issue – mentioned in the BJP manifesto – was not raised in the interview.

On internal security, Modi’s remarks are identical to what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said as far back as November 2005.  Clarifying that the term ‘Naxalism’ is ‘outdated and incorrect’ and that Maoism is the more appropriate word, Modi said Maoism and terrorism “are the biggest threats to our internal security”.

The prescription offered is to modernise the police and para-military forces and ensure greater centre-state coordination – again familiar recipes.

And contrary to the shrill statements on TV attributed to Modi on Pakistan, his comments about India’s neighbour were measured. His opening gambit is unexceptionable. “We don’t want to be confrontational with any country… however supremacy of national interest has to be one of the basic planks of foreign policy,” Modi said.

The focus remains on terrorism emanating from Pakistan, and India has to take “effective and demonstrable action against the terror networks that operate from its soil,” Modi said.  Shades of the NDA-UPA policies?

Coincidentally, the 15th anniversary of the 1999 Kargil war is being observed in May and in response to that war and Musharraf’s perfidy that was a setback to Vajpayee’s olive branch, Modi is cautious yet conciliatory. “I will only say that we should not be constrained by what has happened in the past if the present throws up new possibilities in terms of solutions.”

And on China, a country that Modi engaged with as chief minister of Gujarat but which is an abiding strategic anxiety for the Indian security establishment, Modi’s remarks were positive. “It is possible to solve our problems with China and take the relationship with it to another level.”

Invoking the hopeful  adage that the 21st century ‘belongs to Asia’, the comment was akin to leaving the door open and far removed from his less prudent  rhetoric at public rallies.

Indias blighted military modernization and indigenous defence production also received attention, with Modi reiterating that the country needed “timely and cost-effective procurement of quality defence equipment done in a transparent manner.” This cross has weighed heavily on successive prime ministers since the late 1980s.

In summary, Modi’s views on India’s complex and long-standing security challenges are indicative of certain continuity and are unlikely to be radical or revisionist as many fear.

The sensitive issue of the 2002 Gujarat riots was adroitly dismissed as being caught in a “time-warp.” But if Modi does become the next  prime minister of India, this is a scar that will call for empathetic redress and  an appropriate truth and reconciliation  initiative will be imperative.

Reuters coverage of Election 2014

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