Limited war with Pak and Ram temple only way for BJP to reclaim power in 2019?
BJP government will be in firefighting mode to prove that it is a capable administrator of the world's largest democracy
With 2019 elections looming large, it is getting clearer that many across India are unhappy with BJP's handling of in the country's financial situation. The cost of the Indian Rupee is a good indicator of the robustness of India's economy. A currency valuation slip of 15% in just one year is enough for even a layman to know that all is not well. This leads one to wonder whether the government would engage in a more dramatic situation, like limited war with its neighbour Pakistan, to divert the nation and media's attention from its failures of the past 5 years.
Many have argued that the intentions of Prime Minister Modi were good, following his message to tell the citizens that he had come as a Messiah, the only one who was going to save India from the clutches of corruption and misrule. His grandiose self-image was evident as one saw the involvement of the Prime Minister in every bit of decision making. Even when circulars to be posted inside a ministry were being formulated, it always went for approval to the Prime Ministers office.
The problem here lies with the assumption that everybody else is corrupt. In this process, one brings in leadership across the system that does not have the strength or the knowledge base to question. If you look at the choice of ministers, Modi installed people not according to their competencies but where they had little knowledge.
Take for instance, General V K Singh's appointment. Though one may question the respect he had inside the services, yet he was best qualified to be the minister of defence given India's ill-equipped forces and clear lack of preparedness. Instead, as the External Affairs Minister, which is not his strength, he has been toothless and still learning the ropes of that job. He would have also possibly been better in Home Affairs, but then the position requires political acumen and tap-dancing which V K Singh may have faltered in.
The finance ministry has been a victim of tight control by the PMO. Arun Jaitley makes a good lawyer but he is not an economist of repute. There are many others more qualified who could have done this job. Mr Jaitley has suffered from criticism from inside the BJP for being a finance minister that has brought havoc, not understanding the impact of the decisions that he makes with the Indian economy.
The list can go on and on. But this analysis is about why the BJP may resort to the limited war doctrine to win the elections.
Pakistan Is Fuelling The Fire
The recent statement of the Pakistan army chief in London that he would respond with 10 surgical strikes if India carried out one is a clear indicator by Pakistan that it's a good time for rhetoric. Administrations on both sides benefit when warmongering is upped. Those suffering are the soldiers on India's side and militants on the Pakistani side?
Why militants? Because they are the scapegoat, receiving funding and riled up to attack Indian soil. The people who lose their lives are not only civilians and Indian military but also militants. The more Indian forces are attacked, the more India focuses on its rhetoric against Pakistan - that it has to be taught a lesson and the only party that can make it happen is the BJP. However, the Indian defence forces function and fight whichever party is in power.
The challenge today is the depleting resources available to the Indian military to stay in a state of readiness. I was in conversation with an officer of engineers and he said that the amount of resources required for exercises is just not there and if India has to be war ready then it must be constantly in exercises to stay in the state of readiness. India has spent only 1.58% of its GDP on defence, which is the least it has spent in the last 50 years. So rhetoric apart, you have to put your money where your mouth is and that is what is not being done.
Instead, what we see is tokenism, bring in a few former military officers into the government, effectively bribing them to keep silent and not protest the lack of resources, making India's military toothless. The soldiers will still fight when the war happens but the casualties will be higher.
Simple operations like surrounding a house last for days because of lack of modern technology, or unavailability of it with soldiers. A simple thermal imager with every unit would be able to end operations quickly and reduce casualty. Every soldier in an ideal world should have thermal imaging scopes to fight terrorists.
Pakistan's doctrine may be no different from India's which is why the Pakistani army makes seemingly aggressive statements. What would Pakistan army attack in a surgical strike when India has no militant camps that are training people to go into Pakistan for terrorism? Yet, military cantonments are being attacked by militants funded from Pakistan repeatedly. An attack by Pakistani army on a cantonment may, however, have a grave fallout, leading to a limited war that would play right into the hands of the BJP government for the 2019 elections.
Temple and article 370
The other two big claims of the BJP to come to power were that they will be able to get the Ram temple in place and have Article 370 removed. The temple is stuck in a title suit in the Supreme Court, which is being fast-tracked, attracting speculations of the judiciary being controlled by the ruling party. But, no Chief justice would ruin the reputation of the country for aiding a political party. In the case of Chief Justice Gogoi, he also has the name of his family behind him and he would not play into the hands of politicians. The temple is a title suit and if India has to showcase its strength as a nation it will have to showcase the rule of law as the only thing that influences the nation and not religious beliefs. Fathers of India had the model of keeping religion away from administration. But many in India today believe that India should go the direction of being a Hindu nation. A wealthy corporate leader once asked me why should India not be a Hindu leader and I said very clearly I don't think when Indian's of all religions signed up to be part of India, they had a Hindu nation in mind.
If anybody wants to go back to the drawing board, you should have a referendum state-wise and then decide and see who wants to be part of that nation. It cannot happen subversively.
Demonetisation and GST
The reason India was continuing to succeed in spite of mismanagement was that every businessman had put their own strategy in place and the competition was open and fierce and the market would determine its own price of goods. The only control the government had was to be the arbitrator when the fight unfolded.
The government made a bold move saying that let's bring all economic activity within government's purview, a well-intention move with the idea to make the government richer, and spend more on welfare. But the move was a disaster because the citizens were neither ready nor educated in advance on how to make those changes and the free market system collapsed. The real sufferers are the small and medium sized businesses as their market has literally been eroded over-night.
The government of India lacked the foresight and the strategy to carry out both demonetisation and GST. People are continuing to deal with it, many failed businesses are still figuring out their strategy to survive. Black money has flooded the market again, you can go to any shop in India's wholesale hub Chandni Chowk and under every table see lakhs of rupees sitting in cash, which means most trading is in cash. The question is clear - do you want to purchase with a bill or without?
The doctrine of war for elections
If the final judgement on the Ram temple is not in time then the BJP government will have very little to show in terms of achievement in the last 5 years of being in power. The government will have show more than a "Clean India" campaign as the reason for being re-elected.
Article 370 is still a far cry as the government has not moved on it. The BJP government took a very bad call to bring the PDP-BJP alliance in play, setting up an opportunity for governors rule to crush militancy with an iron fist but that is not in the interest of the democracy. It may have short-term military gains. It may also help in halting corruption for a while but not having representatives of the people interacting with them will further instil distrust in Kashmir.
A limited conflict has the ability to prop up the need for a jingoistic leader, to instil a fear that India is under threat and can only be defended by a war-mongering leader. The same way every Pakistani leader has come to power, with raising anti-India slogans and promise to expand the land mass that Islam can hold.
The population of the sub-continent will be held hostage to misrule by the leadership in the region. The military forces will continue to bear the brunt of such misadventures.
The elections are a time for many disillusioned folks and those that believe in Hindu nationalism as the way forward, possibly the easiest to pander to in demand for preserving culture and identity. Insecurity of the way of life is the easiest rhetoric of winning elections. Jingoism and perceived threat by another religion, culture or ethnicity always work to incite anger and distrust. Politics of division is working and thriving.