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Congress and BJP manifestos remain strangely silent on transforming the military to make India a great power

Unfortunately, the election platforms of our two major political parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Indian National Congress (INC), reflect a lack of visionary and holistic approaches to national security and army transformation, instead settling for a simple “to do” list for incremental change. The manifestos reflect what the strategic community unanimously says: that India has no formal vision of national security, that it lacks a coherent national security strategy and defense policy, and that it manages national security affairs from “crisis to crisis”.

National security absent from the electoral discourse

During the 2014 election campaign, one of the BJP’s major strategies was to accuse the Congress of being weak on external and internal security. Following the Pulwama terror attack and the surgical airstrikes on the Balakot terror camp, the BJP’s 2019 campaign was driven by national security and, to a large extent, responsible for its landslide victory.

In this campaign, questions of national security are conspicuous by their absence. The BJP has many national security responsibilities due to Chinese intrusions in 2020, loss of 1,000 sq km of territory previously controlled/patrolled by India, ongoing crisis in Manipur and lack of progress in terms of military transformation. Cautiously, he remained silent. Apart from rhetorical cliches about killing terrorists in Pakistan, denial of any loss of territory in eastern Ladakh, POK being our territory and Congress’s introduction of religious reservations in the armed forces, security national was absent from the BJP’s electoral campaign.

Logically, the Congress should have made the BJP’s lackadaisical performance a major electoral issue. However, he has hesitated to do so for fear of losing the perception battle based on his own dismal record (2004-2014) and pro-government media, which only propagate the political discourse of the ruling party.


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National Security Vision and Strategy

Surprisingly, the BJP manifesto says nothing about a “Viksit Sena for Viksit Bharat 2047”. There is no mention of a long-term national security vision or a strategy for transforming the armed forces.

The manifesto glosses over threats from China, the volatile situation on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and the need to restore the status quo ante in April 2020. Safeguarding our strategic interests in the Indian Ocean region was emphasized without mentioning the threat. .

Congress is not doing any better. However, it specifically commits to formulating a comprehensive national security strategy, for which the BJP government had tasked the National Security Advisor (NSA) in 2018. It specifically highlights the serious threat posed by China and the loss of ” 2,000 square km” of territory. territory of eastern Ladakh and that “Prime Minister Narendra Dev Modi has given a clean chit to China and weakened our negotiating position”. Although not specifically mentioned in the manifesto but widely reported by the media, the Congress pledged to restore the status quo ante in April 2020 on the LAC.

Defense policy for military transformation

The two manifestos remain silent on a global defense policy aimed at transforming the armed forces. However, the Congress promises to review and issue a new operational directive of Raksha Mantri, which it had issued in 2009 and which remains the de facto functional defense policy, to address the threat on two fronts.

The BJP manifesto highlights its laudable reform in the appointment of the Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) and mentions in passing: “We will further establish military theater commands…”. without giving a timetable. So far, there has been no tangible progress towards establishing commands in theaters of operations, and the government has failed to enforce its political will. Congress promises to institutionalize the CDS nomination process to ensure transparency and military consensus, but says nothing about theater commands.

Without any mention of holistic modernization for transformation, the BJP cryptically mentions, “We will further equip the armed forces and central armed police forces with advanced modern weapons, equipment and technologies…”. Congress promises the same and aims to increase domestic manufacturing capacity for defense and security materials and equipment. Ironically, the BJP is not pushing its flagship reforms – Aatmanirbharta in the defense domain, probably due to late progress.

The BJP highlights the development of border infrastructure, which is indeed a success.


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Superior Defense Management

Congress has promised to bring the National Security Council, the NSA office, and all agencies controlled by them under parliamentary control.

The BJP carried out major reforms regarding the national security architecture in 2018, but generally remained opposed to parliamentary oversight.

Other areas of national security

The BJP has promised to regulate and monitor cyber protection agencies and infrastructure, and issue robust cybersecurity policies. It is also committed to strengthening digital sovereignty and neutralizing threats.

Congress also commits to formulating appropriate policies on data, cybersecurity, financial communications, and trade route security.

Defense budget

Congress is emphatically committed to reversing the decline in defense spending as a share of total spending. There is no doubt that from 1963 to 2010, the defense budget of successive governments represented at least three percent of GDP.

Under the BJP government, for the last ten years, the defense budget has remained less than three percent of the GDP. Even now, the party has not committed to increasing it, calling into question its plans for military transformation.

Women in the security forces

Despite the flippant political rhetoric of the BJP and Congress, the Supreme Court and high courts have been largely responsible for equal opportunities for women in the armed forces and the CAPF.

The Congress manifesto says the party is committed to expanding opportunities for women in combat and non-combat roles. In the CAPF, he promises 33 percent representation.

Soldier welfare

The Congress has vowed to address anomalies in the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme introduced by the BJP. He also promised to abandon the Agnipath project and restore the status quo ante in order to provide economic and social security to our soldiers. Anticipating harmful consequences, the BJP manifesto neither defends this “historic reform”, which was politically sold to the people and defended by the army, nor undertakes to modify it to make it more attractive.

Both parties failed to commit to developing humane policies for serving disabled soldiers and not dragging them to the Supreme Court after the Armed Forces Tribunal’s favorable rulings. This is a promise the BJP made in its 2014 manifesto and has failed to keep.

Internal security

The BJP reiterates its commitment against terrorism. He promises to eradicate left-wing extremism, but remains silent on Jammu and Kashmir and the situation in Manipur. He also promises to implement the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) on which Congress has remained silent to avoid any negative impact.

Congress is committed to suppressing hate speech, hate crimes, communal strife, crimes against women, mob lynchings, police clashes and bulldozing justice. The National Intelligence Grid and the National Counter Terrorism Center – the unfinished program of 2008 – would be operationalized. He also promises to strengthen the state police but remains silent on police reforms mandated by the Supreme Court. It makes no specific commitments on Jammu and Kashmir, left-wing extremism and Manipur. Both parties are committed to combating the drug threat.

Viksit Bharat needs Viksit Sena

India cannot become a great power without a transformed army. The least expected from the major political parties was a presentation of the national security vision, strategy and defense policy for the transformation of the armed forces, supported by the required financial commitment with a brief elaboration of the salient issues. What we have is an inconsistent to-do list, without the necessary financial commitments and deadlines.

We seek to become a developed nation by 2047, but we cannot even name our current and potential adversaries. How will we transform our armed forces to meet their threats? There is no doubt that we cannot have Viksit Bharat without Viksit Sena. It is time for political parties to go back to square one.

Lt Gen HS Panag PVSM, AVSM (R) served in the Indian Army for 40 years. He was GOC at C Northern Command and Central Command. After his retirement he served as a member of the Armed Forces Tribunal. Opinions are personal.

(Edited by Humra Laeeq)