Monday, December 29, 2014

Treat armed militias in north-east as criminals

My take in rediff: (

The situation in Assam would be a farce, if it wasn't such a tragedy. Over 80 people, among them women and children, have been mercilessly massacred by a breakaway faction of a group that is purportedly in peace talks with the government.
Every year, for the past decade, the state has been witness to a massacre or a riot affecting innocent civilians. Each time, the State has got away lightly.
Statistics available with the terrorism portal reveal that the killings in Assam have never ceased, although the state government under veteran Congress leader Tarun Gogoi has claimed the return of peace for over a decade.
Yes, on the surface Assam appears calm; Guwahati and other towns have witnessed a boom in goods and services transactions; multi-storied buildings now dot Assam's capital. Shopping malls, multiplexes, fancy new restaurants have sprung up in large numbers in Guwahati.
But scratch the surface a bit, and the ugly truth is bared: Assam is still a violent state.
According to the statistics on, a total of 2,652 people (civilians, terrorists and security personnel) died in insurgency-related violence between 2004 and 2014. This does not include those killed in riots which are not infrequent in Assam.
So the fact that the number of killings in Assam over the last two years (423) has surpassed Jammu and Kashmir (378) should not come as a surprise to anyone watching the north-eastern state closely.
The sad reality is: The State has abdicated its responsibility in Assam for the past decade. Instead, it has chosen the path of least resistance and established a symbiotic relationship with the very perpetrators of violence, granting the rag-tag outfits the legitimacy they don't deserve.
Numerous accords, suspension of operations (SoOs) and cosy arrangements with non-State militias by the state government, actively encouraged by the complicity of the United Progressive Alliance-led central government, gave a free run to the beasts who call themselves insurgents.
Be it the accord with the Jewel Garlosa group of Dima Halong Daogah (DHD), a Dimasa tribal militia, raised by a cabinet minister in the Tarun Gogoi ministry to secure his base in the North Cachar Hills district, or the cosy arrangement with the ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom), the NDFB (National Democratic Front of Bodoland) or a little-known rag-tag outfit called KLNLF (Karbi Longri NC Hills Liberation Front), the Tarun Gogoi government, with the active connivance of the Union home ministry, continued to molly-coddle the killers between 2008 and 2012.
Several instances come to mind. In October 2004, for instance, after killing 50 innocent non-Bodos, the NDFB asked Gogoi to call off operations against the outfit. The chief minister promptly obliged in order to facilitate 'peace' talks.
Gogoi's government also accepted without protest the NDFB's claim that it had on its rolls over 1,000 cadres when in reality it was decimated in the previous year's Operation All Clear in Bhutan. The tendency to inflate cadre strength is actually a strategy adopted by these groups to extract as much money from the ever-obliging governments as possible.
The same NDFB carried out one of the most heinous acts of terrorism, killing over 90 people in Guwahati in simultaneous bomb blasts (A confession here: I had got it wrong initially, while reporting the incident). Despite the outrageous killings, the government refused to call off the peace process with the NDFB.
The DHD, the KLNLF with barely 200 to 300 cadres extracted concessions way beyond their capabilities and influence. These killers have been showered with luxuries, hard cash running into several million rupees and treated with kid gloves by the law. They live in safe houses provided by the State, looked after as VIP guests, given all the facilities normally reserved for state guests.
The story is repeated with every militia named above.
The latest outrage, carried out by one of the NFDB's three factions, is nothing but a pressure tactic to gain importance.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh will have to treat these militias for what they are: Criminals armed with deadly weapons. Otherwise, nothing will distinguish the National Democratic Alliance government from the 10 year-long perfidy of the UPA in Assam.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

National interest, not domestic politics should govern India's Sri Lanka policy from now on

The article below was originally written in early October for the CLAWS (Centre for Land Ware Studies) Journal, Winter 2014 edition, much before the elections in Sri Lanka was announced by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. 

The conviction in September 2014 of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha in an 18-year old corruption case will have far-reaching impact on politics in the Dravidian state. But the consequences of the verdict are likely to have far-reaching consequences even for India’s policy towards its southern neighbour Sri Lanka. 

Jayalalitha, whose party the AIADMK rules Tamil Nadu with a handsome majority in the legislative assembly and has the third largest members in the lower house of India’s Parliament, has been a strident critic of New Delhi’s approach towards Colombo, especially its stand on the thorny issue of Indian fishermen getting caught by the Sri Lankan Navy in the Palk Strait that separates the two countries.

Although her party will continue to rule Tamil Nadu (she will take some time to return to the Chief Minister’s chair, if at all), Jayalalitha’s diminished clout is likely to provide some breathing space to the Centre in trying to repair its relationship with Sri Lanka, severely damaged by the events of the past five years, especially after the end of Eelam War IV—the final Sri Lankan military campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE-- which concluded in May 2009.

To understand the ‘on-off’ relationship between New Delhi and Colombo, a closer look at the past decade is therefore essential.

When Sri Lanka launched its military offensive against the LTTE in 2005, New Delhi was caught in a dilemma born out of domestic political compulsions. As a country, India wanted LTTE to be ruthlessly eliminated but the ruling United Progress Alliance (UPA) led by the Congress Party at the centre, was heavily dependent for survival in Parliament on the DMK , a party that was considered a close ally of the LTTE and even seen as a facilitator in Tamil Nadu. For the Manmohan Singh government therefore, it was a tightrope walk in dealing with the Sri Lankan situation. 

It is important to remember that the UPA’s first stint in power (2004-2009) coincided with the beginning of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure in Sri Lanka. He took over as President in late 2005 and immediately paid a visit to New Delhi. India was aware of Rajapaksa’s intention to take the LTTE head on. Although in the initial days he was advised to seek a negotiated settlement with the Tigers, New Delhi saw merit in Rajapaksa’s argument that the LTTE was only biding its time to regroup and rearm itself 
and that war was inevitable sooner than later. And if the LTTE was preparing for a showdown, Rajapaksa did not want to be caught off guard either. His armed forces needed to be ready for any eventuality.

The President therefore sent his brothers Basil and Gotabaya to New Delhi with a shopping list for essential weapons and equipment that the Sri Lankan armed forces needed. The shopping list included air defence weapons, artillery guns, Nishant UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and laser designators for PGMs (precision-guided munitions).

Initially, New Delhi was non-committal. Top officials involved in the talks on either side told me that in its typical bureaucratic style, New Delhi neither said yes nor said no to the visiting Sri Lankans. So the two brothers went back slightly disappointed but were still hopeful of getting Indian help. Outwardly, India did adopt a hands off policy vis-à-vis the Sri Lanka conflict. But that was because of domestic political compulsions born out of the fact that the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in New Delhi was dependent upon the DMK party from Tamil Nadu for its survival in the Parliament. So, publicly India maintained that it would not give Sri Lanka any offensive weapons.

Yet, in early 2006 India quietly gifted five Mi-17 helicopters to the Sri Lankan Air Force. The only Indian condition was: these helicopters would fly under Sri Lankan Air Force colours. New Delhi clearly did not want to annoy UPA’s Tamil Nadu allies like the DMK unnecessarily. 

The Mi-17s were in addition to a Sukanya Class offshore patrol vessel (OPV) gifted by the Indian Coast Guard to the Sri Lankan Navy Sri Lankan defence sources later told me that these helicopters played a major role in several daring missions launched by the Sri Lankan Air Force to rescue the Army’s Deep Penetration Units and the eight-man teams whenever they were surrounded by LTTE’s counter-infiltration units or when injured soldiers had to be airlifted from deep inside LTTE held territory.

But hampered by domestic compulsion, New Delhi could not go beyond such meagre and clandestine transfer of military hardware. And publicly all that India was willing to acknowledge was the supply of low-flying detection “Indra” radars to the Sri Lankan Air
Force since this equipment was considered a defensive apparatus. Colombo, on the other hand, was becoming increasingly restless since an all-out war with the LTTE looked inevitable. 

The Rajapaksa regime was nothing if not shrewd. It knew the past history. It was aware of the dynamics that determined India’s domestic politics in the context of Tamil Nadu. It was also conscious of India’s anxiety in losing strategic space in Sri Lanka. But above all, the Rajapaksa brothers were pragmatic enough to realize that Sri Lanka needed India’s support in the prosecution of the war against the LTTE, total support from China and Pakistan notwithstanding simply because India was Sri Lanka’s next door big neighbour. Colombo could ignore India but only up to a point.

The final phase of the war was marked by allegations of massive human rights violations and war crimes, with human rights organisations worldwide accusing the Sri Lankan government forces of firing on so-called ‘no-fire zones’ in which thousands of Tamil civilians had sought shelter. During this final phase of the war India played a key role in warding off international pressure on Sri Lanka. After the end of the war, New Delhi went so far as to support the Sri Lankan government in a special session at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on 28 May 2009, voting against a motion that called for an investigation of war crimes. India also helped Colombo in the post-war reconstruction effort by providing financial assistance for infrastructure projects and humanitarian assistance for the displaced population.

Post-2009 however, domestic pressure Tamil Nadu forced the Indian government to join international calls for an investigation of human rights violations and war crimes. In a significant departure from its previous approach, in March 2012 and March 2013, New Delhi voted in favour of U.S.-sponsored UNHRC resolutions that asked the Sri Lankan government to fulfil its commitments and take actions to ensure justice, accountability and reconciliation (2012) and to carry out an independent investigation into alleged human rights law and humanitarian law violations (2013), respectively. 

This was a substantial shift in New Delhi’s approach, which had always been opposed to country-specific resolutions and to interference with the internal affairs of third countries. Colombo did not take this change in India’s stance kindly. 

New Delhi also used all its leverage with Colombo to hold provincial council elections in the Tamil-dominated Northern Province of Sri Lanka in a first and long-delayed step towards the devolution of power and the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution, which provides for the establishment of a system of provincial councils. The elections were ultimately held on 21 September 2013, leading to an overwhelming victory for the Tamil National Alliance. 

The most obvious example of domestic politics casting a shadow over India’s policy towards Sri Lanka came in November 2013 when the 23rd Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) was held in Colombo. The Sri Lankan government had wanted to use this event to regain international legitimacy after the controversy over the UNHRC votes and the repeated doubts on its human rights record. 

The participation of India’s Prime Minister in the CHOGM meeting was therefore considered absolutely essential. But ahead of the CHOGM, both main Tamil parties—AIADMK and DMK—appealed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to boycott the summit. Several ministers in Singh’s cabinet who hail from Tamil Nadu – among them then Finance Minister P. Chidambaram – were opposed to the prime minister’s participation in the CHOGM. A broad coalition of actors from Tamil Nadu therefore forced the weakened Manmohan Singh to boycott the meeting despite the foreign policy establishment’s argument against it. Officials in the Ministry of External Affairs pointed that New Delhi needed to keep some leverage on the Rajapaksa regime if only to get the Sri Lankan government to work for the welfare of minority Tamils in Sri Lanka.

However, after a huge domestic debate, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ultimately decided not to participate in the CHOGM further alienating Colombo. But all that was in the past. Since May 26, 2014 when Narendra Modi took charge at the centre as Prime Minister, a subtle shift in India’s policy towards its neighbours is evident. In a move that surprised many, Modi invited all heads of state from the South Asian region for his oath taking ceremony. By doing so, he demonstrated that the central pillar of his foreign policy will be to accord priority to India’s neighbourhood and pay particular attention to ensuring friendly neighbours. In the process, he simultaneously defined the contours of his government’s policy for South Asia and outlined India’s geographic area of immediate strategic interest. 

With an overwhelming and strong mandate behind him, Modi does not need to depend on the Tamil Nadu parties for survival in the Lok Sabha although his government does need AIADMK support in the Rajya Sabha especially in ushering in legislative changes.  

So how will Prime Minister Modi deal with the Sri Lanka policy vis-a-vis Tamil Nadu politics?

His government is likely to follow a two-track approach: expand India’s trade and cultural ties with Sri Lanka on one hand while at the same time continuing to exert pressure on Colombo to fully implement the 13th amendment to its Constitution and working with the Sri Lankan government to ensure that minority Tamils get their rightful due within the framework of Sri Lanka’s existing political and constitutional architecture.

One big challenge to India’s Sri Lanka policy will come from China’s growing influence on Colombo. President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government has played New Delhi against Beijing with great deftness over the past decade and reaped considerable benefits from that policy. New Delhi should be pragmatic enough to realise that it has indeed ceded  space to China in the neighbourhood and especially in Sri Lanka due to its own flip-flops in dealing with Colombo. The Modi government should therefore focus on regaining its foothold in the island nation by following a more pragmatic policy that is not constrained by domestic considerations and is based purely on India’s national interest.

Friday, December 26, 2014

A few good men and an angry sea: The IAF story

Air Commodore Nitin Sathe (3rd from left) with Air Chief
Ten years ago today, one of the 21st century's biggest disasters--the tsunami--struck most of South and South-East Asia killing over quarter of a million people. Closer home, the tsunami affected southern Indian states but its most devastating impact was felt in the Andaman Nicobar group of islands.

 THE ISLAND of Car Nicobar is about 1,500 kilometre east of Chennai and almost the same distance south of Kolkata. It takes four-and-half hours to arrive on the island from Chennai by a slow moving propeller aircraft like the Antonov-32. The sea route is an experience in itself and takes about forty-eight hours.

 It is also the southernmost Indian military base  that houses an Indian Air Force Station. Car Nicobar was completely destroyed in 2004. Many air warriors and their families died; the infrastructure on the island was totally flattened by the rampaging sea on that fateful morning.

The IAF, in a typical military fashion, launched one of its biggest missions in the Andaman Nicobar Islands but after the immediate rescue was done, the big task of retrieving the situation, rebuilding the base from scratch and rehabilitating civilians as well as families of air warriors remained.

That's when a task force was formed. And in no time, the CarNic as the Car Nicobar base is known, was up and running. The effort was herculean. Air Commodore Nitin Sathe, a serving senior helicopter pilot of the Indian Air Force, then a Wing Commander in-charge of a station at Patiala, was made the Task Force Commander of the team that was entrusted with putting the CarNIC base back on its feet.

A decade after the tsunami Air Commodore Sathe has put together the incredible story of survival, guts, resilience and indomitable spirit of the air warriors and their families, civilians and the government's efforts in rebuilding the strategically important military base, in a book

A Few Good Men and  the ANGRY Sea: 2004 Tsunami, the IAF Story

As he says

26 December 2004:

"A DAY that changed my life forever. That day, the tsunami ravaged a large part of the peninsular region of India, and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands in particular, causing devastation and tragedy. I was among the few who had the opportunity to go and serve on the Andaman & Nicobar Islands soon after the catastrophe occurred. That experience changed the way I look at life. I would first like to salute those who bore the brunt of the earthquake and the subsequent deadly waves. They had no choice when nature unleashed its fury on them. I salute the team of dedicated Indians who were part of the rescue, relief and rehabilitation effort, who toiled against tremendous odds to help humanity. These people came to the devastated islands by choice. Volunteers came from all walks of life—from the Indian Armed Forces, the Paramilitary, the National Disaster Relief Force, the Police, voluntary organisations, the IT industry and other fields.

They had just one goal—to help the affected get back on their feet as soon as possible. I will always be indebted to the Indian Air Force for giving me the opportunity to serve in the mission, and later permitting me to get this book published."

THE WORD ‘tsunami’ is said to be of Japanese origin and means ‘harbour wave’. These are high frequency-low amplitude waves generated by seismic activity on the ocean floor, vertically displacing the overlying water in the ocean. These waves travel at a speed of up to 700-800 kilometre per hour above the ocean floor. As they reach the shallow waters of the continental shelf, they transform into waves of larger amplitude and low frequency and travel at speeds up to 70 kmph. The huge mass of water at this speed can smash through literally everything in its path once it hits land. The waves are typically 10 to 15 metres high (and can go as high as 25 to 30 metres) and can cause colossal destruction up to about one to three kilometre inland. More often than not, these waves, formed under the ocean due to smaller earthquakes, die out and don’t manifest themselves as destructive tsunamis. Any earthquake of above 7.5 on the Richter scale is likely to cause a large tsunami wave of destructive nature if many other conditions are met. A large percentage of these would still peter out by themselves. The 26 December 2004 tsunami had been preceded by an earthquake of 9.0 on the Richter scale, with its epicentre near the city of Banda Aceh on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, in the early hours of 0628 hours IST. This was the second severest earthquake ever recorded in history. The earthquake’s epicentre was 10 kilometre below the surface of the ocean, along two tectonic plates. The fault created along the tectonic plates was about a 1,000 kilometre in length, aligned in a north-south direction. This generated a wave travelling in an east-west direction, which had enough energy to travel for about 4,500 km, to hit some parts of the eastern shores of Africa 24 hours later. The fi rst recorded tsunami in India dates back to 31 December 1881. An earthquake of magnitude 7.5 on the Richter scale, with its epicentre believed to have been above the sea just off the shoreline of Car Nicobar Island, caused a small tsunami. THE TOTAL energy released by the 2004 earthquake has been estimated as 3.35 Exajoules (3.35 x 1018 Joules), as noted by the Royal Geographic Society. This is equivalent to 930 terawatt hours of electric power—as much as the entire United States consumes in eleven days! The earthquake can be compared to a 0.8 Gigaton TNT explosion which can cause shock waves across the planet. The entire earth’s surface is estimated to have moved vertically by up to a centimetre. This shift of mass and massive release of energy slightly altered the earth’s rotation and also caused a ‘wobble’ on its axis, reported various science journals and media articles.
The book records the early hours of tsunami thus:

"Squadron Leader Selson Rodrigues hosted a Christmas party at his home near the beach that year. Almost all the officers and their families stationed at the Indian Air Force base on the island attended the celebrations which continued well into the night. Plans were made for a beach dance party on New Year’s Eve. The bachelors wanted the party to be held in the ante-room at the Officers’ Mess, which had recently been fitted with disco lights and a huge music system. These young officers felt that the station had had too many parties by the sea and 2005 should be brought in differently. The party at the Rodrigues’ home wound up well past midnight. A couple of hours later (0628 hours IST), strong tremors shook the island. The residents were jolted out of their sleep by the tremors and the cracking noise that accompanied them it. This lasted for almost six to eight minutes, making walls fracture and fixtures fall all over. More aftershocks followed in a few minutes. It seemed that the entire island was in a continuous swaying motion. The islands are prone to high seismic activity, so those stationed on Car Nicobar were familiar with earthquakes. This one, though, was gigantic compared to the ones they had experienced so far. Flying Officer DJ Bhandarkar, a still-serving officer who is one of the survivors of the 2004 tsunami, describes it graphically in his diary: In my sleep, I felt as if someone was shaking me very vigorously. I opened my eyes. The bed on which I was sleeping got pushed away and crashed against the cupboard which was almost two feet away and came back. I was shocked. The fan above was shaking from side to side so violently that all the blades had bent. All around there was a haunting sound coming from the ground. The walls were shaking like paper, the floor was shaking, moving up and down with a very severe screeching sound coming from the walls of the house. I saw water seeping in from the overgrowth with tremendous force and it was heading in our direction. Telephones rang and discussions took place. The officers started trooping out of their homes and stood talking to each other across the fences, unaware at the time of what was to come. Even as they were discussing the situation, some of the officers noticed the Station Commander, Group Captain VV Bandopadhyay, whizzing by in his car. Bandy wanted to find out what damage had been caused to the hangars, service property and the airmen’s accommodation. He was most worried about the hangars since they had been declared weak and fragile by experts who had examined them recently. As the bewildered personnel stood looking out towards the sea, they were stunned to discover that the water had withdrawn much more than it did even during very low tides. As a result, the brilliant coral was visible and glistened in multiple colours, exposed from under the water for the first time. Intrigued, some adventurous officers grabbed their cameras and rushed to the shoreline. 

The sea continued to recede and the officers had an eyeful of the brilliant blues, reds, oranges and yellows of the exposed corals, little understanding the sinister implications of this beautiful sight. Squadron Leader NS Dihot had just bought a video camera and decided this was an opportunity not to be missed. He dashed down to the beach to get the footage he wanted. A damaged camera was washed ashore a few days later; the man was lost forever..."

The book, a mix of personal recollections, the post-disaster rescue efforts and the journey of the base in the last decade, should be read by everyone who cares for the armed forces.

 At the time of the tsunami, the base supported an approximate population of 2,000 which included the families of officers and airmen. Barring the absence of families, today, the air base is fully functional and available for round-the-clock operations. The strategic reach of the Air Force and the power projection of our country is enhanced manifold due to the availability of this base at this very strategic location.

Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha  released the book at Air HQ on Friday.

Air Commodore Nitin Sathe, his colleagues and the Air Force need to be commended for this marvellous effort.

Monday, December 15, 2014

China curious to understand BJP's membership drive

Somewhat misleading headline but illustrates how keen the Chinese are to understand India's political process.

BJP member drive raises one-party concerns
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), now in power in India, wants to become the world's biggest political outfit. The membership drive, kicked off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 1, is slated to run until March 31 next year. If it manages to triple the number of members by then, its stated goal, the BJP might surpass the Communist Party of China's 86 million members.

This is not an unrealistic aim. In the Lok Sabha elections held in May, the party polled 170 million votes. The calculation within the top echelons of the party is that even if over half of these voters can be converted into full-time members, the BJP can easily achieve the objective of having over 100 million members.

The party, however, is not satisfied with just numbers. One of its vice presidents, Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, told me, "Post-March 2015, we intend to build on the membership drive by holding a mass contact program and conducting orientation training for our new members. The intention is to make them aware of the party's policies and philosophy." He pointed out that modern technology now enables political parties to be transparent about the process of membership. "Mobile phones allow us to give free membership to all those who intend to be part of our drive. Technology also eliminates the possibility of fraudulent membership," he added.

The BJP may be upbeat about its new-found support but there are muted voices expressing fears about the party turning into a political hegemon in coming years.

Already, during two recent state elections, the BJP has turned the tables on its allies by emerging as the first party of choice and reducing the allies either to junior partners or rendering them completely irrelevant.

For instance, the Shiv Sena, a dominant partner in Maharashtra for over a quarter century, is now very much a smaller part of the new government in that state. The Haryana Janhit Congress, a former ally of the BJP that walked away from the alliance, is now marginalized, with the BJP winning a majority on its own for the first time in the state of Haryana's history in November. There are speculations that the Shiromani Akali Dal, one of the BJP's oldest political allies, may also face the heat by the time state elections come round in 2016.

This has given rise to a fear among a section of political observers that BJP's phenomenal rise does not bode well for India. The world's largest democracy, they contend, must have more diverse representation, not single-party rule. But the BJP brushes aside these fears. "We are a political party and we have the right to expand our base, no matter what our detractors feel or say," another party leader asserted.

In the short run, the BJP will certainly emerge as the most dominant political outfit as the party takes advantage of the winds blowing in its favor.

India has seen a single-party monopoly in the past too. In the first 20 years after India attained independence, the Congress party was unrivalled. But post-1967, other smaller parties started to make inroads.

Right now however, the BJP is the first choice for most Indian voters, leaving the Congress party, its biggest pan-India rival, far behind. In fact, the Congress has never formally put a number on its membership, although it is perhaps the oldest political party in India. In the years during India's freedom struggle in the first half of the 20th century, the Congress party was run more like a social movement rather than a well-organized political machine. It is therefore not a surprise to see that the Congress party has never been able to count its members. No matter how many of them there are, however, they may soon be outstripped by the BJP's push to be the only game in town.

The author is a freelancer and a commentator on strategic and defense issues in India.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

President Putin's visit and South Asia

ANI's Smita Prakash and me in conversation on President Putin's visit and what it means for South Asian dynamics: (

And my piece on

Russian Boost to 'Make in India': 400 Helicopters a Year

One of the major takeaways from Russian President Vladimir Putin's 23-hour visit to New Delhi, was Moscow's keenness to locate a manufacturing facility in India to produce as well as export up to 400 Mi-17 medium lift and Kamov Ka-226 light utility helicopters or LUH in India every year.

This is a major boost, from an old, trusted partner, for the defence sector's ambitious 'Make in India' project, unveiled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi some months ago. 

The Ka-226 had competed in the Indian military's global LUH tender before the Indian Defence Ministry cancelled the process and decided to source the helicopters-- like many other military equipment - through the 'Make in India' project.

India and Russia have already jointly developed and manufactured the Brahmos, one of the world's most potent missiles, and more joint Indo-Russian ventures with facilities in India are expected to further boost the defence and economic relations between the two countries. 
The proposed manufacturing facility, to be put up in collaboration with an Indian partner, will also aim at exporting helicopters to other countries. More significantly however, the decision to establish plants to manufacture spare parts for Russian-sourced arms and equipment used by Indian armed forces, will be welcomed by the three services.

Apart from generating jobs for the Indian workforce, these facilities will ensure that supply of critical spare parts for crucial equipment will be available within the country. From main battle tanks to combat jets and from ships to submarines, over 60 per cent of weapons and platforms across the three services in India are still of Soviet origin. But availability of spares and consequently quality of maintenance and servicing has been rather erratic of late leading to bitterness amongst old friends.

The inability of the original manufacturers from Russia to meet Indian requirements and the declining quality of service, had led to the Indian military to look for other military suppliers from the US, Israel and France.

In fact, of late the Russians, especially their veteran Ambassador to India, have been rather vociferous in criticising India's apparent tilt towards the West for importing defence equipment. Prime Minister Modi's statement after talks with the Russian President that, "We have a strategic partnership that is incomparable in content," must have come as music to Putin's ear's since Russia has been smarting under Western sanctions in the wake of the Ukraine episode. Moscow is actually looking for reassurances from new friends (China) and old allies (India). 

Putin's Delhi visit would have been worth it only on that count alone.

Another statement by the Indian Prime Minister while referring to India diversifying its sources of procurement of defence hardware in recent years, would have pleased the Russian President. "Even if India's options have increased, Russia remains our most important defence partner," Mr Modi said. 

There is still no clarity however how quickly India and Russia will be able to resolve their differences over the ambitious co-development and joint manufacturing of a fifth generation fighter aircraft. Although equally funded by New Delhi and Moscow, the project has not progressed to India's satisfaction yet.

These hiccups notwithstanding, India's ambitious 'Make in India' campaign would certainly gain momentum if the Russians deliver on their promise.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Harnessing use of social media will be Army's biggest challenge in coming years


Fighting a well-trained, heavily-armed enemy is routine for the Indian Army in Kashmir. It, however, appears clueless in the face of an almost daily ambush by warriors of the social media.

While brave troops eliminated six suicide attackers in Uri on Friday, December 5, in less than six hours, the army leadership is fighting a losing battle of perception triggered by a couple of WhatsApp messages apparently sent by junior army officers.

The message, referring to the Uri attack and the heavy initial casualties suffered by the army reads: 'As per reports, soldiers on the sentry duty on the army camp did not fire upon the approaching terrorist vehicle due to caution imposed on them after the Anantnag incident.'

The message continues: 'When (the) Anantnag incident took place last month, the corps commander of the 15 Corps and army commander of the Northern Command had both called it a mistake... Should not the Army Cdr (commander) and Corps cdr (commander) consider resigning for this goof up.'

'Generals should stop playing to (the) gallery and mind their own business and allow soldiers to do their job.'

Perhaps aware of this perception fuelled by the WhatsApp message and the earlier criticism by veterans about the army admitting that its troops had made a mistake in killing two teenaged boys, the Northern Army Commander, Lieutenant General D S Hooda on Saturday wrote to all the divisional commanders in Jammu and Kashmir to adopt a new approach to fighting Pakistan's proxy war and make sure junior officers and men do not fall prey to 'messages that sway sentiments.'

'The print, electronic and social media are powerful tools which sway not only public opinion, but also the sentiments of our own officers and men,' General Hooda in his letter said.
'Let us not fall prey to them. The only way to counter this is by our own courage of conviction that what we are doing is professionally correct and honourable,' the general added.
'The army is deployed in J&K to do a job and we will do it to the best of our ability. Mistakes will happen. Let me assure you that I have a clear understanding of the difficulties under which we operate and that nobody will be unfairly harmed. This clear message must go out to all units.'

General Hooda's concern is not misplaced. For the past couple of years, the armed forces in general and the army in particular are faced with increasing intrusion of social media in its internal discourse.

Senior officers have often spoken about several instances of unverified, half-true and distorted reports quickly spreading across units and formations, thanks to the proliferation of Twitter and WhatsApp platforms.

Many examples abound:
  • During the infamous beheading incident in Poonch in January 2013, Twitter messages generated a frenzy of extreme opinions.
  • Portions of an unusual internal lecture by the commandant of a premier training institute were circulated on Whatsapp, embarrassing him.
  • A critical comment -- later found to false -- about the members of the 7th Pay Commission 'gallivanting' and picnicking in Ladakh raced through Google groups and Facebook pages three-four months ago.
  • In at least half a dozen cases in the Indian Air Force its personnel were found to have been 'trapped' by adversaries (read Pakistan's ISI) while chatting on Facebook.
Alarmed by these and many more such incidents, the military is searching for the right answers, but in absence of a coherent 'social media' policy, none of the services have been able to device an appropriate response so far.

One suggestion has been to open dedicated Facebook pages for formations and employ a Twitter handle for the topmost three-star operational commanders so that they can instantly -- and internally -- communicate the correct position to officers and men.
For instance, the Northern Army Commander can have a 'bulletin board' or a Twitter handle on the army's 'intranet' to clarify matters or issue a statement to put things in perspective.
In absence of such a mechanism, senior officers admit, they have to depend upon the media to convey their thoughts.

"The media does not always play ball or carry the statement in full even if we issue a clarification, further distorting the message," a top army officer confessed to me last month.
Even in the Uri incident, veterans point out that the initial casualties suffered by the army were part due to bad luck and part because of the suicidal nature of the attack and not due to any restraint imposed on troops.

"To link the deaths in Uri to the earlier stand taken by the army in the Anantnag/Badgam incident is stretching the reality," a veteran commander says. But such is the nature of the social media beast that it has forced the army to fight a battle of perception both within the force and outside.

With increasing use of social media for instant communication, the services better find a quick solution to the challenge they face or else continue to remain on the back foot despite doing sterling work in combating the proxy war in Kashmir

Monday, December 8, 2014

India, please wake up before its too late

Lt Col Sankalp Kumar, the lone officer among 10 security personnel martyred in Uri on Friday.

This tough officer from 24 Punjab regiment, was martyred in the Uri attack on Friday, leaving behind wife and these two cute daughters. All these are known facts. 

What is relatively lesser known is this story shared by another officer.

"Sirs, when I came to know the name, Sankalp Kumar, it brought back memories of April 2003.The scene was 92 Base Hospital, Srinagar. 

Myself and Sankalp lying next to each other in ICU. Both were recently operated upon.

Lt. Col Sankalp Kumar with his daughters. 

He had got gun shot wounds. I was badly injured in grenade and IED blast.

His injuries were peculiar. 

He had caught  a burst of AK on his stomach. Some which hit the magazines which he was carrying and live rounds were extracted from his belly..His parents came over and would always talk to both of us. Even in ICU he was full of fun and his never ending jokes caused a lot of   pain as both of us since we had over 40 stitches on the stomach.

 He was a soldier in the truest sense. It is officers like him. He is Lt Colonel Sankalp Kumar, martyred in the line of duty in Uri. He was already a battle casualty. Not recommended to serve in a field area. But, he volunteered to serve  in Kashmir for the love of his Paltan, 24 Punjab.


Adds a veteran:

"Thank God for giving us Lt Col  Sankalp Kumar and many other soldiers like him. It is because of them that this country can sleep in comparative peace. In spite of being a battle casualty already and NOT required to again serve in a field area, he VOLUNTEERED to be with his men, That is the spirit of soldiering, I feel.

But, what irritates me is the topsyturvy  priorities of the media. A few days back, all the TV channels that I see were busy giving live coverage of the Australian cricketer, who succumbed after getting hit by a bouncer. But, not a word about the 3 soldiers who died that day in Kashmir. Seems what a minister in Bihar said is true. When he was asked why he did not attend the cremation of a martyred soldier from his village, he had said:  What is new? He is paid to die for his country.

"This is the most demoralising mindset that a soldier gets from an ungrateful nation. Think it over.`I wrote on this to many of the  editors of newspapers & magazines. None of them thought the idea is worth publishing. Those of you, who have access to such  persons, may try your luck, if you feel the idea is correct."

However if the government and society at large continue to ignore the soldier, we as a nation are in serious trouble. 

Let us all introspect and take corrective measures before its too late.

Army is fighting a war, and not terrorism, in J&K


For the past six months Pakistan is using the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and other terrorist groups to launch frontal attacks on Indian security forces and assets instead of aimlessly targeting civilians. The sooner all of us understand this, the better it is.
The last three attacks on Indian assets -- one in Afghanistan and two in Jammu and Kashmir -- are a clear demonstration of Pakistan's last throw of dice in sending highly-trained and motivated fidayeen to specifically target the Indian Army and other security forces.
The first instance took place three days before Narendra Modi was to be sworn in as prime minister on May 26. The target was India's consulate in Afghanistan's Herat.
A Lashkar-e-Tayiba hit squad was assigned to take hostages and lay siege at the Indian consulate. The LeT hit-squad, highly trained, heavily armed and intensely motivated, seemed to have come prepared for a long haul. Security sources said each of the four attackers carried AK-47 rifles and six magazines each.
Two of them also carried under barrel grenade launchers or UGBLs and rocket propelled grenades or RPGs. Each also carried fruits, nearly half a kg of dry fruits and water bottles.
The Herat attack and the last two attempts to push in terrorists into the Kashmir valley have uncanny similarities. In both the attacks last week, terrorists had come equipped for a prolonged fight and were eventually prepared to die.
This is a new breed of fidayeen Pakistan has invested in.
On the night of December 1, half a dozen terrorists tried to infiltrate the Tootmari gali in the Naugam sector at an altitude of 14,000 feet. The army killed all six and recovered huge 'war-like' stores right on the Shamshabari range.
All six terrorists fought for 12 hours and were equipped with high-end gadgets and sophisticated equipment including military grade snow suits and boots. Their communication equipment too was state-of the art.
The dramatic attack on the Uri military camp on Friday, December 5, was more audacious and planned to inflict maximum damage to security forces. Again, the group was heavily armed (each man was carrying 10 magazines of AK-47) and were ready to die.
That all six 'bent-on-suicide' terrorists were eliminated with six hours is testimony to the Indian Army's preparedness although it did suffer initial reverses.
Since November, a subtle shift in the tactics has been noticed by security managers. Initially, there were three attempts to plant massive Improvised Explosive Devices to target army patrols along the Line of Control in the Tangdhar sector of the Kashmir valley.
All were fortunately thwarted by a combined effort of intelligence and security agencies. Similarly, the recovery of a huge cache of 18 brand new AK-47 rifles and half a dozen pistols in the third week of November indicated a concerted attempt to arm those terrorists already inside J&K.
What has prompted this change in tactic on Pakistan's part?
Pakistan has clearly realised that the well-knit security grid in the J&K hinterland did not allow any space for terrorists to target the civilian population.
As violence levels fell dramatically between 2011 and 2013 (less than 40 civilians were killed in those years as against about 100 killings on an average in the previous three years) and the security forces gained an upper hand, the effectiveness of Pakistan's 20-year old tactic of pushing in terrorists to disrupt peace in Jammu & Kashmir was giving diminishing returns.
Many of these terrorists were being intercepted and eliminated on the LoC itself. The multi-layered security grid refined over the years and involving the army, the Central Reserve Police Force and the J&K police, killed around 80 terrorists every year since 2011. More than 90 terrorists have been neutralised till November this year.
The high turnout of voters in the first two phases of the J&K assembly election was perhaps the signal for those in charge of Kashmir policy in the Pakistan army to shift gears. They could not let Kashmir fall off the map. Something dramatic needed to be triggered to once again bring Kashmir back into focus.
Last weekend's attacks launched almost simultaneously was in keeping with this shift. That all three attacks (Uri, Srinagar and Tral) were nipped in the bud is a tribute to the Indian Army's commitment to keep Kashmir peaceful even if it means paying a very heavy cost to itself.