Book Review: Non-fiction/ India at Risk: Mistakes: Mistakes, Misconceptions and Misadventures of Security Policy by Jaswant Singh, Rainlight/Rupa, p.292; Rs595 (Hardback)
The review discovers Jaswant Singh’s genuinely comprehensive and informative account of major security challenges facing India over last six-and-a-half decades
This is Jaswant Singh’s eleventh book, and in this, the former foreign minister has opted to keep his focus intact on ground level experiences rather than rhetoric to deal with the complex design of India’s security challenges.
With India at Risk, Singh justifies his long eventful overtures in public life and also as an avid researcher, who spent decades getting familiar with India’s security establishment from close quarters.
Primarily, this book poses the question why India has failed to respond adequately in meeting challenges to its national security? Singh contends that during the past crises, existential challenges were overt but the responses remained surprisingly limited.
Jaswant Singh appears perturbed on the conceptual fault lines and misdirected governance, particularly in the handling of security affairs. The mismatch of challenges and responses has been far too huge to be ignored by any thinking mind—and Singh is certainly more conscious among others. Hence the vindication of the title: India at Risk: Mistakes, Misconceptions and Misadventures of Security Policy.
Having directly handled the responsibility of managing a whole series of security related challenges, Singh genuinely informs and analyses the major security issues, which the nation has faced in the last six-and-half decades. The book is written with a clear sense to capture the mistakes as well as follies from past, to tread safely in 21st century.
Unlike the books written by politicians, here a complete shift in narrative is obvious - in parts, where the author leans to recall the grave policy failures of the Nehru era, he does it with great care. He reminds us that Nehru, a believer in humanity with a broad mind, was much vulnerable before the dubious Chinese leadership. So, hardly surprising what happened in 1962.
This shows the comprehensive grasp and a firm stand that could have been adopted only by an ex-serviceman MP and the only person to have simultaneously held the portfolios of the Minister of External Affairs and of Defence, in addition to also having been Minister of Finance.
That is remarkable for this trusted and most respectable lieutenant of the BJP - as a veteran politician, he could have easily spiced up the debate (earlier he has not refrained doing that, the case in point is his book on Jinnah) but has chosen not to so.
Examples of faulty democratic practices resulting in challenges to our national security abound: Assam and the Northeast, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Sri Lanka, the birth of the Maoists and the concomitant challenges. The question that brings us back is: ‘what goes into making democracy as efficient instrument of governance?’ Exactly that which enables a country, any country, to achieve the essentials of national security leadership.
While progressing towards the misadventures of Pakistan, Jaswant Singh recounts its aims and planning of 1965, as:
The strategic backdrop of this 1965 conflict was the politico-military situation created in India as a consequence of the 1962 defeat. The signals that emanated from India thereafter, particularly after Nehru’s death in 1964, and the consequent battles for political succession were not reassuring. (page-76)
Obviously, Pakistan read the inherent message wrong and foolishly faulted in seeing Kutch and further Jammu and Kashmir, as the grounds exploitable with their severely undisciplined military and political regime. The book dwells further on this to overview the nature of Indo-Pak conflicts. Overall, this makes for an insightful read, that has much to offer to both the novice and the trained mind.
The birth of Bangladesh happened in 1971 and India played a formidable role in redrawing the map and political discourses of contemporary South Asia. Noticeably, this happened just after 22 years of the earlier partition, which shook South Asians in an unprecedented manner. Singh recounts how Pakistan fought two wars that time, one internally against East Bengal and another with India, it met well deserved failures in both.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in Millennium Post on December22,2013)