The Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR) hosted the 16th edition of its Quarterly Lecture Series on the topic ‘India’s Security Challenges’ on Tuesday, October 15, 2019 at Bharat Tourist Home, Kochi, Kerala, India.

CPPR initiated its Quarterly Lecture Series in November 2012 in Kochi to make the public aware of various socially relevant themes, besides presenting innovative ideas for opening up the intellectual realm of Kerala. Former Ambassador Nirupama Rao, Dr Shashi Tharoor, Dr Alexander Lennon, Dr Madhav  Gadgil, J M Lyngdoh, Dr Ila Patnaik , Dr Happymon Jacob, Dr Sandeep Shastri, Prof T V Paul, Dr Ramesh Chand, Dr Dileep Padgoankar, Dr Sanjay Baru, Dr Jacob Thomas IPS, Dr Subbarao and Dr Jayaprakash Narayan were some of the eminent speakers at our previously held Lecture Series and the response has been wonderful.

Our 16th edition featured former Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Arun Prakash, PVSM, AVSM, VrCh, VSM. Admiral Arun Prakash retired as India’s 20th Naval Chief and Chairman Chiefs of Staff in end-2006. Post-retirement, he served two terms as a member of the National Security Advisory Board and was the Chairman of the National Maritime Foundation. Currently, he holds a Distinguished Chair in India’s Naval War College in Goa. He writes and speaks on strategic and security-related topics.

Delivering a lecture on ‘India’s security challenges’, Admiral Prakash said that the general elections this year marked a shift in narratives set by the political parties earlier, with national security being seen as a vote-catching issue. With Indian politicians being traditionally indifferent to national security, successive governments have failed to develop a national security strategy and this has pushed back a much-needed national security reforms.

He argued that the absence of domestic peace and harmony is one of the key challenges to national security. He questioned the pursuit of the idea of majoritarianism for a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-lingual country like India.

Speaking on the balance between manpower and technology he said, “The most expensive item is not hardware but manpower. China has replaced manpower with fire power and men with technology. But India seems to have missed the point as 60% of the budget allocation for defence goes on pay and pensions, leaving little to buy new hardware. Besides, successive governments and inattentive defence ministers have left the country with a half-empty arsenal.”

Speaking on the organisational structure for handling the strategic affairs, he said that the Ministry of Defence is manned by a civilian bureaucracy with little knowledge of strategic issues. The military continues to be excluded from the government’s policy/decision-making process and the armed forces HQs are still subordinated to a civilian Department of Defence.

On the issue of integration between the bureaucracy and the armed forces, he said “The Indian bureaucracy takes pride in being generalists who can switch from Centre to State and ministry to ministry with equal facility but national security requires continuity and deep expertise.”

Speaking on the external threats, he talked about China, Pakistan, Russia and the USA as potential threats and competitors to India. Russia resents India because of its building proximity with the USA. He argued that the deep state in Pakistan will pay any price to destabilise India’s position on Kashmir. China hopes to confine India to its South Asia box.

He also touched upon the government’s decision of elevating the National Security Advisor to Cabinet rank and the announcement of the creation of the post of Chief of Defence Staff. He said that without policies, directives and doctrines to back these announcements, it will make the status of the service chiefs uncertain with regard to the new post.

In his concluding remarks, he added that India being the 2nd largest importer of arms, the country’s claims to a rising power status will remain hollow unless it acquires the capability to design and undertake the production of a major weapon system. 

Gazi Hassan, CPPR Senior Research Associate, delivered welcome and introductory remarks. Dr Christy Fernandez IAS (Retd.), former Secretary to the President of India, presented a token of appreciation to Admiral Arun Prakash.

Report prepared by Gazi Hassan (Senior Research Associate, CPPR-Centre for Strategic Studies) with inputs from Angela Cicily Joseph (Research Associate, CPPR).