Let there be a call to arms
There is a notion amongst the intellectual circles in India that Leftist politics is nothing if not liberal. That liberalism has to be exhibited in a sense of internationalism where the universal attributes of peace, cooperation and coexistence have to be the leading factor in their politics. We had a prime minister like that in Inder Kumar Gujral. He closed down the militarist potential of the Research and Analyses Wing (R&AW); sent peaceable messages to all the SAARC countries etc.
But this did not stop Islamabad/Rawalpindi from sending in terrorists in Kashmir; did not stop Kathmandu from becoming hive of ISI-trained anti-India militants be it of Punjab or Kashmir; nor did it stop Colombo torturing the Sri Lankan Tamils, which resonated across the Palk Straits in Tamil Nadu.
However, there is still a hard ‘Left’ in the country that understands political power in all hues, some of which have relationships with the ‘balance of power’ arguments emanating from the ‘realist’ school. Even Marx understood that in his analysis of internationalism in class terms, while his ‘proletarian internationalism’ was important in terms international organisation of the proletariat, this was not in contest with building bouregeois-free nation-states.
This had given the leaders of the former Soviet Union a way out of its early activism in creating revolutionary situations in other countries – neighbouring ones mostly – thus becoming a subject of the Cold War and then withdrawing from the largely Trotskyite line and instead articulate for ‘socialism in one country.’
In that sense while China understands that its avowed ‘socialism’ is still at a ‘primitive’ stage, but its nationalism does not stop from sending nuclear submarines to an island State like Sri Lanka, that effectively lies in the Indian ‘sphere of influence.’ While China is right in acting out a show of strength (it can’t be nothing but) by showing its PLA (Navy’s) long legs, thus in a way challenging New Delhi’s concept of an Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and testing the USA’s perceived suzerainty over the Ocean.
But Sri Lanka’s action of allowing harbour rights to the Chinese submarines is clearly a show of defiance. After the first Chinese diesel submarine docked at the Colombo port in the west coast of Sri Lanka, the National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval had visited Colombo and met Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the defence secretary and a brother of Sri Lankan president, Mahinda Rajapaksa. Doval had received assurances that there would not be another like occasion.
Despite this Colombo has chosen to act the way it has, possibly still chafing from New Delhi voting in favour early this year at the UN on a resolution condemning the human rights abuses by the Rajapaksa regime during its last war with the LTTE.
At a theoretical level India can have a whole tool-kit of geostrategic and political, strategic, tactical and operational options to call upon to give Colombo a right riposte. One of the first obstacles this theoretical journey would face is the indolent national security bureaucracy that refuses to think strategically. Setting that aside, one option comes up on the table that is doable.
Indian navy, like all other navies of the world, calls its aircraft carriers ‘power projection platforms.’ Can INS Viraat be tasked to move from the western seabord habitat with its full complement of Sea Harriers and Sea Kings and settle itself south of south of Sri Lanka, where the Chinese-built Hambantota port is located more inland?
Along with that, can the newly inducted P8I aircrafts take off from Goa and conduct their ISR operations? And finally, can Viraat launch an exercise with its accompanying flotilla an operational exercise of ‘sea denial?’ Of course, the ageing Sea Harriers can be seen buzzing with a pre-set targets where they can unload their ordnance – live or dummy, has to be an operational option – even as Sea Kings act as ‘flying observation posts.
This scenario is something that will have to be jerry-rigged because the governments in India and the Indian elite have all this while, only talked of the country taking upon itself its own ‘exceptionalist’ mien and filling the spot of a natural, rightful place at the head of the table. Now is the time when there is a ‘call to arms,’ and for some of them to redeem their pledge.
The author is a senior journalist