Strengthening Indian defence in North-East
The Centre has reportedly decided to undertake a ‘review’ of the 17 Mountain Strike Corps (MSC), which is being raised to defend India’s borders in the high Himalayas in the North-East. The object of the review is to figure out ways to downsize the corps. The Centre’s decision has come at a time when two infantry divisions and an independent armoured brigade have already been raised and other brigades are being recruited. The reason for downsizing is said to be the very high cost – Rs. 64,678 crore – that will have to be incurred to bring the corps to its full strength and capacity.
This is admittedly a rather surprising move from the Union Government. When the Bharatiya Janata Party was in the opposition, it used to criticize the United Progressive Alliance Government for not doing enough to bolster our defence capabilities vis-à-vis the Chinese in the north-east. The criticism was justified. But during the later part of its second term in office, the Manmohan Singh Government did take steps to build up adequate defence capability quickly. This led to the idea of raising the MSC.
The logic of high cost does not seem to be tenable in this case. In this year’s budget Finance Minister Arun Jaitley reduced corporate tax by five per cent – from the existing thirty percent to the current twenty-five per cent. It means a largesse of two lakh crore rupees to the corporate sector in the next four years. No explanation was given as to why this tax concession was allowed. With less than half of this money, the raising of the 17 Corps could have been accomplished. No cost is too big as far as the defence of our nation is concerned.
Secondly, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has already said that a railway station would be built in Arunachal Pradesh right near the international border with China. Laying an all new railway track in Arunachal Pradesh’s mountainous terrain will involve incurring a huge capital cost. If the Government is willing to bear such an expense, why should it be stingy in spending money for completing the 17 Corps? After all, the railway line would be used to transport troops and material. If there are no troops to be dispatched, to what use will the planned railway track be put?
In the present context, defending India means defending her against the Sino-Pak axis. Quite recently, General Khalid Kidwai, Adviser, National Command Authority of Pakistan, resorted to nuclear muscle-flexing at the Carnegie Conference on Nuclear Policy when he said: “India must think thrice, ten times, before attacking Pakistan.” If India still embarks on such a military misadventure, “the result will be MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction)”, he threatened, knowing full well that India
has no military designs on Pakistan.
At the global level, economic sanctions imposed by the US and EU on Russia because of the Ukraine issue has brought Moscow and Beijing closer. India will have to fine-tune her relations with Russia in this developing situation. Earlier this month, Russian president Vladimir Putin approved the sale of Russia’s latest and most advanced air-and-missile defence system ‘Triumph S-400’ to China. Initially, two to four systems will be delivered. The acquisition of Triumph will enable China to extend its air dominance to countries like India and Japan.
In a related development, president Xi Jinping of China is expected to announce the sale of eight submarines during his visit to Pakistan beginning April 20. Some experts fear that it may eventually enable Pakistan to have the capability to use nuclear weapons from under sea, thus posing a serious challenge to India. The idea is to enable conventional submarines to launch nuclear-tipped missiles. This will lead to the nuclearisation of the Indian Ocean with its consequent impact on all the littoral countries, as Chinese submarines are already prowling in the waters of the Indian Ocean. India in order to counter this has devised a programme of building six nuclear submarines in the coming years.
All these developments make India’s security scenario far more complex than it was earlier. The supremacy of the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) is going to be challenged by both China and Pakistan. A holistic view of the security scenario has to be taken. India has to be able to defend her land, skies and waters.. Seen in this perspective, the defence of the North-East is as much important as maintaining naval dominance in the IOR.
The 17 Mountain Strike Corps is meant not only to defend the North-East but, if the need arises, to engage in counter-offensive operations in Tibet, where the ethnic Tibetans are facing constant persecution from the PLA. Given this scenario, downsizing the strength of the 17 Corps at this juncture will be unwise. IPA