India is poorer for having recently lost Padma Bhushan Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, the doyen of Indian strategic thought who fine-tuned the art in the company of the legendary K Subrahmanyam.
He leaves behind his fierce determination to get his countrymen to think strategically about India’s long term interests. The road is long but it seems that the powers that be are realising the need to fill this void in our decision-making structure.
The Indian National Defence University (INDU), whose foundation stone was laid at Binola, Manesar by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gives us some optimism. The INDU has been a long time coming.
From 1967 when the proposal was first mooted in K Subrahmanyam’s recommendation post-Kargil in 2001 leading to the present day, many a decade has flown past in the endeavour to make INDU a reality. The challenge now is to create it an institution that lives up to its mission ‘to study and educate on national defence and its management and all aspects of national security.’
The cornerstone for true scholastic advancement would be for INDU to state that it encourages independent thought just as the official publication of the American Naval Post Graduate School states: “… views that run counter to the conventional wisdom or official US government policy are welcome.”
That is the way Air Cmde Jasjit lived his life and that is the way INDU should empower its students to critically analyse issues, make true assessments of national security implications and give unvarnished recommendations.
A spirit of original thought is, alas, not prevalent. Few serving defence officers, diplomats and civil servants expound their views on strategic issues to get the country thinking.
The problem lies in the structure of our polity where upward mobility is not based solely on professional competence.
In Western institutions of higher learning, civilian and military officials toil together as they imbibe higher skills in war, governance and diplomacy.
In India, while there are vacancies for civil servants and diplomats in the Staff College course, no one turns up even for the prestigious Combined Operational Review and Evaluation programme, where future Commanders-in-Chief discuss the issues impacting our country.
This indicates the low priority attached to conclaves that stimulate joint thinking (NDC being the sole exception). An attitudinal change to professional education is necessary if INDU is not to be just bricks and mortar.
The nuances of national security should be imbibed by our soldiers, diplomats and bureaucrats as they rub shoulders on the plains of Binola.
Manmohan Bahadur is a distinguished fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies
The views expressed by the author are personal