On October 21 Defence Minister Rajnath Singh launched Project ‘Udbhav’; aimed at synthesizing ancient wisdom with contemporary military practices to forge a unique and holistic approach to address modern security challenges. The launch was at the Indian Military Heritage Festival (IMHF) organized by the United Service Institution of India (USI) to address the gap between the “national discourse and cultural calendar”. Project ‘Udbhav’ is a collaborative effort between the Indian Army and the USI which is India’s oldest think tank. A series of events and workshops, dwelling on facets of India’s strategic culture are to culminate in January 2024, with a publication, to document and institutionalize the knowledge.

Speaking on the occasion, Lieutenant General TK Aichi, Deputy Chief of Army Staff (Strategy) said the Army Training Command (ARTRAC) had already undertaken such research after studying the Arthashastra, Nitisara and Mahabharata, compiling the ‘compendium of 75 stratagems’, and also the College of Defence Management (CDM) had done a study to establish linkages between Indian culture and the art of strategic thinking.

With adequate deliberations by ARTRAC and CDM, Udbhav would be exploring the “unexplored” portion, if any.  Nevertheless, even if the move is on the political signal of “going back to the roots”, it is always good to refresh such knowledge.

Visiting ancient and historical sites is equally good. For routing the Americans after a 20 year bloody war (1955-1975), Vietnam credits what it learnt from Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.

An external affairs minister of Vietnam even visited Raigad (Shivaji’s resting place) to pay respects, collected  soil from there and told a reporter, “This is the soil of valour and victory where the great Shivaji Maharaj was born and grew up. I will mix this soil with Vietnam’s as soon as I reach there. Let Vietnam have brave men like Shivaji Maharaj.”

Union Education Minister Dharmendra Pradhan on October 17, in presence of ISRO Chairman S Somnath, related Chandrayaan 3 to the “flying vehicles” of ancient India. However, research by the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) proved it was not possible for those planes to fly. Former ISRO Chairman G Madhavan Nair said “there is no evidence to corroborate the claims (of flying vehicles)”. Call this a science-mythology clash but then Pradhan is a politician. Three  years back China’s President Xi Jinping claimed in ancient times a Chinese princess was married to the Moon; without elaborating which Moon and whether that’s why Chinese eat live rats, frogs and half-cooked bats.   

It is good to refine strategy but in terms of national security whose responsibility it is in India? The NSA has failed to define a national security strategy and the Defence Secretary is responsible for India’s defence policy, both during war and peace. The Department of Military Affairs (DMA) and the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) must dance to the politico-bureaucratic tunes.  

Some years back, the USI proposed to the government running a strategy capsule for about 40 parliamentarians, which was accepted. First day all came, the next day 50% and the third day the solitary attendee after one hour said “hamen to samajh nahin aata aap kya bolte ho” and walked off – end of story. Can the present government institute such capsule for its cabinet and parliamentarians?

The Indian Army has never been found lacking other than in 1962 because of serious political default. But a Union Minister thumps the table in Parliament saying we will take back Aksai Chin without the foggiest idea what it entails. Now another minister says Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (POK) will fall into our lap automatically; did Bangladesh get liberated automatically? It is the clueless politicians and policy-strategy makers who need to learn from the ancient and contemporary past rather than making a mockery of it by drawing wrong inferences for the sake of self aggrandizement and promoting themselves politically to win elections.

The logic that since the Panadava-Kaurava battle of Mahabharata finished in 18 days, a 20-day lockdown would finish off the Covid-19 was absurd to say the least. Which seers/pundits advised Prime Minister Narendra Modi, not to talk of the nautanki of “ghanti bajao, taali bajao, batti/diya jalao” by all and sundry. And, which pseudo strategist told him demonetization would “end” terrorism? Not moving Army reserve formations to Ladakh due to the lockdown facilitated China to invade and occupy new positions inside our territory in Ladakh.

Recall a Union Minister publicly saying listening to every morning would ward off the pandemic. Cow urine is known to have medicinal value in small doses, but social media showed some stalwarts guzzling bottles of it (like beer or champagne) and massaging their bodies with cow dung.

Next January the administration celebrated end of Covid-19. So, when Phase 2 of the pandemic struck the logistics for requisite supply of medical oxygen to hospitals was missing and vaccines were unavailable because producers were already committed to export orders. The first half of Phase 2 of the pandemic, therefore, witnessed mayhem – death of some 30-40 lakh in the county, notwithstanding blatant claims later that there was no dearth of oxygen or vaccine.     

Forget reading Vedas, Puranas, Upanishads, Bhagawad Gita, Mahabharata, Arthashastra and Nitishastra, but surely our politicians and strategists-cum-policy makers would have seen movies or TV serials on Mahabharata and Ramayana. What was the Gita Updesh that Lord Krishna gave to Arjuna on the battlefield when the latter refused to fight? Do our politicians understand what Lord Krishna said beyond enjoying the pictorials? Do they understand why Lord Rama performed the Ashwamedha Yagya on return from Sri Lanka? Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to inaugurate the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya on January 22, 2024, but do we understand what Ram Rajya was all about compared to increasing polarization of caste, creed, and reservations in today’s India?    

Didn’t Lord Krishna ask Arjuna to stand up and fight evil? Why then our politicians are singing “not even one inch of territory lost” to China in Ladakh in 2020 when control over hundreds of sq km of territory is lost? Notwithstanding the ‘yes men’ (official or otherwise) supporting political lies, would Lord Krishna be happy looking down at this state of affairs? Would Lord Rama be happy watching the Ashwamedha Yagya reduced to Rath Yatras for politicking with ugly display of money amid pushp varsha while millions remain destitute?  

Late Amrish Puri was a versatile Bollywood actor. Among his various acts was his role as Mogambo and his oft remembered dialogue – Mogambo Khush Hua. These days it is ludicrous to see some ministers strutting around like Mogambo, wearing colonial style hats, though denouncing colonialism, and Don Quixote type specs; clearly to hide from their insecurities and shortcomings. This, by no means is going back to the roots.  

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh recently was reminiscent of the times when India was called Sone Ki Chiriya. This is all fine, as is remembering the periods of kingdoms and kings of yore. But what the politicians-cum-strategist need to study is why this golden era transformed into hundreds of years of slavery under the Moghuls and the British. And, more important is to compare those reasons to what is happening in India today in the name of caste, creed, reservations and elections.

Analysts speculate one of the reasons the Ministry of Culture is acquiring an array of DNA profiling kits and associated state-of-the-art machines to establish the genetic history and “trace the purity of races in India, is to prove that Aryans are superior to Dravidians although plenty data exists on Dravidians. We are hyper about the Global South but have yet to integrate north and south India; majority perceiving the Kashi-Tamil Sangam another election gimmick. What are the limits politicians will polarize the country to consolidate power?  

Niti Aayog CEO BVR Subramanyan said on October 30 that India will emerge as a US$ 30 trillion economy by 2047 and that the Vision India@2047 document is likely to be released by PM Modi in the next three months. What he did not say is that the three months required is because the government has hired Boston Consulting Group (BCG) to prepare the blueprint of the Vision India@2047 document. BCG’s CEO Christopher Schwizer is happy but wonders is Niti Aayog is incapable to do so itself?

Finally, if we have outsourced making a blue print for Vision India@2047, might as well task a think tank to produce a blue print for a national security strategy unless the fear is that such a document will bring accountability. .

The author is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are personal.

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