Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s friends and detractors know that there is nothing casual about the man from Gujarat. He practises his speeches, measures his words and then articulates the message for maximum impact. Addressing the tri-services at historic Longewala, where a Punjab regiment company and Air Force Hunters destroyed 40 Pakistani tanks in 1971 conflict, Modi spelt out the Indian war strategy and it was certainly not pacifist. He said that India is willing to understand or make the adversary understand but there will be fiery retaliation if the enemy tries to test its military might. Simply put, India is not seeking confrontation but will stand its ground in case it is confronted. In Modi’s speech there was a message for both domestic and international audience. He skipped the East Asia Summit to be with Indian troops on Diwali Day and deputed External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on his behalf. US President Donald Trump did not attend the summit even last time and Cambodian leader was under quarantine.
That Modi was not war mongering and meant business is will known to Pakistan during the Balakot Strike on February 26, 2019. After Pakistani propaganda started posting pictures of a captured and bleeding Wing Commander Abhinandan, Modi let it be known to Islamabad through then ISI chief that India will launch a missile strike if any harm came to the Indian Air Force pilots. He conveyed through interlocutors that “ hamne Diwali ke patake nahin rakh rake (we have not kept Diwali crackers in our arsenal” and asked the Indian Prithvi Missiles to be deployed in the same Rajasthan sector. Such was the impact of the message that MiG 21 Indian pilot was set free by the Pakistan government the very next day.
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Without naming China, PM Modi took on the expansionist policies of the present Chinese regime by saying that it was a product of 18th century twisted mindset and that India would firmly oppose it. By saying this the PM countered the Chinese description of rapidly emerging QUAD, with US, Japan and Australia as other members, as a product of Cold War mindset.
At Longewala, he again reiterated the Indian resolve to take the battle to the enemy or extinguish the threat to India at the source. Clearly this is the new offensive-defensive doctrine of India with coupled with building of airborne and expeditionary force projection capability and to ensure that future battles are not fought on Indian soil.
Prime Minister Modi’s statement should not be seen in isolation but in context of what his Cabinet minister ranked National Security Advisor Ajit Doval said on banks of River Ganga at Rishikesh on Oct 22 and what External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said at the East Asia Summit on Diwali. The message from both was not sugar coated but expression of what India expects from the neighbours in terms of cross-border terrorism and freedom to navigate the South China sea and resist any attempts to make it into Chinese pond. Without seeking any acrimony or confrontation with Beijing, what Jaishankar conveyed on Saturday was a reiteration of PM Modi’s conversation with the then Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the first summit meeting in 2014. At that time, it alarmed the Indian mandarins but Modi did not flinch from what he had to convey. It is another matter, that Jaishankar was among the more moderate voices on South China Sea at the East Asia Summit.
While India and China are on track to disengage and deescalate from East Ladakh to mutual satisfaction, India is neither over-negotiating with PLA to bring the Depsang bulge issue into the current resolution nor is it willing to cede an inch of territory from the friction points at Galwan, Gogra-Hot Springs and finger 4 spur on the north banks of the Pangong Tso. Under Modi, India has decided to call a spade a spade by building a pro-India lobby in the world and is prepared to defend its own interests by choosing its friends and degrading its enemies.