An analysis of the core traits of India’s strategic culture which reflects how it doesn’t believe in the balance of power but proselytizes the use of force, legitimization and glorification of war. The question thus arises whether a Hindu nation that was constructed on the premise of war, compounded by a powerful far-right bloc that advocates projection of India’s military power beyond its borders, can coexist peacefully in the region.
The concept of strategic culture refers to a nation's traditions, values, attitudes, patterns of behavior, habits, symbols, achievements, and particular ways of adapting to the environment and solving problems with respect to the threat or use of force. Jack. L. Snyder was the first to coin the term “strategic culture” in 1977. The conceptual underpinnings of strategic culture attempt to integrate cultural considerations, cumulative historical memory, and their influences in the analysis of the state’s security policies and international relations. It is a very useful analytical tool in order to understand strategic behavior of a nation. Though unwritten and unquantifiable, this abstract concept is seen providing umbrella cover to national decision-making processes. It was interesting to note that George K. Tanham (1992), in his study, wrote that India does not have a strategic culture. Such an assumption is absolutely a myth, which influenced the research on Indian strategic thought to date, as it is widely known that India is a civilizational state and theoretically it is impossible that a civilizational state with thousands of years of history is surviving without a strategic culture. In fact, India’s strategic behavior is determined by its strategic culture. The empirical evidence proves this assumption by Mr. Tanham as a null hypothesis. It is actually true that a very few efforts have been made to decipher the contours of Indian strategic culture. One of the reasons is the statement by George K. Tanham (1992). The strategic culture of India is deep-rooted in thousands of years of its history. Ms. Aparna Pande’s From Chanakya to Modi describes Indian foreign policy with civilizational roots, passing through two imperial administrations of foreign origin. Both Mughal and British rulers were a continuous phenomenon for an extended period that left a significant imprint on India’s present outlook. The patterns of Indian foreign and defense policy appears to be deeply rooted in its civilizational heritage. Their thousands of years old perceptions and world view reflect in its foreign, defense, political and social policies. Therefore, in order to understand India’s policies, ambitions and fantasies in a comprehensive and coherent manner, it is pertinent to understand the strategic culture of India.
During the entire known Indian history of about 4500 years from 2500 BCE (Indus Valley Civilization) to 1947 AD (end of British rule), India did not have even a loose form of central power for as long as 3711 years.
According to Amartya Sen, India, comprised of 31 regions, is one of the four oldest civilizations of the world. During the entire known Indian history of about 4500 years, from 2500 BCE (Indus Valley Civilization) to 1947 AD (end of British rule), India did not have even a loose form of central power for as long as 3711 years. In the real sense of the term, India became a nation-state only on August 15, 1947 under centrally controlled self/independent democratic rule. Having such long period of invasions and continuous serious threats for centuries, both from inside and outside the country, has deeply impacted the Indian strategic culture.
Since 3000 BC, South Asia remained a melting pot due to its civilizational attributes. Throughout the history, “outsiders” came to this region and chose it as their home. They immensely contributed in the civilizational growth of the region as well. However, continuous invasions generated a docile mentality which reflects in the Hindu Vedas as well. Interestingly, the non-linear view of time is an important determinant of their strategic thought as life is a cycle for them in a continuous process.
Geography, Indian history, religious texts and political philosophers are the prime contributors in shaping its strategic culture. Moreover, the influential ancient Indian political philosopher, Chanakya Kautilya and Manusmriti, the most authoritative of the books of the Hindu code, have only interpreted their religious texts to provide an implementation strategy for religious teaching. Therefore, Indian strategic culture is a manifestation of the goals and objectives set by their religious doctrines for a Hindu nation. A study of the Indian strategic culture also explains the relevance of the concept of Hindutva with the identity paradigm of a Hindu nation. Such analysis initiates the debate regarding Hindutva as the cornerstone of Indian strategic culture or as a manifestation of it, especially when India has a Brahmanic worldview. They have a firm belief in the supremacy of the Hindu religion. The repeated use of the slang Vishva Dharma ki Jay in Vedas, is a reaffirmation of “Victory to Universal Religion” (Hinduism) and the revival of Hindutva ideology and India’s foreign and defense policies, substantiate this assumption.
The repeated use of the slang Vishva Dharma ki Jay in Vedas, is a reaﬃrmation of “Victory to Universal Religion” (Hinduism) and the revival of Hindutva ideology and India’s foreign and defense policies, substantiate this assumption.
Plurality and peaceful coexistence are concepts that don’t have any relevance as India is considered the land of Hindus alone, even if such discrimination is not in line with the Indian constitution which doesn’t recognize Hinduism as a state religion. In order to fulfil V. D. Savarkar’s concept of Hindutva and M. S. Golwalkar’s vision of a Hindu Rashtra, ground is being prepared through the passage of laws that encourage systematic discrimination such as the Citizenship Amendment Act and Love Jihad laws.
As recently pointed out by Christophe Jaffrelot in an interview with The Hindu, the survival of Indo-Islamic civilization is at stake in India. With the rise of Hindutva, the calls for salvaging India from its Muslim past, the “outsider Muslim invaders”, have grown louder and the drive to erase its Mughal legacy has gained momentum which is largely reflected in the renaming of its cities and the removal of history from the textbooks.
Hindu religion identiﬁes a nation within the territorial boundaries of South Asia and the Hindus consider it their religious duty to reclaim it. Such thought reﬂects the lack of respect for the sovereignty of the regional states.
If one analyses India’s regional strategy, it reflects two core dynamics of her strategic culture. First, no neighboring state can undertake any action in the foreign affairs or defense policy that India deems potentially hostile to its security. Second, India will not permit foreign governments to establish a foothold or influence in a neighboring state that India views as unfriendly. The mindset behind this is the territorial construct of their nationhood. Hindu religion identifies a nation within the territorial boundaries of South Asia and the Hindus consider it their religious duty to reclaim it. Such thought reflects the lack of respect for the sovereignty of the regional states.
India’s regional policy is evident in the statement of Mr. Jawaharlal Nehru, who stated, “India is going to be and is bound to be a country that counts in world affairs, not I hope in the military sense, but in many other senses which are more important and effective in the end.”
Indian strategic culture pays special emphasis on deception. It is a tactic which a Hindu king can apply to create chaos among the enemy soldiers, disrupt, and demoralize them, to spread misinformation, and to eventually win a war.
Indian strategic culture appreciates and encourages a revisionist king. Famous ancient Hindu philosopher, Manu, urges the king to adopt a revisionist policy in order to cease the enemy’s opportunity to attack. He further wrote that if the king is unable to adopt it, he will be forced to take passive measures, which reflects his incompetence. The issue of epistemology is always pertinent while interpreting a state’s behavior and to predict through rational choice theory. Here, ‘status quo’ has become synonymous to cowardice. This explains why India triggers a regional arms race in order to tilt the balance of power in its favor through stability-instability paradox.
It is noteworthy to comprehend that India’s threat perception arises from contemporary India’s west and South Asia’s north, now Pakistan. If we identify the historical routes to enter South Asia, they were from the areas now called Pakistan. Therefore, Indian strategists’ thought process always sees Pakistan as a potential threat and enemy due to their understanding that threats always arise from the north especially when Pakistan has broken the strategic unity of ancient India (which merely exists in their heads, not in the history).
Such insecurities stem from the belief that Pakistan stands as a hurdle in the attainment of its strategic objectives and the establishment of its hegemony in the region, and that India is no longer a holistic geographical entity due to the partition of the subcontinent. The irredentist claims in the form of Akhand Bharat – a concept that is ideologically linked with Hindutva – espoused by BJP/RSS were never abandoned. BJP/RSS are firmly wedded to the proselytization of the concept of Hindu nationalism. These ideas coupled with the Indian hegemonic ambitions hinging on an expansionist character (derived from the teachings of Kautilya) and the growing threat of Hindutva pose a constant threat to Pakistan and the entire South Asian region.
Modern hybrid warfare is explained through their strategic thinking which advocates that if the end could be achieved by non-military methods, even by methods of intrigue, duplicity and fraud, an armed conﬂict should be avoided.
Similarly, India’s fascination with weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) can be deciphered through reading their ancient texts. Those weapons are considered as supernatural weapons of Gods. In the light of those texts, WMDs are taken as a source of strength and key in winning the war against the enemies. Their concept of winning the war is founded upon the complete destruction of the enemy. Interestingly, Indian strategic culture sees the ocean as a medium of invasion of demons. Ancient Aryans were from the landlocked regions of Central Asia, therefore, oceans were considered an unseen and unknown land for them which was mysterious and dangerous. In their religious script, Ramayana, the Godless demon Ravan abducted Goddess Sita and escaped to Lanka (now Sri Lanka) across the sea. Even then, the forces of God Ram built a bridge instead of a boat to reach Lanka. Moreover, according to their religious scripts, a Hindu could lose his caste if he travels through the ocean. These scripts indicated that devils live at the bottom of the oceans.
Peace time is considered as a space to rebuild one’s self to tilt the balance of power in one’s favour and strike back at the enemy to destroy him. Their ancient texts suggest them to break all peace agreements as soon as a Hindu king becomes stronger than the enemy.
Indian strategic culture pays special emphasis on deception. It is a tactic which a Hindu king can apply to create chaos among the enemy soldiers, disrupt and demoralize them to spread misinformation, and to eventually win a war. In their ancient texts, deception is a tool to hide one’s intentions and strategic plans from the enemy and to attack him when he is least expecting it. They consider deception as part of covert activities and psychological warfare. It is the sacred duty of the king to develop an elaborate spy system reaching into all levels of the society (of the self and enemy) and encourages political and secret assassination.
Four kinds of war have been described in the Indian strategic culture. These are: 1) Diplomacy; 2) Arms; 3) Concealed warfare (war through deception); and 4) Clandestine warfare (secret intelligence operations through spies). It is surprising how thousands of years ago their religious texts and political philosophies elaborated these types. What is more surprising is how these four types are manifested in India’s grand strategy, foreign, defence and nuclear policies today. These types exist not only in theory but are applied in practice by successive Indian governments.
Modern hybrid warfare is explained through their strategic thinking which advocates that if the end could be achieved by non-military methods, even by methods of intrigue, duplicity and fraud, an armed conflict should be avoided. India’s soft image can best be described in this statement by Chanakya Kautilya, who wrote: “An archer letting off an arrow may or may not kill a single man, but a cunning man, using his wits can kill, even reaching unto the very womb.” India’s military preparedness, security dilemma and aggressive posturing is best described in their culture which does not believe in the balance of power. In order to achieve the abovementioned objectives, a responsible Hindu king should either find or create weaknesses in the enemy and conquer them. Importantly, peace negotiations, peace agreements, and peace postures are a sign of weakness and cowardice in Indian strategic culture. Peace time is considered as a space to rebuild one’s self to tilt the balance of power in one’s favor and strike back at the enemy to destroy him. Their ancient texts suggest them to break all peace agreements as soon as a Hindu king becomes stronger than the enemy. This is seen in how India rubbishes the UN resolutions on Kashmir.
The power to inﬂict destruction lies at the center stage of India’s strategic culture and explains their obsession with nuclear weapons. It is deeply inculcated in their strategic thought that national interest should override moral principles. That is how Indian strategic culture is not only a factor of strategic instability but triggers the regional security dilemma.
According to various historians of the world, the Hindu nation was constructed on the premise of wars. Similarly, the contents of the Rigveda clearly show that Hinduism took its historical rise in a state of inter-tribal and inter-racial wars.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons that their sacred texts mainly glorify and legitimize war. Therefore, the power to inflict destruction lies at the center stage of India’s strategic culture and explains their obsession with nuclear weapons. It is deeply inculcated in their strategic thought that national interest should override moral principles.
That is how Indian strategic culture is not only a factor of strategic instability but triggers the regional security dilemma. (Hence the belligerence and war-mongering statements by Indian political as well as military leadership).
The writer is an Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Strategic Studies, National Defence University, Islamabad.
Email: [email protected]
Note: This article is part of her forthcoming book on the subject. It is the result of her research and should not be attributed to NDU.
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