Tag Archives: narendra modi

S-400 MISSILE DEAL: India stamps her feet and Washington’s blinking (for now)



It was an annual summit between the heads of states of two nuclear powers, two nations who’ve worked together through critical junctures in history.

Yet it was also a summit where expectations were fixated on one line.

And when that one line was there, in print, little else mattered.

The reference here is to the deal for five, Russian S-400 Long Range Surface to Air Missile systems for Indian Air Force (IAF). The contract for the supply of these systems was ‘concluded’ said point number 45 of the Indo-Russian joint statement. While the cost of the system is reportedly in excess of $5.4 billion, there was no official word.

‘The S-400 was offered to India not long after it was inducted by Russia in 2007. We should’ve moved on it some years ago.” 


For reasons we will go into a little later, Washington’s current crusade against Moscow is likely to land this deal and thereby India’s key interests in its crosshair.

Before proceeding, a little context will help.

The IAF, said to be the world’s fourth largest air force, is in dire straits.

While it must hold ‘at least’ 45 squadrons of fighter jets to defend India’s airspace (each squadron can consist of 17-18 fighter jets), what it holds is 31 ‘active’ squadrons. Indian Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence, in its report in December last year was informed by the IAF that ‘as 14 squadrons of MiG 21, 27 & 29 (fighter jets) are due for de-induction in next 10 years, the present level of 33 squadrons will further go down to 19 by 2027, and may further reduce to 16 by 2032’. When it heard the response of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the same committee remarked, ‘The issue of depletion in squadron strength has been taken up repeatedly by the Committee over the years. However, no concrete measure seem to be taken hitherto.’

Does it then come as a surprise that the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa only on Wednesday termed the S-400 along with two squadrons of French Rafale jets, as a ‘booster dose’?

There is yet another side to the IAF’s predicament.

In the words of Ajai Malhotra, who was India’s Ambassador in Moscow between 2011 and 2013, “the S-400 was offered to India not long after it was inducted by Russia in 2007. We should’ve moved on it some years ago.  With there being no comparable choice available and with China also signing up for the S-400 system, it has become a necessity for us”.

Now let’s shift focus to Washington.

Smarting under what it believes was Russian meddling in the elections that brought Donald Trump to the presidency and acting with a burning desire to make Moscow pay, the US Congress last year brought in a legislation named ‘Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act’.

In fact on the day of signing it, he went on record to call it ‘seriously flawed’ and added, “As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress”.

What it does is to force the President’s hand in imposing five or more sanctions ‘with respect to a person the President determines knowingly, on or after such date of enactment, engages in a significant transaction with a person that is part of, or operates for or on behalf of, the defense or intelligence sectors of the Government of the Russian Federation.’

Malhotra’s successor in Moscow and currently the head of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), PS Raghavan contextualised it by saying, “CAATSA requires President Trump to say that India has reduced its dependency on Russia. But there is nothing to show that India has.”

If after determining that India’s actions do constitute a ‘significant transaction’, America’s Secretary of State and Secretary of Treasury initiate sanctions using Sec 231 of the Act, using Section 235 of the CAATSA, President Trump can waive or delay the imposition of sanctions.

To be sure, it is not an act that Trump signed happily.

In fact on the day of signing it, he went on record to call it ‘seriously flawed’ and added, “As President, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress”.

There is one more thing he said that day,a line which many pragmatists in Delhi and elsewhere are holding onto.

He added, “(CAATSA) disadvantages American companies…because those sanctions could negatively affect American companies and those of our allies”.

Speaking of the defence sector alone, ‘American companies’ that Trump referred to have benefitted immensely from their entry into the Indian bazaar.

modi putin
Data analysed by SIPRI shows that while the volume of Russian weapons export to India remained unchanged between 2008-12 and 2013-17, that of the US increased by a whopping 557 per cent in that period!

Unfortunately for India and fortunately for international defence equipment manufacturers, India has emerged an even stronger importer of weapons. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), between 2013 and 2017, India accounted for 12 per cent of the global share of imports, the highest for any country.


And the one country that has gained the most is not Russia but the United States.

Data analysed by SIPRI shows that while the volume of Russian weapons export to India remained unchanged between 2008-12 and 2013-17, that of the US increased by a whopping 557 per cent in that period!

Malhotra analysed, “Sanctioning India would meet neither Trump’s nor indeed larger US interests”.

Still no one wants to predict how Washington is going to react to a deal it did not want signed.

Observers however are firm – sanctions or no sanctions, when it comes to national security, India must protect her interests.

Malhotra said, “Let quiet diplomacy do its task of making the Americans better understand our position and appreciate our very genuine concerns. We may well take US views into account as regards Iranian oil, but will not do so in cases where our national security is involved”.

Even if the S-400 deal goes through with India unpunished, there are concerns about the long-term.

Raghavan remarked how US officials have more than once enunciated their desire to end India’s reliance on Russia. “After all, this is about selling major defence platforms to India. However, the level of technology that India gets from Russia, the US simply can’t give as yet, due to a variety of reasons,” he added.

Using acts like CAATSA, the US may want to make India move more firmly into its orbit which would basically mean making India more accountable and amenable to buying US platforms and moving away from Russia.

What must India do?

Raghavan offered the last word

“What the US needs to understand is India is in a very difficult position. We have to balance ties with China and Russia both on terms favourable to us, not the US. But you know, a deal is always possible”.

Isn’t that what Trump thinks too?


Xi-Modi @ Wuhan: (Perhaps) We won’t know what happens but still there is a lot we do. My piece.

Even as the foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) ‘lay the groundwork for the Qingdao Summit’ to be held in June when the top leadership of SCO nations travel to China, in some ways, something very distinct has already occurred.

On Sunday, following discussions with India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, China’s Foreign Minister and recently-appointed State Councilor Wang Yi declared that the Chinese President Xi Jinping will be holding an ‘informal meeting’ with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Wuhan as early as the next weekend.

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India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj with Wang Yi, her Chinese counterpart who is also now the State Councilor making him China’s foremost voice on foreign affairs. Pic courtesy: @IndianDiplomacy

“Xi and Modi will have strategic communication on the world’s profound changes, and exchange, in an in-depth manner, views on overall, long-term and strategic issues regarding China-India relations, Wang was quoted as saying by the Chinese news agency Xinhua. (http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2018-04/23/c_137129130.htm)

How should this be seen?

In the words of India’s recently-retired Foreign Secretary and long-time China hand S Jaishankar to news agency ANI, “It is certainly a very bold step. They will be meeting in a casual environment. The agenda will be open. This will be much more personal and interactive”.

For Sino-Indian ties, if 2017 was the year of friction, marked by the Doklam stand-off and the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, 2018 has seen more than a mere reset.

New Delhi struck the right conciliatory notes with Beijing when it came to dealing with the constitutional crisis in Maldives and the ‘Thank You India’ initiative of the Central Tibetan Administration. On its part, Beijing did not stand with Pakistan in February when the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) moved to squeeze Islamabad over its support to extremist groups.

Dust has also settled on two matters considered important for New Delhi but which saw a unilateral suspension from Beijing’s end –re-opening the Nathu La route for Mansarovar yatra and sharing hydrological data on Brahmaputra and Sutlej rivers.

Yet divergence remains.

For India, Beijing’s multi-faceted involvement with Islamabad remains the biggest red flag. Irritants like blocking India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and increasing its foothold in the Indian Ocean region have remained unresolved.

Though trade between the two nations has increased exponentially, so has the trade deficit in favour of China.

Indian Naval Ship (stealth frigate) INS Shivalik steams past the US Carrier during the ongoing Exercise Malabar-2015. Pic courtesy: Indian Navy

China views India’s embrace of US, Japan and entities on its periphery with suspicion. India’s pro-active role whether in engaging with nations in the Indo-Pacific littoral or in the military build-up along the border has been entirely unprecedented.

Seen from Beijing, the neighbourhood isn’t exactly welcoming at present. It has enjoyed better ties with Japan, Vietnam and Australia  in the past.  In addition, there is a resurgent United States which is willing to call its bluff whether in the economic sphere or in the strategic one.

What now?

History offers an interesting even if not entirely relevant lesson.

The year was 1989. The month was June.

In the heart of the Chinese capital, the country’s military had been used against its citizens. Thereafter unfolded the trauma at Tiananmen Square.

Not too long after, China’s competitor communist nation the Soviet Union too vanished.

India wondered if the Chinese would be interested in settling the boundary dispute over which the nations fought a bitter war only three decades before.

Former National Security Adviser (NSA) and foreign secretary Shivshankar Menon, a junior diplomat in 1992 told the then Foreign Secretary JN Dixit, ‘Fears (from the Tiananamen Square and Soviet Union’s collapse) should make the Chinese leadership willing to ensure peace along the border with India, freeing the Chinese government to deal with more pressing concerns’.

Turned out, the Chinese were receptive.

In his book, ‘Choices – Inside the making of India’s Foreign Policy’, Menon notes that by September of 1993, the first agreement of its kind on the border between India and China had been inked.

What is important to note however is this – China today has a President who has secured a mandate ‘for life’ whereas Modi, almost at the end of his term, has to seek one next year.

POSTSCRIPT: As Sushma Swaraj boarded the aircraft to take her to Beijing on April 21, investigating agencies confirmed the location of the wanted diamond merchant Nirav Modi – Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China.


#StateOfPlay: Celebrating surgical strikes? No thanks.

By Jugal R Purohit

Speaking at Bilaspur in Himachal Pradesh on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lauded the media for its coverage of the first anniversary of the surgical strikes. These strikes were conducted in the aftermath of the Uri camp attack which led to the death of 18 army personnel on September 18 last year.

Incidentally, even as the PM was speaking, security personnel in Srinagar were responding to a boisterous attempt by three terrorists to script another Uri-like attack. They targeted the battalion headquarters of the Border Security Force (BSF) where close to 200 personnel and their families were present.

In the year gone by, several such attempts have been made by the terrorists. The surgical strikes, one can say, have neither deterred them nor their Pakistan-based handlers.

Yet none of this came in the way of ‘celebrating’ the operation.

Did anyone ask if all measures to prevent such Uri-like camp intrusions had been implemented? If yes, why are they still taking place? If they haven’t been implemented then why so?

These strikes were meant to be yet another option in deterring Pakistan from aiding and abetting terrorism in Kashmir. What are the other options? How have we implemented them? What happened to the question of delivering better governance in the state which to my mind is the biggest step in coming closer to solving quagmire?

For one, Delhi claims it has refined the counter-terror mechanism in Kashmir because of which it has achieved more terrorist kills in comparison to previous years. Adding to the argument, those on the ground insist the present year is a calmer one (167 violent incidents recorded till June 30, 2017) coming after 322 recorded incidents – highest in the last five years – in 2016. A senior officer in Srinagar reasoned, “We are controlling better, more tightly than before.”

Along the Line of Control (LoC), the surgical strikes were followed by a severe intensification of cross-LoC firing. The 449 ceasefire violations in 2016, bulk of which were recorded in the aftermath of the surgical strikes, consumed the lives of seven security personnel (not to speak of those 29,000 who had been temporarily displaced or the civilians who’ve been hit, killed or lost property). Interestingly, if you are to keep the casualties in the months of October and November of last year aside, data between April 2016 and March 2017 shows India only lost two service personnel in the firing.

But this isn’t all that happened.

A PRS Legislative Research Jammu and Kashmir Budget analysis of 2017-18 tells us that investment in the state which amounted for Rs 4866 crore from 2009-10 to 2014-15, averaging Rs 973 crore a year, slowed down to Rs 267 crore in 2015-16. What does that mean on the ground? Rate of unemployment for persons between 18-29 years of age in the state hovered at 24.6 per cent when the national average was 13.2 per cent. Among persons between 15-17 years of age, it was at 57.7 per cent when the corresponding national average was 19.8 per cent.


State’s Finance Minister Haseeb A Drabu, on January 11, 2017, made an insightful comment when he said, “Unemployment is a social issue of serious magnitude in the state. Even as the rate of unemployment is supposed to be very high in the state, we do not have actual figures” (http://jakfinance.nic.in/Budget17/speechEng.pdf)


In J&K, when comparing the average growth between 2005-10 and 2010-15, a decline is seen from 5.8 per cent to 4.5 per cent. In agriculture (which employs 64 per cent of the population and contributes 22 per cent to the economy), manufacturing (employs 11 per cent and contributes 25 per cent) and services (employs 25 per cent and contributes 53 per cent), the current levels of growth pale when compared to the growth in 2005-10. (http://www.prsindia.org/administrator/uploads/general/1464866443_Jammu%20and%20Kashmir%20Budget%20Analysis%202016-17.pdf)


Two recent news reports from Srinagar caught my eye.

The Indian Express reported on October 4 that ‘schools, especially higher secondary ones, have been open for a little more than hundred days throughout the 11-month session so far. It is the second consecutive year that schools in the valley have remained shut for most part of the academic session’.  Day after, Hindustan Times quoted, ‘Combined cases of drug abuse and related psychological issues also went up from more than 14,500 cases in 2014 to 33,222 in 2016, a staggering 130% increase in two years. This year till April alone, this number is 13,352’.

Did Delhi and Srinagar face any questions over this?

When I tried finding out a voice on the ground to understand the human story from these numbers, I bumped into Muneeb Mir (37), a businessman operating from Pampore. He said, “We see the iron fist of the government, we see a return to the cordon and search approach we thought we had last seen in the 90s. We understand it helps the rightist agenda of the government to be seen as muscular but what really worries us is this – earlier the narrative of the government was one thing and the narrative of the people the other. Today that line has blurred and this dominating rightist narrative worries us.”

Speaking of anniversaries, it was in October 1947 that Jammu and Kashmir’s erstwhile ruler, Maharaja Hari Singh signed the instrument of accession, paving the way for the state to become a part of India. An undated letter written by Jawaharlal Nehru to Hari Singh published in Ramachandra Guha’s seminal ‘India After Gandhi’ carried the following text:

“Even if military forces held Kashmir for a while, a later consequence might be a strong reaction against this. Essentially, therefore, this is a problem of psychological approach to the mass of the people and of making them feel they will be benefited by being in the Indian Union. If the average Muslim feels that he has no safe or secure place in the Union, then obviously he will look elsewhere. Our basic policy must keep this in view, or else we fail”.

So, what happened?




RE-UP: As 50th anniv of ’65 War & 100 days of #OROP protest coincide, my two bits, @PMOIndia

Respected Sir,

Since I cover issues pertaining to security and conflict, I’ve also had the opportunity to report on One Rank One Pension (OROP).

On September 5, I was present in Room 129 D of the South Block where defence minister Manohar Parrikar made the announcement on OROP. Many of my colleagues incorrectly referred to this event as a press conference. I am sure you’d appreciate that when no questions or clarifications are allowed, the event becomes an announcement.

Why was such a stance adopted for such an occasion, I still ponder.

This brings me to the heart of the issue I’d like to raise.

Unlike matters of operations, acquisitions or investigations where details are best withheld till a suitable time is arrived at, OROP is an issue where maximum transparency could and should be demonstrated.

But this has hardly been observed.

Be it when multiple well-wishers of your government were talking to the protesting veterans (seven names were made public) for a solution or when the defence minister, flanked by the service chiefs, defence secretary and his junior minister, simply walked out after reading a prepared statement. So many queries arose seeing this. Yet, doubts were met with not one clarification. In fact, even among several serving defence personnel the feeling is that the “way OROP was handled” could’ve been much better.

Doubts also persist because the order for implementation of OROP – the original aim of the protest – has still not materialised. The issue of “voluntary retirement” which found a way into the announcement by Parrikar led to immense anger, notwithstanding your words later. All this has ensured that whenever your government issues the order, it will be read it with a doubt in mind and a magnifying glass in hand.

Protests at Jantar Mantar on the eve of SAINIK EKTA RALLY on September 12
Protests at Jantar Mantar on the eve of SAINIK EKTA RALLY on September 12

I am sure you did not desire such a bitter state.

Mr Modi, when it was announced that the government will revise thepensions of our veterans once in five years and not one, as they demanded, was it not important that your government told us why? I could, in fact, ask the same for the slew of anomalies which have emerged where you felt no explanation was necessary.

May I also add that seeking clarifications isn’t the same as rejecting arguments.

Is the problem in granting them OROP, the way they have been asking for, a financial one or an administrative one or a political one? I must say you’ve allowed doubts to creep in. Former army chief Gen NC Vij, whom I met on the evening of September 5 said it, “If there was an issue with the finances or anything else, I would expect our government to be open to the veterans and talk. They are patriots, not unreasonable agitators.”

I distinctly recall your words before you took over as the prime minister. You said, “Politicians should learn to say ‘no’ and bureaucrats should learn to say ‘yes’.” Was it your turn to say “no” or your bureaucrats who should’ve said “yes”?

Allow me to put on record a belief that many hold, not without merit. For those joining the government post 2004, pensions have become contributory in nature which means the government has less liability. This includes officers from services like Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and even those from Central Armed Police Force (CAPF). In comparison, government is continuing the old pension scheme only for the army, navy and air force. Is that not showing respect and granting a special place? I think it is. Is the economy free of all the encumbrances for you to give in to whatever it asked for? No, it isn’t.

While the general perception, thanks to your superb oratory and the might of the government propaganda, is that the entire OROP issue is settled, the veterans are still protesting. They just held a massive rally on Saturday to buttress their point. On asking they point to what they believe are major anomalies.

Your government has taken an important step. Your government has a former army chief and a celebrated colonel as ministers and yet this dichotomy!

Before things implode then, can we have a frank talk?


CG791: Month after Coast Guard Dornier vanished, officer’s father writes to PM Modi. Says, “Don’t let it remain a mystery”.

Story appeared in MAIL TODAY newspaper on July 7, 2015
Story appeared in MAIL TODAY newspaper on July 7, 2015

·         Does no country in the world have the technology to track the missing Dornier plane? If so when will seek the assistance from them?

·         In future what should be done to prevent such tragedies?

·         If there is a question mark on the safety of defence personnel, won’t parents think twice before allowing their wards to join the armed forces?

With three pointed questions to none less than the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, father of the untraceable Coast Guard navigator Deputy Commandant MK Soni has called into question the efforts put in by the government to trace the Dornier plane and its three crew members, exactly a month after it disappeared.

On  June 8, it was at 2123hours that CG791, while returning to Chennai, suddenly vanished from the radar screens of personnel at Trichy, 95 nautical miles south, off Chennai. All efforts to trace the whereabouts since then have been fruitless. In his letter to the PM which was sent on Saturday, a copy of which is with the correspondent, Soni’s father, Radheshyam Soni pleads with Modi to ensure that this disappearance does not remain a mystery forever.

Deputy Commandant MK Soni was the navigator onboard CG791
Deputy Commandant MK Soni was the navigator onboard CG791

Soni, in his short letter to the PM wrote, “Request you to please look into this matter with utmost urgency. The search process needs to be fast-tracked and we should do whatever is required to get the results ASAP.” Expressing satisfaction with the steps taken by both the Coast Guard and Navy, he stated that they have done their “best” yet there are no “concrete results”. Before concluding, he added, “We are dying every second. Please understand our situation and let’s not have the sacrifice of 3 young pilots go missing as a mystery.”

On the other side of the divide, Coast Guard officials confirmed that the search effort has been ramped up from what it has been like in the last few days. Apart from the naval submarine INS Sindhudhvaj which has been re-deployed in the search area to sniff around for signals emanating from the wreck, Coast Guard has also sought the re-entry of Olympic Canyon, a Remotely Operated Vehicle support ship owned by Reliance Industries Limited (RIL) for going right down to the bottom of the floor and checking. This is in addition to four surface ships of the navy and coast guard which are deployed at all times and two dedicated plane sorties that are conducted over the area every day to pick up any sign of debris.

When asked if there was any additional assistance that could be sought, a Coast Guard official revealed, “We have been asking our counterparts in advanced countries like US and Japan but there too we are drawing a blank.” Another senior MoD official said, “There is nothing that we have not done till date. If anyone suggests it, we are willing to do it but it’s just a freak thing where nothing is yielding.”

Soni's family members await his return
Soni’s family members await his return

‘Frustrating! Despair follows hope’

Describing the difficulties involved, a coast guard official said, “We are unable to localize the suspected site despite repeated attempts. False echoes are emanating. Every time we pick up a signal and search, the target has eluded us. The ROV from Olmpic Canyon is our best bet as it has two ROVs which can be lowered at a time and each of them has four cameras which can show of pictures of 5m in a 360 degree fashion. There too the weather is playing truant as RIL is unable to complete its activities and ship it to us.”


·         Four naval and coast guard ships patrol the suspected site of crash for any sign of debris from the plane

·         Two special Dornier plane flights are undertaken every day over the suspected site for the same reason

·         Submarine INS Sindhudhvaj has been re-deployed to scan the steep continental slope for any signals emanating from the downed Dornier’s beacon

·         Coast Guard has deployed smaller boats off Karaikal and Pondicherry to scan the waters there for any debris from the plane

·         Coast Guard has sought Reliance Industries Limited’s (RIL) ROV support vessel Olympic Canyon for at least four days

·         Hyderabad-based National Remote Sensing Centre has provided high resolution imagery along with mathematical modeling done by Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS)

·         ISRO has been roped in and is in touch with experts from Russia to pick up even the weakest of signals from the suspected wreck

·         All cargo ships, fishing vessels, naval and coast guard vessels in Palk Bay region have been asked to look out for debris

·         Naval survey ship with side scan sonar, highly advanced vessel Sagar Nidhi belonging to National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) has been used

·         Using state forest staff, mangrove swamps have been searched in the local area


LINK: AK Antony, India’s longest-serving Defence minister gave his first interview in the last eight years. I was the lucky journalist. Watch here.

Here he gives his take on how the defence of India has been handled in the year gone by: