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Usher Pending Actions

Issue: 05-2009By Air Marshal (Retd) V.K. Bhatia

With the UPA government back in power without the earlier political encumbrances, it is hoped the acquisition programmes of the armed forces would gather momentum, as would the various initiatives on homeland security

A resounding thumbs-up from the market and the feel-good attendant factor of continuity notwithstanding, the spotlight is now firmly on the impact of the UPA’s return to power on the country’s external and internal security scenario. After the initial euphoria of election victory ebbs and the ministers take over their respective portfolios in earnest, the government will have to hit the ground running and provide necessary political direction to the bureaucratic mandarins of the South Block ministries who were left minding the store during the government’s poll hiatus.

With most of the South Asian region surrounding India in a state of turmoil, the security and foreign policy agenda is heavily crowded and each of the complex issues need urgent attention. That the government means business is evident from the fact that India’s special envoys are already in its southern neighbour’s capital discussing with the Sri Lankan President a Tamil rehabilitation programme in the post-Prabhakaran and post-LTTE scenario with an initial package of Rs 500 crore ($100 million) as a starter. The speed with which the proposal has been offered must have surprised the Sri Lankans but the continuity factor must have been at the root of this accelerated response.

Similarly, the UPA government is likely to be aided by the advantage of continuity in tackling other smouldering foreign policy issues concerning Nepal, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and other countries such as Iran and China. The highly prestigious Indo-US nuclear deal might have to pass through patches of uncertainty with the new Obama administration in Washington, but then again, with Dr Manmohan Singh, the chief architect of the deal from the Indian side, continuing as the Prime Minister of India, the deal would gain the required momentum to reach its rightful conclusion.

In the run up to 2009 15th Lok Sabha general elections, an uneasy coalition with either the BJP or the Congress in the lead appeared inevitable to most political analysts and crystal gazers. The possibility of a third front emerging devoid of the two major parties was also bandied about. But in the end, it was the Indian voter who not only surprised the cautious certitude of the psephologist or the less restrained TV anchor but also all the political parties by giving the ruling UPA government a near clear mandate to run the country’s affairs for another term.

Now, the focus shifts firmly to cross-border terrorism and internal security scenario. Will the continuity factor help in these areas, too? Shocked by the 26/11 Mumbai carnage and stung by public outcry and political opposition, Dr Manmohan Singh’s government had taken a slew of measures such as the creation of a National Investigation Agency, a central Coastal Command and a Maritime Security Advisory Board (MSAB). However, taken in haste, these steps lacked clarity and their effectiveness would have been questionable. While some corrective actions have been taken to streamline the issues, most are in the planning stages, with their full implementation nowhere on the horizon. For example, for the Maritime Security Advisor, a serving Vice Admiral of the Indian Navy is yet to be appointed, nor have any steps been taken to establish the MSAB. Earlier, the Centre may have had the excuse of impending elections, but now that the same government is firmly in the saddle again, all the pending issues need to be progressed on fast track.