India's 'strategic community' comprises two distinct circles with little overlap. One can be termed the 'mainstream' and the other 'alternate' (Kanti Bajpai). While the reference point for the former is the state, for the latter it's society. Consequently, mainstream strategists have an external orientation to their discourse, concentrating on high politics; the latter is more internal oriented. While one is enamoured of India's rise and place in the global order, the other is more sensitive to its vulnerabilities and inadequacies.
Their prescriptions too are understandably poles apart. The state, to which both their commentary is directed, has to play balancer, and ends up being at the receiving end of criticism from both sides.
The 'community' can be imagined as comprising sub-circles of intelligence, military, police, foreign and administrative services, and technologists. There are several academic policy-wonks, co-opted for their expertise or proximity with one or other sub-circle. The denizens of this intellectual realm, usually retired, have continuing links with their respective fraternity. This keeps them current.
Their utility for their sub-circle of affiliation is in projection of issues with the desired spin into the public discourse. This helps build a constituency for any changes that the respective bureaucracy of affiliation seeks. In this role they amount to a pressure group. The upside of this is that the debate is in the open domain. The downside is that it is susceptible to manipulation.
Many of the 'mainstream' stalwarts are tapped by the government on account of their reputation as resource persons or integrity for security-related input. The National Security Council (NSC) system enables formal access to this in the form of the multi-disciplinary National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) having more than a score experts charged with rendering policy advice. There is considerable jostling to serve on this since it facilitates visibility, perks and information access otherwise unavailable due to a closed security establishment.
This is the closest India gets to the revolving door system in the US in which experts, comprising academics and retired professionals, rotate between appointments in the administration with the change in parties running the government. The NSC Secretariat also hires a few experts at various bureaucratic levels. The quasi-governmental think tanks have similar billets. Gubernatorial appointments and Special Interlocutor are the incentive.
The 'alternate', no less strong, present and omniscient, is the conscience keeper of the nation. Perhaps Arundhati Roy is its most visible sword bearer. They are better represented in the faculties of universities. They have their set of think tanks, but there is little interaction between the two sets. They are not less visible though, since they are more articulate, have greater information available being outside the purview of the security establishment, and having several fronts to engage with in the broad ambit of economics and social science. Their input is directed more at the Planning Commission, the National Advisory Council and the line ministries. The Finance Ministry is perhaps the lone one accepting lateral induction of experts at various levels in the hierarchy, including the higher rungs, otherwise dominated by the IAS.
More familiar with the mufussil and tehsil from their early careers, senior bureaucrats reinforce the inward focus, to the chagrin of the diplomatic community and the military.
Power is exercised through the bureaucrat-controlled ministries. These are the preserve of the 'steel frame', the IAS. More familiar with the mufussil and tehsil from their early careers, they reinforce the inward focus, to the chagrin of the diplomatic community and the military. The likes of Jaswant Singh, Chidambaram and Pranab Mukherjee being too few, the minister, typically peripatetic and into banal politics, cannot exercise the intimate control necessary to neutralise the bureaucracy. Unsurprisingly, into the second decade after weaponisation, there is no parliamentary oversight committee over the strategic nuclear complex, even though the defence ministry is under parliamentary scrutiny.
The bureaucratic stranglehold over the police in particular, makes the retired police fraternity bitterly critical and with ample reason. The military veterans' community too considers the military yoked by the bureaucrats in the Ministry of Defence. This owes to the elite service presence in not only the nodal ministry but also its control over the finance ministry. The allied services play out their subordinate role with unwarranted zest, enabling a more pervasive control of the bureaucracy. The disadvantage is in a corroding steel frame unable to hold up the weight of a continent sized polity. This, however, makes for a balance between the 'mainstream' and 'alternate', that in other states is usually inclined towards the former.
While the democratic space is enriched by the resulting cacophony, the articulation of a strategic doctrine by the state is difficult. The political party running the government is averse to giving those disappointed by such articulation a target; therefore the absence of a strategy document on the lines of the Strategic Defence Review of the UK and Nuclear Posture Review of the US. This results in a listless strategic orientation to the state. Without explicit direction from the political class, the bureaucrats have greater discretion but without corresponding expertise. Thus contestation between the 'mainstream' and the 'alternate' has the unintended fallout of holding up the security policy of the state.
The upshot is that the security policy ends up as 'more of everything for all'. For instance, in the internal security front, the central police forces are set to expand by another 38 battalions over the coming decade, in addition to the expansion over the last decade that made the CRPF the largest paramilitary in the world. The Army too has raised three score Rashtriya Rifles units for internal security in the decade prior to that. Caught in the advocacy between development and police action, the state prevaricates in Central India, with Operation Green Hunt proceeding unacknowledged.
Likewise on the external security front, there are several militaries in the offing instead of an integrated 'joint' one. For instance there are mechanized forces; mountain forces for two theatres, North and North East; different counter insurgency forces for Kashmir and North East; an amphibious force; and nuclear forces based on triad. Currently, an 'out of area' capability is in the works, mistaking the rhetoric in speeches for policy, such as references by the prime minister or defence minister to India's interests ranging from Aden to Singapore.
The strategic community - or rather the three strategic communities - have a democratic function in enriching the open domain. There is no escaping the parochialism in the mainstream communities, nor the critical brakes applied by the alternate on India's great power aspirations. The 'official' strategic community's inadequacy, at both the political and bureaucratic levels, leads to the system 'muddling along' between bouts of activism such as in the reorganisation of higher structures after Kargil and of the homeland security turf in wake of 26/11.
It is worth pondering if the miracle of India is due to or despite all this.