(This is the fourth article in a series of articles called #ManifestoMusings, based on the manifestos of the Bharatiya Janata Party and Indian National Congress for the Indian General Elections 2019)

The Indian General Election season is here!

Will it be ‘Abki baar phir Modi sarkaar (this time it is time for Modi government again)’ or ‘Jaat par na pat par, mohar lagega haath par (neither based on caste nor on creed, my vote will be on the hand)’; the hand is the symbol of the Indian National Congress. Will India finally vote for a regime mainly on development issues or are we still some way off from such a scenario? How important will caste dynamics be? Will communal and sectarian politics play a role?

These are all questions that shall matter immensely as the country gears up for the General Elections 2019, beginning from 11 April 2019.

The manifestos for Indian General Elections 2019 of the major Indian national parties: Bharatiya Janata Party and the Indian National Congress have now been released. Both parties have looked into various aspects of life and society in their respective manifestos, right from the economy and jobs to foreign affairs and defence. While one focuses on its leader (the BJP’s with the focus being on Narendra Modi), the other seems to focus on people, in general. One talks of resolutions (‘Sankalp‘) while the other talks of its ability to deliver (the Indian National Congress).

As the country gears up to vote, I would like to look at the key points that are covered (or not covered) in the manifestos, in a series of articles called #ManifestoMusings. This second article is looking at foreign policy and defense-related policies and plans suggested by the two parties. The manifestos for Indian General Elections 2019 of the major Indian national parties: Bharatiya Janata Party and the Indian National Congress, have now been released. The interests of the nation cannot be safeguarded without a strong defense and foreign policy. That is understood and highlighted in both the manifestos.

As both parties pitch their manifestos for claiming power in 2019, let us see what the two parties have to say on this on this.

BJP on`Vasudeva Kutumbakam’, Anti-Terrorism and Diplomacy 

The BJP begins with a grand but fairly realistic statement about India’s position in the world today

We believe that India’s time has come. She is emerging as a power and connecting stakeholders in a multi-polar world. The rise of India is the new reality and we shall play a major role in shaping global agenda in the 21st century.

I find it beautiful that the BJP seeks to internalize the idea of ‘Vasudeva Kutumbakam‘ or ‘The whole world is my family’ to such an extent that they speak of humanitarian aid and intervention for countries around the world. The party wants to develop partnerships for disaster resilient infrastructure. The BJP makes global knowledge exchange and technology transfer a priority-point in their manifesto. They speak of endeavouring to create an ‘International Space Technology Alliance’ for better coordination and cooperation on issues related to space technology to ensure that the benefits of space technology reach all, especially the smaller countries. Given the large support-base that the BJP enjoys among NRIs, it is not surprising that the BJP makes the Indian diaspora an important part of its foreign policy with the following poll promise. The party wants to engage more regularly with, and create an institutional mechanism to deepen the relationship of culture and heritage with, people of Indian origin. It wants to also launch ‘Bharat Gaurav’ campaign to increase interaction among the Indian diaspora and enable their continuous engagement with the Indian missions, besides strengthening the MADAD portal as single-point avenue for information and services for Indians living abroad.

The BJP says that it will pursue a zero tolerance approach to terrorism and shall keep national security interest above all else. The party also makes counter-terrorism through dialogue and steps on international forums a point of interest and importance. The BJP says that it is committed to taking concrete steps on international forums against organizations and countries supporting terrorism, and that the party will take all necessary measures to isolate such organizations and countries on the international stage. The party would also like to work towards establishing a ‘Comity of Nations Against International Terrorism’ as a forum that is based on the principles of the draft Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism. On the international diplomatic front, the BJP seeks to have greater regional coordination and economic cooperation through forums such as the UN, G20, BRICS, Commonwealth, BIMSTEC and ASEAN. Some say that Nehru and his Congress government did not secure for India the permanent membership of the UN Security Council when he may have been able to. Debatable as that is, this is something the BJP wants to prioritize and get the coveted place on the global stage, with sustained efforts in that direction. The party also seeks to strengthen the diplomatic cadre of the country `to keep pace with our increasing global engagement and enhanced stature of India in the world’. In addition, the party wants to involve experts in foreign policy-making and also established a University of Foreign Policy `to focus on academic study and research on foreign policy and geopolitical issues relevant to India and capacity building of our and friendly foreign diplomats’. In the spirit of federalism, the BJP says that India’s states will also be actively assisted in their outreach on the global stage for economic development.

The BJP seeks to make our security forces and the country stronger and self-reliant by investing in development and purchase of weapons and other defense paraphernalia.  The party has taken definite steps in developing self-reliance of the country when it comes to defence equipment. A case in example is the modern AK-203 automatic rifles factory in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh. Making the defence equipment in India will not only generate employment but also encourage investment in the defence sector. Often the welfare of our security forces have not been taken care of as much as it should be. There have also been scams when it came to housing for the families of our jawans (remember Adarsh scam?). The BJP seeks to look after the welfare of the security forces of the country by working creating a more effective framework for the resettlement of our Armed Forces veterans, whereby the Armed Forces will start planning for the resettlement of soldiers three years before their retirement. This will be done in accordance with their preferences of the soldiers and will include provision for financial support for higher education, housing, skills training and even for starting an enterprise. To deal with problems arising in internal affairs of the country and to neutralize internal security challenges, the BJP seeks to strengthen the police force. The party wants to continue to take forward the process of modernizing the Central Armed Police Forces to increase their readiness, capacity and capabilities to enable them to combat internal security challenges effectively. The BJP wants to provide assistance to the states to upgrade their police forces through what they call the ‘Scheme for Modernization of Police Forces’. The party wants to expedite police reforms, particularly in the states, so that the State police forces can deal with new types of crimes like cyber crime. The party also puts the onus on  making these forces more sensitive to the citizens, especially the weak and vulnerable sections of the society.

The BJP seeks to combat infiltration into the country with the completion of its National Register of Citizens and reinforce border police forces to prevent infiltration, particularly in the northeastern states of India. The party wants to expedite the completion of the National Register of Citizens process and would like to implement the NRC in a phased manner across the country. Illegal immigration has been a major cause of concerns in the northeastern states of India. To address this, not only is the BJP seeking to further strengthen the border security but also launch an ambitious pilot project on the use of technology to strengthen border security (Smart Fencing) on all borders. To prevent alienation or isolation of border territories from the rest of the country in any way, the party seeks to focus on the `creation of developmental and other necessary infrastructure in border areas to ensure that border security is strengthened, and to enable increased participation of and benefits for border areas in the country’s development and progress’. The BJP government has completed building six integrated check-posts with another under construction. These checkposts shall help in easing travel and trade from the neighboring countries.

Envisioning defense on all fronts, the BJP then goes on to talk about coastal defense,

After effectively strengthening coastal security through implementation of a coastal security scheme to provide modern equipment and allocating funds to the states for establishing coastal police stations, establishment of National Committee for Strengthening Maritime & Coastal Security, Island Information System and National Academy of Coastal Policing, we will continue to take steps for ensuring security of India’s long coastline.

The BJP reiterates its support for the contentious Citizenship Amendment Bill for `the protection of individuals of religious minority communities from neighbouring countries escaping persecution’. There has been a lot of apprehensions regarding the legislation in the northeastern states and the party seeks to clarify the issues to the people of those states. The BJP reiterates its commitment to protect the cultural, linguistic and social identity of the people of northeastern states of India. The contentious part of this legislation is the statement on giving citizenship to Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Sikhs and Christians escaping persecution from India’s neighboring countries. The Bill has been contentious due to only specific communities being under the purview of the protection offered by the Indian state, in the instance of seeking asylum. The party also go on to speak specifically about countering Left wing extremism, particularly with regards to the Maoist insurgency. In the last five years, the BJP government has focused on the development of social and economic infrastructure such as communication infrastructure, roadways, schools and medical facilities in the tribal areas affected by left wing extremism and the party promises to continue to make efforts in this direction. This is particularly interesting since the reason offered by most for the continued Maoist insurgency is the deprivation and under-representation of communities living in those areas within the national framework and discourse. If that can be changed and a positive change can be brought on that front, the seed of rebellion and discontent can be uprooted.

Last but not the least is the question of Jammu and Kashmir and the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A. The BJP reiterates its position of seeking to do so and try to integrate the state into the country in a manner similar to any other state in India.

In the last five years, we have made all necessary efforts to ensure peace in Jammu and Kashmir through decisive actions and a rm policy. We are committed to overcome all obstacles that come in the way of development and provide adequate financial resources to all the regions of the state. We reiterate our position since the time of the Jan Sangh to the abrogation of Article 370.

We are committed to annulling Article 35A of the Constitution of India as the provision is discriminatory against non-permanent residents and women of Jammu and Kashmir. We believe that Article 35A is an obstacle in the development of the state. We will take all steps to ensure a safe and peaceful environment for all residents of the state. We will make all efforts to ensure the safe return of Kashmiri Pandits and we will provide financial assistance for the resettlement of refugees from West Pakistan, Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir (POJK) and Chhamb.

Nuanced as the discussion on this is, the abrogation of articles 370 and 35A would need more consultation. Such a scrapping may put the state of Jammu and Kashmir on fire and there will be widespread violence and chaos in the state. Former Union minister and National Conference president Farooq Abdullah recently said in a election rally,

Do they (New Delhi) think that they will abrogate Article 370 and we will be quiet? They are wrong. We will fight against it.

Bahar se laenge, basaenge, hum sote rahenge? Hum iska muqabala karenge, 370 ko kaise khatam karoge? Allah ki kasam kehta hun,Allah ko yahi manzoor hoga, hum inse azad ho jayen. Karen hum bhi dekhte hain. Dekhta hun phir kon inka jhanda khada karne ke liye taiyar hoga.

(They will bring people from outside and we will keep quiet? We will fight against any step to annul Article 370. God willing there will be separation. Let’s see how they do it. Will see who will be ready to hoist their flag)

In principle, even though the integration of the state into the Union as any other state would be a matter of great joy to me but it must not be done by coercion or force but rather by consultation and goodwill, if it is undertaken.

Congress on a Defence Modernization Spree, National Defence Council and Police Reforms

The Congress begins with a snide at what it calls the BJP’s `chest-thumping or exaggerated claims’ on national security, and seeks to build a sound defence policy and foreign policy. It thereafter goes on to highlight its policy on modernization of the Indian armed forces and increased defense spending. The party wants to expedite all modernization programmes of the armed forces in a fair and transparent manner. The Congress promises to expand the country’s domestic capacity to manufacture security and defence equipment, and also ensure the creation of manufacturing capacities not only in the public sector but also in security-cleared and pre-qualified private sector companies.

The Congress commits to not only to safeguard the territorial integrity of India but also defend it when it comes to data security, cyber security, financial security, communication security and security of trade routes. The Congress promises to establish the office of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) (who would be the principal adviser to the Government on matters relating to defense), to provide a statutory basis to the National Security Council (NSC) and the office of National Security Adviser (NSA), and to re-establish the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB). The Congress also seeks to curb internal security challenges by establishing the National Counter-terrorism Centre and NATGRID

The key to internal security is intelligence, analysis and quick response. Congress had put in place the Multi-Agency Centre and the NSG regional hubs. Congress had also proposed to establish the National Counter-Terrorism Centre and NATGRID. The BJP government dismantled the preparatory work and wasted 5 years. NCTC was put in the cold storage and NATGRID is yet to be made operational. Congress promises that NCTC will be set up within 3 months and NATGRID will be made operational by December 2019.

When it comes to the internal threats, the Congress believes the primary priority is to counter terrorism, infiltration of militants, Maoism or Naxalism and caste or communal violence. The Congress believes that each of these threats deserve a distinct strategy and response. In the case of communal or caste violence, Congress will put down any such occurrence with a firm hand using any and every police force at its command. It also promises to apprehend the instigators of such violence and bring them to justice. The Congress also makes clear that there will be no room for moral policing brigades and self-appointed vigilante groups in the country.

On the topic of border security, the Congress promises to increase the strength of border guarding forces—BSF, SSB, ITBP and Assam Rifles—and post them on or near the border to prevent illegal immigration, infiltration and smuggling. The party seeks to construct well-equipped and modern Integrated Border Outposts to provide good living and working conditions for the security forces, with the distance between two border outposts being reduced. The party promises to reduce the period of posting in high altitude border outposts to 3 months at a time and accelerate the construction of border roads along all borders of India. This will be a strategic infrastructure building project much like the BJP government constructed the Bogibeel project, which has cut down the train-travel time between Tinsukia in Assam to Naharlagun town of Arunachal Pradesh by more than 10 hours, recently. The Congress seeks to enhance the capacity of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), besides creating separate divisions to build roads along the India-Myanmar and India-China borders.

When it comes to the welfare of the security forces and ex-servicemen, the Congress proposes to adopt the One Rank One Pension (OROP) scheme and promises to remove the anomalies in its implementation. The party promises to formulate and implement a policy of compensation to the families of martyrs. Under this policy, their families will include allowances and a full pay, a government job for one member of the family, funding for children’s education and suitable monetary compensation. The party also seeks to make lateral entry into the civil services available to Armed Forces personnel who retire and also to allow Armed Forces personnel who retire before the age of 40 years to enter the Central Armed Police Forces at suitable level based on their physical fitness and qualifications. Congress promises to expand the capacity of the hospitals and Armed Forces medical corps substantially to cater to the needs of ex-servicemen and their families.

The Congress focusses on strengthening the police force, particularly the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) in the country.

Congress will work with State Governments to increase the strength of State police forces, fill all vacancies, equip and train them, and deploy them impartially to maintain law and order and to detect and punish violators and instigators.

We will increase the strength of the CAPFs to meet the growing requirements of border security and internal security

At any given time, an adequate number of battalions will be on rest, recuperation and training and will not be deployed on operational duties.

Congress promises to ensure increased representation of women to achieve a minimum of 33 per cent in the force strength of CISF, CRPF and BSF. Every effort will be made to induct more women into the other border guarding forces, namely, ITBP, SSB and Assam Rifles.

We will enhance the facilities of health, education and housing for the personnel of the CAPFs and their families to bring them on par with the facilities provided for the Armed Forces. We will set up schools on the model of Sainik schools to enhance educational opportunities for their children.

Congress promises to enhance the status of the jawan and the benefits to the families of jawans in cases were the jawan dies in action.

We will set up a Committee to draft new Service Rules for personnel of the CAPFs.

The Congress also looks at ways to counter crimes against women and individual from Schedules Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minorities. It also seeks to reduce the occurrence of rioting and widespread breakdown of law and order by decentralizing power and investing the district administrations with the responsibility to maintain order.

Congress promises to take strong action with respect to crimes against women, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and minorities. The law will be applied on the perpetrators without fear or favour. They will not be allowed to walk on the streets with a sense of impunity.

Congress will hold the District Administration responsible for riots, caste or communal violence, large scale crimes against women, and for the widespread breakdown of law and order.

On Jammu and Kashmir, the Congress says that `dialogue is the only way to understand the aspirations of the people of the three regions of Jammu & Kashmir and find a solution to their issues’ and the party shall take that path (with the appointment of three interlocutors drawn from civil society to facilitate such talks), and shall adopt a two-pronged approach: firstly, absolute firmness on the border and an end to infiltration, and secondly, fairness in dealing with the demands of the people, and trying to win their minds and hearts. The Congress promises to review the deployment of armed forces, besides moving more troops to the border to stop infiltration completely and reducing the presence of the Central Armed Police Force and Army within the Kashmir Valley. The party would also like to entrust more responsibility to the J&K police for maintaining law and order, and review the the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and the Disturbed Areas Act in J&K to balance the requirements of security of the nation and the protection of human rights.

When it comes to foreign policy, the INC has a multi-pronged and fairly nuanced approach. Having been the historical architects of the Non-Aligned Movement and a key player in the initial days of the SAARC grouping, when in power, the INC has some history and heritage to back it up, when it comes to foreign policy. It talks of establishing a National Council on Foreign Policy and working closely with India’s neigbours, besides pushing for Pakistan to stop supporting any and every terrorist group that may be located on its territory and also to push for a permanent seat on the UN Security Council for India. With the continued surge of China in the geopolitics of the Indian subcontinent, it is heartening to see the emphasis and focus on foreign policy measures by the principal opposition party of India.

Congress affirms its firm belief in the continued relevance of the policy of friendship, peaceful co-existence, non-alignment, independence of thought and action, and increased bilateral engagement in its relations with other countries of the world.

Congress promises to establish a National Council on Foreign Policy consisting of members of the Cabinet Committee on Security, scholars, domain experts and diplomats to advise the Government on matters concerning foreign policy.

We will work closely with all countries of the world, and particularly India’s neighbours and the G-20 countries, in various multi-lateral forums and institutions.

Foreign Trade will be an important element of our foreign policy and we promise to make every effort to significantly increase trade with other countries.

It was a Congress government that opened India’s economy to other countries of the world. Congress promises to strengthen its relations with other countries through enhanced economic co-operation, two-way investments and closer relations between businesspersons.

Congress is implacably opposed to terrorism anywhere in the world and promises to work with other countries to eliminate terrorist groups, terrorist acts and cross-border terrorism. We will persuade the United Nations to constantly review the list of terrorists and to expand the scope of sanctions

Congress will take determined steps to persuade other countries to compel Pakistan to verifiably end its support to the terrorist groups that it shelters.

Congress promises to pass a Law on Asylum consistent with international treaties and conventions.

We will re-double the efforts to win for permanent membership India in the UN Security Council and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Congress will work with SAARC and ASEAN countries to enhance the volume of trade, investments, tourism and cultural exchanges and reap the benefits of geographical proximity.

Congress promises to establish effective mechanisms with neighbouring countries, especially Sri Lanka and Pakistan, to resolve the problems faced by fishermen, to eliminate conflict, coercive action and loss of lives, and to improve livelihood opportunities for our fishing communities.

We will strengthen the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, expand its engagement with other countries and encourage the Council to increase the projection of India’s soft power globally.

Congress promises to increase significantly the size of the Foreign Service, induct domain experts and scholars, open more missions abroad, participate more effectively in international organisations, leverage our growing economy and acquire a position of leadership in the world.

Not to be left behind on plans for the Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and the Indian diaspora, the Congress also lays out its plan to engage with them. Congress promises to re-establish the Ministry of Overseas Indians. The task of this Ministry will be to address the concerns of NRIs including their social security, conditions of work, education of their children, health benefits and safety. The Congress promise to task India’s Missions abroad to pay particular attention to work conditions and work safety of Indian citizens in foreign countries, and will appoint a Committee of Overseas Indian Citizens to review the work of the Missions on this front. The party goes on to say that it shall review and expand the opportunities for higher education and also review the fee structure for the children of NRIs in Indian universities and colleges. Last but not the least, the Congress promises to establish and promote an NRI Invest Scheme to offer more opportunities and options to NRIs to invest in India, besides establishing a single point of contact and simplifying the procedures to enable NRIs to invest in businesses in India.

In Conclusion

The largest democratic exercise comes with the largest dilemmas on whom to elect as the next Prime Minister of India. Narendra Modi or Rahul Gandhi. Both the parties have come out with well-made manifestos that cover a whole range of topics. In this analysis I have tried to be as impartial as possible in my assessment when it comes to the poll pitches for foreign policy and defence. Both parties have their strengths and weaknesses, like any other party. I would like my readers to decide after going through the manifestos and my series #ManifestoMusings, of which this is the first article. Mandate 2019 is a massive decision for the fate of the country, and as responsible citizens of the country, it is our duty to take an informed and well-thought-out position.

Every vote counts, every voice is important.

These are exciting times and I look forward to seeing another chapter being inked into the history of modern India on 23 May 2019 when a new government shall take office in India.

Jai Hind!