• Friday, June 14, 2024

Author Dr. Sreeram Chaulia speaks with Frontlist on his book "Crunch Time: Narendra Modi’s National Security Crises"

on Apr 29, 2022
Dr. Sreeram Chaulia

Sreeram Chaulia is a social scientist and opinion maker on international issues. He is professor and dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs of O.P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat. He has previously authored five books, including Modi Doctrine: The Foreign Policy of India’s Prime Minister (2016) and Trumped: Emerging Powers in a Post-American World (2019). He is a leading opinion columnist on international issues in newspapers and magazines in both Hindi and English, and a regular analyst of world politics on radio and television.

Frontlist- The book has shone a light on the important events that define the new strategic culture of India, whether it was surgical strikes in 2016 or the Balakot airstrikes in 2019. Why did you choose this topic to write about? 

Dr. Sreeram: The topic of strategic culture goes to the very heart of International Relations and defence studies. I had been observing big changes in the way India was dealing with its two adversaries– China and Pakistan– since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to office. By 2020, with four major crises having already occurred, I decided that I had enough observations to begin revisit the fundamental debate about India’s strategic culture and its ‘soft state’. As a social scientist, I felt I was seeing a transformation in real time that had to be articulated for readers so that they can appreciate the deeper changes to India’s national security system and response matrix which are underway.

Frontlist- This book gives a comprehensive analysis of how ‘New India’ conducted itself during the episodes of major National Security Crises. Share your experience while writing the same.

Dr. Sreeram: Writing a book about contemporary national and international current events is always risky because one can get overtaken by the ebb and flow of events and latest developments. One of the crises I have extensively covered in Crunch Time, for example, is still going on. This is the China-India faceoff on the Eastern Ladakh-Aksai China frontier. So, I tried to avoid making any predictions about how the crises would ultimately end. Instead, I focused on a the core issue of how the Indian state used to tackle such crises in the past and how it has responded more robustly and creatively under Modi. I see myself as chronicling a structural shift and presenting it to readers in fairly simple, jargon-free language so that they are conscious that ‘new India’ has indeed arrived.

Frontlist- It is your first collaboration with Rupa Publications. What was it like working with them?

Dr. Sreeram: Yes! Rupa is a very prestigious name in publishing and I am honoured that they brought Crunch Time out. The degree of professionalism, punctuality and empathy that Rupa’s editors and staff bring to authors is really praiseworthy. In the spirit of a mutual collaboration between author and publisher, I had numerous dialogues and discussions with Rupa’s super-efficient team over months before the book hit the press. At every stage, from copy editing to marketing and retailing, I felt that I was in the best possible hands as a writer. Crunch Time has been listed as the ‘Number 1 bestseller’ in the ‘International Relations’ category on Amazon. No wonder that Rupa calls itself the ‘House of Bestsellers’. It deserves the tag every bit!               

Frontlist- Where did you find all the relevant information you covered in this book regarding the National Security Crises?

Dr. Sreeram: Apart from secondary sources, I conducted numerous interviews of senior figures from India’s armed forces and its national security apparatus. These primary sources add great value to Crunch Time, as they reveal hitherto unknown aspects of Modi’s leadership and of the perceptions and preparations within the military as they faced up to the challenges thrown at them by China and Pakistan. I also had the advantage of talking to many Indian diplomats and academicians about the nitty gritty of the crises covered in the book, and this gives the book an edge compared to purely journalistic accounts that are more factual and less analytical.            

Frontlist- What is your take on India’s Current National Security Policy?

Dr. Sreeram: In the Modi era, India has developed a National Security Strategy and it has raised the costs of aggression by both China and Pakistan through showing a firm willingness to use calibrated force and other instruments of statecraft. As I have explained in Crunch Time, there is a Modi effect on India’s two foreign adversaries because they can see how India has moved past its earlier habit of absorbing attacks without raising the costs of aggression. The deeper reforms the Modi government has done to making India’s security apparatus more nimble, less predictable and highly capable of springing strategic surprises on China and Pakistan mean that India is relatively safer and stronger today vis-à-vis its foreign foes than it ever was.   

Frontlist- What do you think are some of the initiatives that need to be taken by the citizens for the betterment of the security of our Nation?

Dr. Sreeram: In Crunch Time, I talk about the ‘boycott Chinese products’ movement of 2020-2021 after the Galwan clash between the Chinese and Indian armies. That sort of voluntary willingness to accept inconvenience and higher personal costs in order to push back against Chinese expansionism and hegemonism must be made a permanent feature of Indian society. Citizens must realise that the job of protecting the nation’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is not confined to Modi, the National Security Adviser of the armed forces. Eternal vigilance is, after all, the price of liberty. India’s citizens must back the forces of national unity and refuse to fall for misinformation and propaganda that lower the morale of the country’s armed forces. We need a strategic culture of a state establishment that is fully integrated with social forces, not a state versus civil society dynamic. As the NSA Ajit Doval has reminded us, the ‘new frontier’ of war is civil society. India’s open, democratic society can be misguided and made to oppose India’s national interests by petty political forces in the domestic arena and by external adversaries. As I show in Crunch Time, India paid dearly for letting itself to be manipulated after the 26/11 terrorist attacks in Mumbai in 2008. We cannot afford to go down that line again. If citizens do let up and slide back to allow the return of a ‘soft state’, India’s future existence itself will be in jeopardy.

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