India must overcome the pandemic, security threat

By Shashi Shekhar

There are three reasons why the world’s oldest and most powerful civilizations generally ended — epidemics, natural disasters, or foreign invasions. An example is the Indus Valley civilization; it had magnificent cities, architecture, maritime, and overland trade; it was thriving well before the birth of Jesus Christ. Yet, it came to a sudden end. Scholars attribute this variously to a natural disaster or an external attack.

India is grappling with both at the moment — the Covid-19 pandemic and Chinese aggression on the border. Let us look at natural disasters first. The havoc caused by the coronavirus continues unabated, though the pressures of the lockdown have begun to ease up.

Even in these moments of despair, there are some rays of hope. Immediately after the coronavirus outbreak began, people were fearful about its repercussions thanks to mixed signals from the political establishment. While there is official determination to combat the virus, we are hobbled by our limited health facilities. In such a situation, political leaders should refrain from any blame game, and many have risen to the occasion.

Beyond this crisis, India has to start thinking big in terms of its future security. The jury is still out on whether the virus is natural or man-made. Even if it is natural, there is no doubt that a totalitarian government or terrorist group can use it as a weapon in the future. India has to prepare itself for the eventuality of a bio-terror attack even though that prospect seems distant at the moment.

We have to strengthen our health services and make them easily accessible. The good news is that the Finance Commission, headed by NK Singh, has started preparing a proposal to increase health expenditure to 2.1% of the Gross Domestic Product in the next five years. Now it is the turn of the state governments.

On the external front, the recent incursions on our borders by the Chinese army tell us two things. The first is that our defense system is not as effective as it should be. Second, Indians easily forget our defeats. The generation which grew up in the 1960s was apprehensive about China in the early stages.

The defeat of 1962 strengthened this sentiment. What happened in Galwan Valley this time has shown that even though India is far more powerful today than it was in 1962, it still falls short of the mark. To change this, it is necessary to strengthen the economy. Most strategic successes in the world have been buttressed by economic successes. An aggressive China is more proud of its economy than it is of its army. Beijing’s ruling class seems to feel that the time has come to overpower, not just its immediate neighbors, but even take on the United States (US).

India needs to reduce its economic dependence on China. Just as the wounds of the 1962 war eventually healed, so will the scars of Galwan. We have to look inward at our traditional industries to strengthen our economy.

After the coronavirus crisis, immigration laws will be made more stringent across the world. It may result in the flight of talent to greener pastures. This means that India needs to provide avenues for talent to flourish internally.

If we are able to do so, we, the descendants of the Indus civilization, will create a new history. We will have turned natural disasters and invasions into opportunities.

(Op-ED: Courtesy, Hindustan Times)

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