Book Review: COVID-19 & It's Challenges-Is India Future Ready?

COVID-19 & Its Challenges-Is India Future Ready Edited by Lt Gen VK Ahluwalia and Dr Amrita Jash (New Delhi: CLAWS in association with Pentagon Press LLP), 2020, Price Rs. 750/- (Hardback)

Book Review: COVID-19 & It's Challenges-Is India Future Ready?

The Enigma shrouding COVID-19 outbreak and its impact are now revealing itself. The world stands destabilised, and India is no exception. The loss of lives and livelihood has added to social anxiety and governance paranoia.

At a time when India has been struggling to provide sustenance to its population and making a meaningful contribution to the world community by supplying medicines and medical assistance, the aggressive Chinese design on India’s Himalayan borders has posed dual challenges to the security planners.

The Pakistani rumblings along the Line of Control (LC) simultaneously with the happenings at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China exposes the sinister China-Pakistan Collusivity scenario. Probably for the first time, India is embattled with a worst-case scenario.

COVID-19 & Its Challenges- Is India Future Ready’, is a timely book taken out by CLAWS to highlight the essential facets of national security which can only be diluted for India’s peril.  

The wisdom encased in nine-well thought out chapters by subject experts add to the wealth of knowledge and provide insight into areas which need greater attention and impetus.

The Chapter One on ‘India’s National Security’ by Lieutenant General VK Ahluwalia very succinctly encapsulates the new challenges across traditional and non-traditional domains. He posits that COVID-19 has strained India’s security landscape and managing the destabilising spiral needs a whole-of-a-government approach to get out of the volatile, uncertain and unpredictable, ambiguous and complex situation.

The next two chapters written by Dr Manjari Singh and Colonel RS Sandhu examine the economic costs and fallout due to COVID-19. Dr Manjari has examined the very pertinent aspect concerning the impact on social development goals and migration of labour in her chapter, ‘India’s Alarming Call: Need for Greater Sustainability’.

The debate of lives and livelihood centred on kick starting the economy post-lockdown has been captured by Colonel RS Sandhu in his chapter, ‘India’s Commerce and Industry: Seeking a Silver Line in the Cloud’. He has evaluated the sector-based impact on the industries and provided policy plans to adapt to the new normal post-COVID.

In Chapter Four, ‘India at the Global High Table: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility’, Dr Amrita Jash has tried to look at geopolitical issues that confront India. She has explored the ramifications due to India’s presence in security council at the UN and assumption of appointment of Chairperson of the 34-member WHO Executive Board. She has also vividly analysed India’s ability to magnify its influence in the regional and global arena.

Chapters Five to Eight examines the various facets of defence-related issues. Brig Akhlesh Bhargava and Kanchana Ramanujam have studied the sensitive issue surrounding government surveillance for tracking, tracing and monitoring as a method of containing COVID-19.

In the Indian context, the ‘Aarogya Setu’ became the world’s fastest app to reach 50 million downloads; however, the article points out that India needs to plug the voids surrounding surveillance mechanisms and architecture.

In Chapter Six, ‘India’s National Military Strategy: A Task in Hand’, Lieutenant General Rakesh Sharma distils the strategy relevant for the military. He highlights the budgetary deficit as an anathema to force capability and capacity building which, according to him, will get aggravated due to budgetary cuts imposed in light of COVID distress.

While reappraising the national military strategy, he concedes that it is tedious bureaucratic-military exercise. He vociferously bats for hardening of systems across all domains in view of the contested unsettled borders and emergence of effect-based operations as part of kinetic and non-kinetic non-contact warfare.

In Chapter Seven, ‘Indian Armed Forces: Agile, Responsive and Ever Ready’, Major General PK Chakravorty has highlighted that the border and counter-insurgency situations have not changed despite COVID problem faced by both Pakistan and China.

He has drawn the attention of the security planners to the evolving biotechnology domain and suggests that organisations like DRDO, Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences (INMAS) must be empowered and funded to work in this critical field.

Air Commodore AS Bahal in Chapter Eight, ‘India’s Quest: To Maximise Security, Exploit Technology’ has pitched for technology as a security maximiser and a tool kit to fight the pandemic. Importance of AI, blockchain, robotics and autonomous systems in predictive analytics have been very concisely discussed.

In the last and final chapter, ‘Making India Future Ready’, Lieutenant General VK Ahluwalia and Dr Amrita Jash talk brass-tacks about, ‘What India needs to do?’. The structure follows strategy; hence the emphasis has been laid on creating structures that allow agile governance measures based on credible data and mapping of public health and public distribution systems.

It lists out measures that need to be taken by the government of India to reboot the economy, pursue its global interests, defence preparedness and force preservation and above all policy prescription to revamp the administrative machinery.

COVID-19 has destabilised strategic stability, and economic distress is likely to pose a myriad of administrative challenges. ‘COVID-19 & Its Challenges- Is India Future Ready’, is a book which does not waste time in winding arguments.

It goes straight-away with the task of highlighting the problems and provides recommendations that are intended to enrich the policy planners’ options. It is a must-read book for those who are in the business of defence, diplomacy, public governance and technology management.

COVID conundrum will remain for the foreseeable future and will always remain a source of concern for India. Chanakya in ‘The Arthashastra’ has said that “deliberations should not be unduly delayed once an opportunity for action arises”. The ball is in the policy planners court.

(Views expressed are the authors own, and do not reflect the editorial policy of 'Mission Victory India')

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