When on July 20 Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said the government knew how to find a solution to the Kashmir tangle if somebody does not want to resolve it through dialogue, it was largely ignored by stakeholders as they saw in it a cryptic one-liner that smart politicians make to grab headlines but little else. Big mistake. Two weeks later, Article 370 that offered special status to J&K was hollowed out, the state broken up into two Union Territories and Kashmir put under total communication lockdown.
Last Friday, Rajnath Singh stirred a new debate on India’s decades-old doctrine of nuclear no first strike, suggesting it was not as iron clad as thought. The nuclear policy could be revisited in the future, depending on the situation, he tweeted. The no first use doctrine was first publicly questioned in Modi 1.0 by the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who said such a codified policy puts India at a disadvantage. He also underlined how Pakistan had stopped threatening India with nukes after surgical strikes in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir in 2016. A day later, his ministry tried to tamp down the fire ignited by Parrikar’s statement, saying it was his personal opinion.
Parrikar was known to be amiable though a little garrulous, but Rajnath is a highly respected leader, who generally chooses his words carefully, so his tweet was widely welcomed by strategic affairs experts. Remember, the BJP in its 2014 manifesto promised to update the nuclear doctrine to make it relevant. So, is it now up for rehaul? Experts suggest since Pakistan does not have a stated nuclear policy, India could go ambivalent, too.
Whatever Rajnath had in his mind, he was surely telling Pakistan, China and the rest of the world that they were dealing with a confident new India that was ready to rewrite the rules and take off its self-imposed fetters if push comes to shove. If the message hasn’t sunk in yet, they are all living in a fool’s paradise, as Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi so colourfully told his nation recently.