K Subrahmanyam - Strategic Guru

Thursday, February 3, 2011

NEW DELHI - K Subrahmanyam (1929 - 2011), the strategic guru for most Indian security analysts who passed away on Feb 2 after a long struggle with diabetes and cancer combined the finest qualities of head and heart. A civil servant who shunned the trappings of power in a hierarchy obsessed society - he opted for the monk like austerity of the think-tank.
Sapru House on Barakahmaba Road in New Delhi was where I first met KS in 1987 when he was in the last phase of his tenure as the Director of the IDSA. His name was familiar from the many thought-provoking edit page articles he wrote and I had also heard him occasionally on radio. Unlike many of his peers, he had an easy relationship with the uniformed fraternity and encouraged me in my own study at the time - the aircraft carrier and the relevance of naval-air for India.

Over the years I got to know KS better and was amazed by his formidable intellect, wide and eclectic reading - and above all, a razor-sharp memory that could recall names, events and dates with amazing attention to detail. In those years, the relatively little understood nuclear issue was central to the Indian strategic discourse - and KS was the prime-mover in the public domain. His numerous articles in the IDSA journal - Strategic Analysis and the major dailies informed the policy maker and educated the lay person and laid the foundation for a more nuanced understanding of the post Hiroshima nuclear cross that the world had to bear and its realpolitik contours.

In the early 1990’s there were many occasions when KS - then a newspaper columnist exhorted the GoI to resist all kinds of pressures and inducements to renounce the nuclear option. Sanjaya Baru - then edit page editor of the Times of India played a valuable role in shaping the national discourse on the subject - and two phrases that KS introduced to the lexicon were ‘nuclear apartheid’ , and the ‘Ayatollahs of the Potomac’ . Both were invoked to show up the invalidity of the NPT on one hand , and the obduracy of the non-proliferation zealots in Washington DC who were determined to cap, rollback and eliminate the nascent Indian nuclear program.

For me personally the most cherished period will be the fortnight long visit with KS to the USA - soon after the May 1998 Shakti nuclear tests - when the relationship with the Beltway had hit rock-bottom. Ambassador Naresh Chandra was our plenipotentiary in DC but India was totally ostracized at the time - for having dared to exercise the nuclear option towards weaponisation.

The GoI decided to send a group of Indian analysts and former diplomats (including the late Mani Dixit) and I was chosen to accompany KS in the fall of 1998 as the first two-man trial balloon. At the time when all doors were closed to India, Stanley Weiss of BENS and other well-wishers of India in DC enabled us to set up some critical meetings. In the first leg of the visit, KS visited the State Department while I went to the Pentagon and our mandate was to explain why India had embarked on the Shakti tests. Subsequently we did a veritable whistle-stop tour to Chicago, New York and Boston where meetings were arranged and KS - despite his medical constraints was always on the ball - a good 10 minutes early for every appointment and full of vigor and enthusiasm - to explain the Indian compulsions.
Occasionally in his wry manner, he would talk about the deeply entrenched fundamentalism of the non-proliferation lobby in the USA - and why he referred to them as the ‘ayatollahs of the Potomac’.

However KS never held any rancor or malice against the USA and as later events proved, he was among the first to applaud and welcome the rapprochement between India and the USA.
Again I was fortunate to be associated with KS for an extended period. In late 2005, the GoI constituted a Task Force to review ‘Global Strategic Developments’ - soon after the historic Bush-Manmohan Singh July 2005 civilian nuclear - and KS was appointed Chairman. When he asked me to be his Member- Secretary , I readily agreed - and this year will remain the most valuable period for me personally.
The Task Force had as members, India’s best and brightest across many disciplines - and KS led the team in his characteristic way. Every meeting was a glorious learning experience - and greater the pity that the GoI chose to keep the TF Report under wraps.

In the course of preparing the TF report, we had some interactions with the Delhi durbar - and one could discern why KS was often disappointed and dismayed. His piercing strategic vision and the single-minded advocacy of national power not devoid of principle was blunted by the pusillanimity and pettiness of the great Indian octopus - the impervious politico-bureaucratic edifice of South Block and its myopic vision. (ANI)

Attn: News Editors/News Desks: The views expressed in the above article are that of Mr. C. Uday Bhaskar.

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