There is no guarantee that India will continue to exist within its current borders. The historical record suggests the sizeable continental span of India today has not been the norm in the past. A relatively uncontested substantial expanse of territory was held together for the longest period in history, approximately the mid-nineteenth century till independence, by British military and diplomatic prowess. Of course it almost ended in 1857 and stirrings of nationalist unease began within a generation following the Mutiny. But for much of the period, the majority of Indians mostly acquiesced in British rule and the possibility of any sectarian Islamic upsurge was held in check until Britain cynically decided to inflame it in response to what it deemed Hindu nationalism.

Partition altered the situation dramatically for India, by creating two militarised Ghazi entities along its borders, with threats against the Indian Union emanating from both of them. In the period since Partition, an ostensibly unified Indian State has had little meaningful control of Kashmir and the Northeast, and its sovereign prerogatives in them would cease without the unbroken military presence obligated by constant local insurgencies. This is not customarily the indefinite state of affairs within a country. In addition, the cultural association of these territories with the rest of India, characterized by religious estrangement, is minimal, and routine access into them for Indian citizens circumscribed in varying degree. Elsewhere, over two misguided and self-destructive generations, citizens of Assam and West Bengal also contrived to diminish their affiliation with the rest of India. They managed to weaken it by altering the demography of their states, implanting large numbers of foreigners on their own soil. And the political loyalties of a significant number of alleged Indian citizens of these states are suspect and their net annual tax contribution to the Indian Central exchequer usually negative.

The views of India's contemporary elites on the future of their country, who inherited a truncated nation in 1947, can be dismissed outright. Their socio-political hallmarks, with few exceptions, have been lack of historical perspective, astounding greed, cowardice and complacency masquerading as political sagacity. Their political impulse has usually been to follow the path of least resistance and bury their heads in the sand and surrender meekly when overwhelmed by circumstances. The twin goals of India's political elites are likely to remain wealth and political power to attain it. Virtually everything else positive in India is a product of enervated inertia and the genius of exceptional individuals, who achieve extraordinary goals. Some of these accidental attainments, like nuclear fission and India's missile programme, are of lasting significance, but primarily issuing from their innate technological dynamism and only secondarily owing to any considered political wishes of the Indian State to take advantage of them purposefully.

In contemporary India, major elements of its political class are precipitating conditions likely to destroy the Indian Union in its present form. Despite spending untold sums on acquiring military hardware, India's politicians and bureaucrats are manipulating venally to foster a pliant senior officer corps, which could have potentially disastrous consequences in the event of a major war. It must be surmised that treasonous corruption over defence purchases is the underlying reason why it is necessary to subvert the senior corps and install obliging officers. The appointment of a supposedly upright politician to head the defence ministry is presumably designed to contrive a misleading aura of probity, which makes the minister personally culpable for any crimes being committed. It is simply not credible to imply that the minister would have acted differently had he been aware of the lethal misconduct, since the family of his own patrons is evidently involved in the scandals. All those implicated should face summary wartime sanctions if India's military forces suffer major reverses in the field of battle owing to the intolerable conduct of politicians and officers appointed by them. It might be recalled that the late Lieutenant-General J. N. Chaudhuri threatened to impose the ultimate sanction against the cowardly mediocrity favoured by Jawaharlal Nehru for the post of chief of staff during the 1962 debacle, when the prime minister appointed him to reform the Indian armed forces.

The brutal fact of the matter is that India's semi-literate elites, besotted with shopping sprees abroad, Bollywood and absurdities like the IPL tournament, are incapable of fathoming their country is not unique. It happens to be located in the same planetary system as other countries. In this world, mighty states' systems regularly fade away, this being the fate of the ancient Greeks, Romans, Persians or indeed the Ottomans, Spanish, Austro-Hungarians or the former Soviet Union. Their own country could also become the victim of the inexorable forces of history. Such disintegration is a product of the internal political and economic dynamics of large polities, whether domestic political schisms and economic setbacks, or how they cope with external political, military and environmental challenges. The question to be pondered is whether India, misgoverned by a profoundly dysfunctional and discredited political order, unable to sustain basic economic and institutional goals, can survive as a united political entity in one of the most hostile political and military environments in the world; perhaps only less demanding than that faced by Israel. In both instances, all their significant neighbours are anxious to do them harm, the lesser ones awaiting action by the stronger, for an opportunity to join the melee to crush them.

What shape could the denouement take for India? Scrutinising India from Beijing, Rawalpindi (which an exultant Indian actress visited recently to entertain Pakistani troops), Dhaka and Kathmandu, it is possible to discern a scenario. National political impasse, resulting in weak leadership, fiscal crisis, limiting the capacity of the government to borrow, falling growth rates and social unrest as unemployment rises, are inviting conditions for striking a blow against India. It may be surmised that an assault scripted in Beijing would also involve Pakistan, to create a two-front quandary for India. Pakistan may merely need to mobilise its forces to threaten India at several points along the border to compel precautionary diversion of significant Indian troops. The Pakistani ISI will also instigate a bombing campaign across India to panic the civil population, disable some key economic facilities and stretch internal security forces. It will surely paralyse governmental authorities across India, a posture that nowadays comes easily to the Centre in any case. It may be safely predicted that a majority of India's state governments will baulk at measures that will inevitably require harsh intervention in Muslim-dominated areas and prompt shrill protest from suspect human rights NGOs.

Chinese forces are likely to launch three separate assaults against India along its northern borders, a major one to divert Indian troops, a massive airborne invasion of Arunachal Pradesh, targeting Tawang, and a third ground attack to rendezvous with its airborne divisions. Their airborne divisions may need to survive without supply lines for a period or only have access to restricted supplies from the air -- hopefully, this math has been worked out carefully by Indian defence planners. India will impose potentially substantial costs on any Chinese ground assault across the Arunachal Pradesh border, but the question is whether Indian resistance can be sustained for several months against better-equipped and vastly superior numbers. China will also launch disabling strikes against the Indian Air Force (IAF), engaging it in aerial combat and destroying airfields and any aircraft vulnerable on the ground; the IAF will need to be extremely alert to a surprise strike while still on the ground. What role the Indian Navy can play in these specific circumstances is unclear unless China and Pakistan join forces to disrupt India's international commerce, especially its fuel supply lines. It will probably be a side show, with even a blockade of Karachi failing to make a significant impact on the ominous challenges on the ground.

If Indian forces suffer major setbacks in the encounter with China, it may prompt Pakistani incursion into J and K and elsewhere along the Indo-Pak border. India could pound Pakistan from the air and make a dash across the border towards Lahore to hold their territory hostage to signal mutual vulnerability. However, Indian fear of escalation to nuclear standoff has become clear to observers and would constrain it from capturing significant Pakistani territory. Nevertheless, if adequate military resources can be mobilized by India, deliberately sacrificing territory and allowing enemy forces to advance into India may allow Indian forces to surround the invading army in a wide pincer arc to exterminate them altogether. Unfortunately, the idea that the anaemic and self-servingly duplicitous UPA or indeed any dispensation in India's Parliament today would decide to wage a prolonged military struggle, at whatever human and material cost, and accept huge territorial losses in the interim to achieve victory, like the Russia of Alexander and the USSR of Stalin, is a forlorn expectation. An Indian government, facing disaster in the north, could easily be tempted to negotiate territorial concessions rather than fight. Of course, Pakistan may, instead of initiating combat, wisely await a political settlement between a defeated India and victorious China to have their own territorial claims enshrined in it as well as their reward.