New Delhi: Although the Bharatiya Janata Party is not better at managing national security than the Congress party, it has done rather nicely in procuring for itself a fair narrative with shameless self-publicity. Under Narendra Modi the bubble has burst.

Sandwiched between two nuclear neighbours Pakistan and China, you would expect India to place particular reliance on the deterrent, and arrest loose talk on conventional weapons which cannot be of much utility in an all-out two-front war. Obviously, this state of play escapes the Indian air force chief.

Speaking last week on the controversial Rafale acquisition, he said it was critical to India’s defence preparedness. In passing, he mentioned the Russian S-400 whose purchase will in all likelihood trigger US secondary sanctions against India.

In an all-out war in the nuclear age, thirty-six warplanes cannot alter the denouement. Is the air chief serious to suggest otherwise? Obviously, he was compelled by political authorities to defend the controversial Rafale purchase, and he did so in the best way possible for him, which is clumsily. One of his juniors called Rafale a beautiful aircraft. How is that relevant in the nuclear scenario existing among India, China and Pakistan?

Scarcely has the dust settled on air force loudmouths than the army chief wades into fresh controversy. Addressing a BIMSTEC military meet, he said Nepal and Bhutan were bound by geography to India and that China’s Belt and Roads Initiative would leave target countries insolvent.

Nepal and Bhutan are key neighbours that face enormous pressures from China to align with it. If their geopolitics requires an Indian public response, it should emerge from the ministry of external affairs. Why is the army chief insinuating them as Indian vassals? And who authorized him to perorate on BRI when official policy is to maintain a delicate balance with China?

The defence minister herself does little better. While her predecessor, Manohar Parrikar, tended to run off at the mouth, he was still a determined one for defence indigenization. There was a sense of direction in his time. This is missing with Nirmala Sitaraman. In a desperate defence of the Rafale deal and the offset granted to a tottering Anil Ambani firm, she chose to denigrate Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. If HAL cannot be trusted with defence production, why not close it? And how much of neglect of the present government caused HAL’s decline?

Usually, national security is best served with sobriety, quiet and discretion. Since deterrence stabilizes the India-China-Pakistan dynamic, it is even more necessary for officials to maintain calm and refrain from public speaking. An inferiority complex, however, dogs the Modi regime, which leads it to make extravagant claims on securing the country. The “surgical strike” was billed as a silver bullet for Pakistani terrorism. The Doklam standoff was portrayed for a time as a counter to Chinese expansion leading Beijing to further dig in in the area.

Sensibly, national security should be wrapped up in overall growth of the country. National security cannot come at the cost of reductions in social spending and industrial investments. If a nation’s economy cannot support high defence spending, it is perilous to obsess about national security.

Ultra-nationalism needs deep pockets but try convincing BJP hotheads. Having accused the Congress party of making India a soft state, they find muscular transformation of the country beyond their intellect and capacity. With all its faults, the two UPA governments handled the complexities of rise with infinite more maturity and sophistication.

This is ultimately the age of nuclear weapons on one hand and fierce international trade competitions on the other. This does not exclude conventional conflicts in all theatres and indeed they are prevalent. Since nuclear weapons are politically controlled (with the exception of Pakistan), militaries tend to cherish conventional weapons and tirelessly indulge in appropriation conflicts on their behalf. So the air force will want the Rafale at any cost and defend its acquisition irrespective of the scandals attached. The Modi government cleverly fed its greed. It may or not win temporary reprieve for the regime but it indubitably disrupts the calm and balance required for national security.

In a way, India has become weaker since the Narendra Modi government came to power. Its muscular policy in Jammu and Kashmir, for example, has disrupted the security transition in the state from the army to the paramilitary and police which in turn has deprived the army of regular training for war. Its emphasis on conventional weapons has triggered a race with Pakistan whose demands would be met by China. Indeed, the four years of Narendra Modi have been marked by national security confusion and counterproductive nationalism. The emerging narrative at last destroys the myth that the BJP handles national security better than the Congress.