New Delhi: Assuming that the country is denied a one-party government in 2019, would that necessarily impair India’s rise? The answer is complex and depends on several factors. Sometimes, a stable, one-party government also inhibits rise. The Narendra Modi regime is a good example.

Rise ought not to be confused with notional growth in military strength. In the nuclear age, military strength has to be understood in greater nuance. You could array one hundred divisions against the enemy. But if it has deterrent weapons to destroy you ten times over, the divisions are meaningless. Mobilization between two nuclear powers is unthinkable.

Flowing from there is another truism. There is nearly no military solution to problems between two nuclear powers. Pakistan can try all it may but cannot militarily seize Kashmir. Equally for all the tom-tomming of “surgical strikes”, they cannot stop Pakistani terrorism. By other means, Pakistan has to be dissuaded from terrorism, but those means lie in the realm of geo-economics and less straight and narrow geopolitics.

Deng Xiaoping and others before him have conveyed their operational wisdom about rise. Rise has to occur by stealth and is to be leavened with modesty. Aggression, the issuance of naked threats, the flaunting of arms, the obsession with geopolitics to the neglect of geo-economics, chest-thumping, jingoism, barely concealed irredentism, the focussing on tactics to the exclusion of strategy, etc, are all anathema to rise.

Contrary to propaganda, India has not risen under Narendra Modi. It is notches lower than when he took power in 2014. His foreign policy has followed muscularity with appeasement as with China. Failed muscularity has nevertheless led to competitive muscularity on the part of Pakistan and China and the prospect of a two-front war with India is less remote than it once was.

Temperatures will cool in the region if a coalition government came to power in India in 2019. A coalition government would be more amenable to economic reforms than a one-party government. The P. V. Narasimha Rao government and the one of Atal Behari Vajpayee are outstanding examples of reformist coalition governments. Reforms would directly contribute to the country’s geo-economic expansion and heft. With geo-economic expansion and growth comes real rise as Deng Xiaoping planned and executed his programme.

Geo-economics determines geopolitics more than ever today as the US-China trade war signifies. Russia is the number two military power today in terms of inventory of weapons and the proclivity to employ them and its readiness to prosecute foreign wars. But it is China that is readily seen as the United States’ real challenger. It attests to China’s geo-economic strength whereas Russia is backward in comparison. This is the lesson for India in 2019.

A one-party government can provide stability but of the most unhealthy kind. Power and the anxiety to retain it by hook or by crook for as long as possible dominates the discourse. If demonetization will wreck political fortunes and hurt the unprepared opposition than the alerted ruling party, that is the policy choice of the day even if it ends up wrecking the economy for the remaining term of the one-party regime. If a deeply flawed GST can lead to higher tax receipts to fund election-related populism, that is the route to take, never mind the blow to wealth creation. Has Narendra Modi ever given a thought to geo-economics which is the real means to rise? Doubtful in the extreme. So if Modi is for himself, what’s the point of having one-party and one-man rule? If Modi is to become bigger than the country, what happens to the rest of us?

India has enormous potential for rise but not through one-man rule of the most mindless kind as now. India will never become a five trillion dollar economy with the overhang of demonetization, tax terrorism, inspector raj, communal polarization, political divisiveness, policy unpredictability, manufacturing constraints, fudged growth figures and so on. Unless the country goes for genuine second-generation reforms, it can cease being ambitious about rise. Pakistan has been brought to its knees because of a failed economy. Its nuclear weapons, its outsized army and its state policy of terrorism cannot provide relief. Money talks.

It is the economy or nothing for 2019.

Editor’s Note: Business sentiments and confidence have been dealt a blow with the sudden resignation of the Reserve Bank governor, Urjit Patel. After demonetization and a deformed GST, this was a shock the economy could have done without. The Narendra Modi regime has not the smallest use for technocrats. India has been set firmly on the road to decline.