New Delhi: China has a grand strategy. Russia doesn’t have one but it has always been lucky. The United States expended any strategy it had by the end of the Cold War. Indeed, it might not be outre to suggest that the United States has become strategically bankrupt since growing triumphal about winning the Cold War.

What about India? Does it have a grand strategy? No. Does it even care to have one? No. Partly, this is because conceiving grand strategy requires brilliant strategic minds harnessed to hard labour. India lacks a strategic culture. And its driving force is jugaad and less perseverance.

Partly also, India does not realize the advantages of grand strategy. Grand strategy not only permits management of the present and the medium-term but also expands the future power of the state which has successfully put together one. Expansion need not always be territorial. Expansion can take the form of capable and conclusive power projection.

A grand strategy that completely answers to a state’s geopolitical needs generates a surplus of power. This is not unlike the surplus of capitalism that enables rapid growth, industrialization and modernization. India has no concept of this beneficial side of grand strategy.

To be sure, grand strategy can no longer be conceived in purely military terms. Even in the past, it approached in multiple directions. For example, Cardinal Richelieu’s prosecution of the Thirty Years’ War was grand strategy in another form. What made it unique was that two Catholic powers, France and the Hapsburg Empire, in its incarnation as the Holy Roman Empire, were fighting one another to dominate Europe, and Richelieu had not the smallest compunction of employing German Protestant principalities to protect and advance France’s interest.

Similarly, Great Britain’s grand strategy radiated in several directions but all had the central objective to preserve the tiny island nation. In the European continent, it safeguarded the balance of power as and when needed with a small continental army backed by the almighty Royal Navy.

The Royal Navy was a natural outgrowth of Great Britain’s island geography and vast seafaring traditions. With the navy, it dominated the oceans and exercised a veto on sea trade. Colonialism was a by-product of naval power. It is astonishing that Great Britain emerged the world’s greatest colonial power with comparatively miniscule investments of treasure and military/ civilian manpower. Why Great Britain succeeded beyond the wildest imagination was because of grand strategy.

It could be argued that Britain optimized its grand strategy so thoroughly that it could not survive the cataclysm of World War II and the resultant decolonization. With the meteor crash, the dinosaurs, masters of all they surveyed, also perished. History and nature’s cycles are inescapable.

But there is no safety in proceeding without a plan either. Without a plan, every day becomes a struggle. Every change in the status quo assumes the proportion of a crisis, like Doklam, which, if anyone knows the Chinese, has scarcely ended. It may well have only begun.

For the early days, Non-Alignment was perhaps unavoidable. Both power blocs were evenly matched, and what is more, the East seemed more sympathetic to the plight and predicament of decolonized states than the West. Jawaharlal Nehru was cruelly reminded of the limits of Non-Alignment in 1962, but the shock of the defeat killed him anyway.

However, the West was not friendly in 1971, barely nine years later, when India decided to separate East and West Pakistan, and the Soviets stepped in to provide some limited but critical cover.

Those defeats and victories have only ironically confirmed India’s status as a nation largely without enduring friends and allies. To be alone is not necessarily a handicap for a state with powerful ambitions. But ambitions come to fruition with purpose, planning and application. All three are in short supply in this country. We exult in a woman as defence minister whose success depends on a grand strategy which is nonexistent.

More to the point, no one cares.

Editor’s Note: Gauri Lankesh was a valued and inestimable colleague of this writer in Sunday magazine. Her murder is as shocking as it is tragic. Without rushing to conclusions about her death ahead of the police investigations, it must nevertheless unequivocally be stated that intolerance is on the rise since the Narendra Modi government came to power. Significantly, and not a day too soon, the Supreme Court cracked the whip hours ago on cow vigilant groups. If Gauri’s case goes to the CBI, the Supreme Court must monitor it.