New Delhi: Countries should neither punch above nor below their weight. Staying within the weight class requires prior determination and understanding of it. India under Narendra Modi shows no evidence that it has made the necessary determination or even understands the concept of weight class. The government’s PR machinery is on overdrive including four foreign ports (Sabang, Indonesia; Duqm, Oman; Chabahar, Iran; and Assumption Island, Seychelles) in an imaginary world map of India’s “extended” coastline. This would be a joke if it did not have serious implications. This is a classic case of advertising hegemonic intent while indeed having no commensurate capacity. Adversaries will mark the intent and make sure that the capacities remain elusive.

Does anyone in the Narendra Modi government seriously expect Indonesia, Oman, Iran or Seychelles to take India’s side in a hypothetical conflict situation with China in the Indian Ocean? Indonesia is part of the ongoing South China Sea dispute with China. All the same, would it risk incurring China’s wrath by backing India in a region of the Indian Ocean that is at best of secondary security value to it? Would it especially do so on a standalone basis without ASEAN support and the security guarantees of the two Major Powers besides China, namely the United States or Russia? Somebody in the Modi government is seriously seized with delusions of grandeur. The case with other states rests on aggravated quicksand. Seychelles is under pressure to snap Indian security ties. And Iran and Oman have no real reason to oppose China. Who is dreaming up fairytales of India’s great leap forward in blue water power?

Like a chain, a nation is only as strong as its weakest link. Nearly no part of India’s land frontier is secure; and the Bombay terror attacks of 2008 and 1993 signify the difficulty of guarding the coast. It is true in a broad sense that India’s future lies seaward. Nevertheless, it cannot remain in denial that it is immovably joined to South Asia. The country’s geopolitics will carry a big hole as long as relations with China and Pakistan do not become durably friendly and non-adversarial. That would require grand-strategical planning, rapid geo-economic growth and nation-building on an extraordinary scale. China embarked strategically seaward after a gap of nearly five hundred years actuated by expansion plans envisioned by Deng Xiaoping. Strategy is not merely copying a foreign country’s geopolitics. And China is not interested in the sea alone. The Belt and Road Initiative complements China’s seaward thrust on land. Does India have the equivalent of BRI? In the east, yes, but it is more an idea. India does not have China’s geopolitical and geo-economic heft to make an idea functional.

Neither did China for that matter in the beginning. Deng Xiaoping’s remarkable genius lay in doing the most comprehensive and outstanding SWOT analysis of his country. The power behind the throne, he chose a succession of leaders, the last of them being Xi Jinping, to spearhead China’s rise on a broad roadmap prepared by him. China’s expansions in the South China Sea and in the Indian Ocean are important components of the road map. An action plan that has been methodically unfolding over thirty years cannot be countered by meretricious policies. China will meet its comeuppance in due course. Building India, however, should be India’s priority, not countering China. A strong, self-contained India will possess enough weight to withstand China. This core understanding has totally escaped the Narendra Modi government. It has wasted four years unable to make a significant advancement in India’s geopolitics.

India’s security does not rest on foreign bases. It depends on cogent plans to compel its adversaries to make peace. These plans have often been discussed in this magazine and some of them quite recently. The Narendra Modi government does not understand the danger of exaggerating capacity and joining it with nationalism. Adversaries will make plans based on exaggerated capacities further worsening India’s security climate. Rapidly, the government must backpedal on the dreadful PR about foreign bases and return to the quiet and sustained building of capacity, of which geo-economics tops. Only lightning growth and firmly rooted liberal democracy will assist India’s rise, which will then manifest conditions for peace and friendship in the region.