New Delhi: There are several false narratives being constructed about India’s relations with the United States. One of these is that India’s economic slide has made it unattractive for the United States. The implication is that whilst India must grow for itself, it must also do so to gain the favour of America again. Once Washington is pleased with India, the barred gates to never-never land will spring open. India’s problems with Pakistan and China would become manageable without altogether vanishing. And the great power ambitions of the country would be magically fulfilled.

Reality is messier.

No nation assists another to become a great power. Strategic aid serves opportunism and selfish ends than altruism. The United States propped up Mao’s China against the Soviet Union for the duration of the Cold War. Ronald Reagan, the victorious president of the Cold War, turned icy towards China. The Marshall Plan boosted post-World War II Europe against the burgeoning Communist threat. The Weimar Republic for the hope it represented to prevent another world war and to preserve the balance of power in Europe was lent a helping hand by the United States by way of loans and a negotiated moratorium on war debts, including reparation payments, after the 1929 crash. Other examples may be dredged up from even earlier history. But to expect one great power to spawn another or to assume that a state can become a strategic major on foreign steroids is not removed from delusion.

Nations like individuals have to stand up of themselves. When Condoleezza Rice assured Manmohan Singh to make India a great power in return for the nuclear deal, it was worth a laugh, and scarcely deserved the seriousness that attended to it in government and strategic circles. Democracies may or may not go to war with one another, but perfect accommodation between them cannot be reached unless there is robust give-and-take. You might call it the competitive instinct among democracies. India’s structural DNA checks and forestalls all-encompassing give-and-take. You can blame Jawaharlal Nehru’s non-alignment for this, but it has embedded deep in the Indian psyche and cannot be evicted.

For that reason, India will never be part of a bloc or an alliance such as NATO. India would squirm with the United States’ intimate embrace as it pivots to Asia to contain China and to re-establish its Pacific pre-eminence. India, likewise, will remain an outlier respecting the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, especially the second, as its weaponization is a work-in-progress, which must become credibly thermonuclear to be a true deterrent. India’s destiny lies in its own hands.

Does it mean close ties with the United States are barred and bring no advantages? By no means. But it is the way of the world that the rich and the powerful attract their kind. India can only get to the high table by growing as before and becoming geo-politically strong. Stoicism and granite will are appreciated. Whining is repellent. India has wailed against Pakistani terrorism and the present shootout on the border. It has been querulous about the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan without taking security steps of its own as it appeared capable of in the 1990s when it backed the Northern Alliance with Russia and Iran against the Taliban/ Al-Qaeda/ Pakistan.

The United States will only be a token presence in Afghanistan after 2014. What is the gain beseeching it to stay back? It speaks of India’s lack of confidence. On the other hand, China wants America out of Afghanistan and is ready and prepared to face the ensuing imponderables. China is a great power in thought and action. India falls by the wayside.

This situation will continue and worsen unless and until India reappraises its fundamentals. Non-alignment has its virtues. At any rate, India cannot and won’t subscribe to another philosophy. Ipso facto, the country will be what it makes of itself. To survive and prosper, India has to become an economic and military power. It must think out-of-the-box and independently. The rest will follow. There is no other way.