New Delhi: What should be India’s geopolitics? The very fact that this question is posed after more than seventy years of independence suggests that the nation has lost its way. Nations do lose their way. The United States has completely lost its bearings under Donald Trump. In the early decades after the November Revolution, Russia conceivably had some direction. It had none under the later Tsars and it has none under Vladimir Putin.

The situation is no better for some other powers. Since losing the empire, Britain has been adrift. After the Suez Crisis, it went with the United States and France and West Germany joined hands. When Western Europe united, Britain gained economically at the cost of hosting more immigrants than it cared to have. Integration comes at a price. It has chosen now to break away again and has simply no idea how to survive the divorce. There is no empire to bleed and it confronts an ugly America First across the Atlantic.

Turn to France. It never recovered from its defeat in the 1871 war to Otto von Bismarck’s Germany and Germany wisely has abandoned any notion of leading the world. Of all of Western Europe, Germany has least lost its way since the Second World War. It hums along almost as indestructibly as the fine automobiles it produces. But the world prize for purpose, stability and direction goes to China. Deng Xiaoping gave China strong foundations. So far, Xi Jinping has built well on them.

The Chinese success story is well-known so it is pointless lingering there. Except in one sense: The more China succeeds, the more troublesome it gets for India. So more than ever before, India should know what it wants of itself, and how it desires to shape the future five, ten and fifteen years hence. Geopolitics cannot be the starting point for a nation. A nation must determine what it wants to be and then adopt a geopolitics that suits that aim.

India’s aim cannot and should not be to be a Great Power. To start with, there are no Great Powers today. There are three Major Powers, namely the United States, Russia and China, and none of them can transform geopolitics to their individual advantage. The most powerful of them, the United States, has not won a single composite victory of war and peace since World War II. The still more inferior geopolitical records of Russia and China need no elaboration. But the point is this: India cannot even hope to be a Major Power in the foreseeable future. No amount of militant nationalism will alter this stark fact.

So what, indeed, should India aim for? India should strive for economic growth, all-round development, eradication of poverty, social peace and stability, rule of law and justice, citizen empowerment, and identity neutrality. India’s geopolitics must be designed to advance and defend these domains. One of the critical components of such geopolitics is proactively to create a peaceful neighbourhood without prejudice to the unsettled territorial disputes. Engagements with China and Pakistan have of necessity to dominate such geopolitics.

These are scarcely going to be easy. And under Narendra Modi’s semi-literate government, it could well be impossible. One has to discount the five years from 2014 to 2019 as a wasted half-decade. If he returns for a second term -- and elections can throw nasty surprises -- count another precious five years as ruined.

If, on the other hand, the polls follow conventional wisdom and limit the ruling party to around two hundred Lok Sabha seats or less, the prime minister could be someone more politically acceptable like Nitin Gadkari. This writer has no idea what sort of PM he will make. But he is the best minister today, indeed the only one who functions in this pathetic government. And he is most unlikely to continue, should he come to office, the disastrous one-man rule of today which has produced sharp and self-destructive schisms in the ruling dispensation.

Nitin Gadkari or another from another party would have to refocus India on its most immediate priorities. India has to become a geo-economic power. For that, it has squarely to face China’s predatory geo-economics. The appeasement of the Narendra Modi government of China has to cease. The first task of a non-Modi government would have to be to confront the growing trade imbalance with China.

China’s strength lies in its trade surplus. India’s Samsonian strength resides it its huge market. Surely but steadily, that market has to be closed to China. There are reports that China is aiming to overwhelm the Indian market through the backdoor with E-commerce companies. This should straightaway bring the Flipkart-Walmart deal under the scanner given Walmart’s affinity for cheap Chinese imports. The only way India organically can contain China is by attacking its predatory geo-economics. Once China becomes manageable, Pakistan should turn less bothersome.

However, there is clearly more to what India wants to make of itself than containing China geo-economically. But economic growth allied with social peace will only be possible if the country returns to its republican and plural roots. Without internal peace, stability and harmony, India can make no headway whatsoever. If the present nightmare is not accepted as the new normal and is strenuously opposed, India has a fighting chance to reclaim its national destiny and its place in the world.