New Delhi: Are internal issues stymieing India’s rise? And were these issues to be miraculously overcome, would India rise to become a great proactive power with all that it entails? Nor very likely. And the answer to the first question is, yes.

The internal impediments to India’s rise are well-known. Among other things, these pertain to the base nature of competitive politics, the absence of political will, rising corruption, crony capitalism, the erosion of military culture and authority, widening civil-military rift where the military is the loser, India’s absent grand strategy and strategic purpose, and finally, the crippling of Indian intellectualism, which prevents independent thinking, and discourages the culture of strategic forecasting and planning.

And for some of these reasons, and because of India’s undiminished fatal attraction for non-alignment, its history of having been colonized and for being in the forefront of anti-colonialism, its distaste for and discomfort with power projection, and for its absolute refusal to be anything other than a status quo entity, the country may never rise to be a great power on the lines of the US, China, Russia, or approximate the expansionism/ hegemony of former empire and maximum states such as Britain, Germany, Japan and France. If anything describes India’s upward trajectory, it is “peaceful rise”, but it will also end up being a metaphorical island unto itself, a manner of Fortress India, but without the benefits of security flowing to it.

Destructive politics most impairs India’s rise, currently. In the past two decades, the number of political parties contesting elections has grown exponentially. According to a report, over “three hundred political parties and over eight thousand candidates, many of them independents,” competed in the 2009 general election.

India is a multi-party democracy, so this should not be odd. But the last twenty years have also seen political fragmentation and coalition politics choke governance and infirm the Centre, with the gaining and retention of power becoming an end in itself. To this trend, dynastic politics has added further venom, with the ruling Congress party, in the control of the Nehru-Gandhi family, leading by bad example. Eight-six of the party’s 208 MPs come from one or other dynasty. Percentage-wise, some of the smaller other parties do worse, with all or a majority of their MPs being dynasts. Not only does politics in consequence not get a level playing field, democratic ideals are destroyed, and dynastic families have a headstart in the political fray.

Corruption: Despite the economic reforms of 1991, India has grown more corrupt. As India’s growth has enriched the state, the corrupt returns from state power have increased phenomenally, which explains both the growth of dynastic politics (where money remains within the family or the extended parivar) and the explosion of corruption. In this and the past year, India has been rocked by scams relating to the Commonwealth Games, the 2G spectrum allocation, sale of coalmines, and so forth, with the shady real estate deals of Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, Robert Vadra, comprising the dregs.

According to independent estimates, public officials may have cornered up to 1.26 per cent of the country’s GDP through corruption; India may have lost $213 billion in illicit financial flows since independence; and the size of the country’s underground economy could well amount to 50 per cent of the nation’s GDP. A 2011 KPMG report says the most corrupt sectors of the Indian economy are real estate, telecommunications, and government-run social development schemes.

In corruption again, crony capitalism tops. In the past two decades, corporate growth has been spurred by the handing over of natural resources to private players, including land, mineral and oil-and-gas wealth, spectrum, water, etc. Public-private partnerships in ports, airports, roadways, gas fields, and so on, have gone manifestly against public interest and disproportionately favoured privateers. Crony capitalism and dynastic politics have partnered one another in eviscerating India’s wealth.

At the same time as India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, a respected economist and personally incorruptible, has presided over one of the country’s most corrupt governments, he has admitted and acknowledged that corruption threatens India’s economic prospects, national security, and by implication, the country’s rise.

Naxalism: Linked to crony capitalism and resource extraction, in the sense of being a reaction to them, is Left-wing extremism or Naxalism in the tribal homelands, which has shown a downturn from the peak of two years ago, but still prevails in 83 districts across nine states (Karnataka, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal). Fatalities and injuries from Naxalism are half the levels of 2010 because of political and developmental interventions, but the threat remains. The Naxal linkup with external and internal terror groups has been suspected but never proven, and thanks to the military leadership, which has shown extreme reluctance to be drawn into the Naxal offensive, counter-Maoism has remained a largely police and paramilitary affair.

But should Naxalism be contained more than now, and India’s politics, its crippling corruption and income disparities, and the other factors keeping the nation struggling, were to make a redemptive transformation, would the country, in course of time, become a proactive great power? Highly unlikely.

Over and above all its internal shortcomings, India lacks strategic purpose and objective and has no discernible strategic goals, other than an anodyne striving for peaceful rise, itself an opportunistic borrowing from the Chinese. India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, set for it a foreign policy of non-alignment, where its military power was grossly neglected, with shameful results in the 1962 skirmish with China, which has cast a psychological scar of weakness on the nation in its subsequent engagements with the giant oligarchy in the North.

Whilst the Indian forces are better prepared to face the Chinese, India is not moving comprehensively and with vision on the strategic, military and geo-political plane to address the Chinese threat, which is real, and which is made worse by its military-nuclear alliance with Pakistan, with which alone, India has fought four wars, and which may cherish the prospect of joint Sino-Pak hostilities against India on two fronts. For example, there is no clarity on what India seeks when it urgently presses China for a settlement of the border dispute, which Beijing wants resolved on its own terms and at a time of its choosing and determination. Likewise, India is unable and unwilling to take advantage of growing ties with the United States as it pivots towards Asia.

India does not know what to do with the power that seems within its grasp.

Structurally, India does not have a strategic mindset. It is a fatal flaw of its elite. Since Indira Gandhi with decisive steps taken in the early 1970s (from the creation of Bangladesh to the agglomeration of the island territories, the absorption of Sikkim and the first nuclear test) made India a regional force, the nation has not grown strategically sure-footed, withdrawing into a shell after its power-projection in the Sri Lankan ethnic war failed due to lack of application and absence of political objectives. It has neither sought nor found a silver bullet against Pakistan’s state-abetted terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of the country since the late-1980s. Despite going formally nuclear in 1998, India is hesitant to embrace the full sinews of deterrent power, succumbing now and then to the nuclear blackmail of Pakistan, a state one-seventh the size of India. Partly, India’s internal problems are keeping it down. In a recent testy phase of Sino-Indian relations, China did bring up the issue. Who can forget, for example, that a corrupt police sub-inspector (Vijay Patil) allowed RDX and other explosives into Bombay which resulted in the 1993 blasts, 13 serial explosions that killed 250 people and injured 700 others. But even if it is argued that India has improved leaps and bound in internal security management since, the political will, vision and urgency required to create and operate a great power is missing.

If a great power psyche operates, India’s military and foreign policy would be transformed, with war and peace strategies being crafted and oriented to best face the threats and plan for beyond, and military and diplomatic inductions, promotions, training and weapons’ acquisitions accordingly would be made to order. But this is never the case. The three services, with falling morale, and growing officer-men differences, reflecting social upward mobilities, work as rivals, as though they are going to fight wars alone. On the other hand, the political establishment is not above promoting these rivalries to keep civil supremacy intact, never mind that it ruins relations with the armed forces. And hiding behind non-alignment, the same political establishment is forever dissuading the military from formulating and finessing offensive strategies. The mantra is not an inch of India’s territory will be ceded, but no offensive strategy undergirds it, which therefore renders it defensive, and makes India more vulnerable than ever to its enemies. In this state, to expect India to rise to be a great power, and manage global responsibilities, is unthinkable.