New Delhi: The economy: Joined with domestic peace and stability is economic growth as another key factor influencing geopolitics. Geopolitical power has three critical constituents. These are social spending, defense expenditure and economic investments. A balance among these three categories is essential for geopolitical growth. This balance is difficult to attain and separates Great Powers from also-rans. India gives very little evidence of being aware of the existence of this delicate balance which is one among several reasons why it is geopolitically lost.

While geo-economics was always critical to the power equation among states, the nuclear age has magnified its significance to the greatest degree. In the nuclear age, the probability of conventional wars breaking out between major states is low if not nil, because most of them, with important exceptions like Germany and Japan, are nuclear powers. They cannot risk war of any manner, conventional, limited, proxy, or another kind. With war in some sense contained, and disputed national territories to that extent frozen in status quo, competition between states moves to the realm of geo-economics. Geo-economics is the new determinant of geopolitical power, and no power that cannot remain on top of the situation has a chance going forward. The fate of Britain after Brexit, for example, is dire.

Success in geo-economics requires planning and vision. While there is really no alternative to the market economy, how it is applied to the particular and special needs of a country also differentiates success from failure. Peter the Great was feverish in applying West European advances that he had seen on his incognito journeys to Russia but the reforms were scarcely sustained by his successors and left the Tsarist empire vulnerable in the European wars after the Industrial Revolution. The condition of Russia was abject in World War I. To an extraordinary degree, the post-1917 revolutionary spirit brought the Soviet Union nearly at par with the West, but the perils of an absent market economy came to disastrous surface almost at the same time as Marxist ideology lost its panache and momentum. Till date, Russia has been unable to design a Great Power geo-economics true to its needs and genius. It lacks, for example, the skills to capitalize on its first-rate military sciences and technologies. On the other hand, despite having little of Soviet Russia’s industrial base starting out, China, yet, has spearheaded ahead, a Great Power geo-economic and politico-military rival to the United States. Credit for this primarily goes to Deng Xiaoping who, having stabilized the country after Mao Tse Tung, travelled the length and breadth of China, understood China’s needs, potentials and genius, and designed and implemented a grid for China’s economic rise that is surely unparalleled in 20th century history.

As history evolves and grows more and more immediate with the information age, trial and error have no place in policy-making any longer. The latitude of centuries that history previously provided for growth and expansion is simply unimaginable today. America, for instance, grew over a span of two centuries covering the late 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. Even Japan’s growth over decades starting with the Meiji Restoration and joined to brutal colonialism is out of the question today. Indeed, the decades of peace and isolation that Deng Xiaoping managed for China’s growth would be difficult -- if not impossible -- to obtain at present. In other words, geopolitical growth requires tremendous vision today and a road map which cannot be precise enough. Unfortunately, the Narendra Modi government does not meet the challenge.

Leading a country at independence nearly pauperized by colonialism, Jawaharlal Nehru employed his great vision and formidable intellect to set India on firm foundations. The scientific and industrial infrastructure that he built and bequeathed to the country has not been surpassed in all the decades since his passing. Nearly everything of excellence that you turn to was commissioned by him. He couldn’t set India fully on the road to market capitalism because private capital was scarce but his model of a mixed economy suited India’s then requirements and resource-constraints fine. After him, the single biggest transformation to the economy was wrought by P. V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh’s 1991 reforms, and second generation reforms have been awaited since. In this regard, Narendra Modi has been a complete letdown. Superficial and meretricious, he is keener on power than statesmanship or nation-building. Enamoured of headlines, he cannot conceive of structural transformations to the economy. Fixated on bullet trains, hyperloops, etc, which suit advanced economies with small and rich populations, he is not alarmed that the Indian economy has ceased creating jobs for the teeming millions joining the workforce year after year. Input costs are so high that the manufacturing revolution may have bypassed India for China and the rest of East Asia, and manufacturing is where mega jobs are. Such is the ease of doing business in India, anyhow, that the collapsed Elphinstone railway over-bridge in Bombay is being rebuilt by the Indian army. One could understand this happening in 1950. But in 2017? Shocking and embarrassing. On top of all this are demonetization (whose primary aim was to scupper the opposition campaign in the Uttar Pradesh election) and a hortatory GST, both of which have brought ruin to the economy.

At a time when India needs a robust vision and a detailed roadmap for geo-economic growth (not “out-of the-box ideas” from reactionary bureaucrats), all that the current regime can offer is temporization. If Sonia Gandhi tied Manmohan Singh’s hands and prevented second generation reforms in ten years of the UPA, since May 2014, Narendra Modi has been his own worst enemy, and he has further inflicted disaster on the country. Geo-economically, the Indian ship of state is listing, and unless the entire country is aroused and compels remedial measures at the soonest, it may be too late.

To be continued...

Also read “India’s geopolitical crisis - 1,” “2,” “3,” “4” and “5” here, here, here, here and here.