New Delhi: And finally to geopolitics and strategy. Don’t be deceived by the razzmatazz of Narendra Modi’s personality-driven foreign policy. Fundamentally, the country is at its weakest for the second time after the end of the Cold War, the first coming in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of Soviet Russia when the Indian Union was gravely threatened in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab. This time around, not only has de-Sovietized Russia exhibited a doomed trajectory as a world power, its economy having become still more sclerotic than prior, even rival and superior power United States is adrift under its worst president in history, Donald Trump. China, the third of the three major world powers, has just confirmed Xi Jinping for life, and this means only more global menace. Russia and China are strategically aligned once again after more than sixty-five years of ideological competition and Great Power rivalry and the United States has become their common adversary. Western Europe is unable to play any meaningful role in this multipolar struggle for supremacy because internal political forces are spinning its three principal powers, Britain, France and Germany, in different directions. France has been in a strategic cul-de-sac since losing the war in 1870 to Otto von Bismarck’s Germany. Germany, on the other hand, has destroyed its political reflexes for world leadership by permanently condemning itself for provoking two world wars and engineering the Holocaust. Britain, for its part, has shot itself in the foot with Brexit and sees a dark future going alone. The Cold War gave purpose and direction to NATO and Western Europe’s alliance with the United States. But with the end of the Cold War, the US neither takes NATO seriously nor, under Trump, perceives Russia as a real threat, although the American Establishment toes the old line.

With the world in such great flux, it would be sensible and wise for a secondary power like India to consolidate itself, keep a low profile, and plan for the long term, with a goal of capacity maximization in geo-economics and geopolitics. The last thing India needs is superficiality, confusion, inconstant policies, ultra-nationalism, and means and ends being hopelessly muddled. However, this is exactly where Narendra Modi has stranded India. Relations with neighbours have either deteriorated to a war-like situation (Pakistan) or left the field open for Chinese expansion. With China, relations have been on a rollercoaster from a faceoff situation in Doklam to abject retreat on the Tibet and Dalai Lama questions. The Narendra Modi government knows little to nothing about relationship management. India and Pakistan are fighting like juvenile delinquents in the United Nations and associated forums when their cross-border artillery duels are not spreading mayhem. And it is China which has inserted a measure of rationality in Sino-Indian relations which, if left to the Indian army chief and nightly TV studio warriors, would have led to skirmishes by now and a bloody nose on this side.

Narendra Modi’s personality-driven foreign policy is responsible for the wild fluctuations in India’s conduct of geopolitics. Modi believes personal chemistry will overcome geopolitical competition and differences. He has no idea that world leaders suffer his hugs because of the weight India has come to possess in the course of seventy years of sovereign democracy and non-alignment. Personalized foreign policy has severe limits. Donald Trump won’t lower tariff walls for Modi. Xi Jinping will march China to its perceived destiny without being overly bothered about his personal chemistry with Narendra Modi. Franklin D. Roosevelt did not like Winston Churchill but common interests made them suffer one another’s partnership. In his obsession with personalized diplomacy, Modi has left his foreign cabinet minister, Sushma Swaraj, powerless. Institutional responses and wisdom do not influence foreign policy any longer. This explains the wild swings in policy. It also explains the adoption of tactics at total variance with India’s capabilities, competences and political objectives. With its own coasts leaking and unprotected, India is scouting for bases in the Indian Ocean. China has reached that stage after decades of planning, growth and capacity building. China has joined robust political objectives with a blue water navy. Can India say the same?

To be continued...

Also read “Imperilled India -1” and “2” here and here.