New Delhi: Political fragmentation: Geopolitical success is also critically dependent on another factor: Domestic political peace and unity. In totalitarian states, this condition is simply imposed on the country. It does not imply that political peace and unity have been obtained. Discord and disunity have been merely contained. It might upsurge at a later time and ruin it all. The status quo may run longer than expected. But instability always lurks around the corner.

Democracies, however, cannot achieve domestic political peace and unity with executive fiat. They are the gentle fruits of long persevering democratization. In democratic competitive politics, the chief actors voluntarily embrace restraints on their actions and pronouncements. While seeking power, they confine their campaign to constitutionally permitted competition. Issues of national sovereignty, foreign policy, geopolitics, and so forth, are kept beyond the boundaries of competitive politics and are protected as a whole by national consensus. The ruling side and the opposition have equal and great stakes in keeping this fragile consensus intact. This consensus is now under threat.

Partly, the erosion of the consensus is structural. Long decades of Congress party rule have now been interrupted by stable governments at the Centre of the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies. Atal Behari Vajpayee broke the jinx and ruled for a full term. Narendra Modi is expected to do the same. An effectively one-party system has been replaced by a two-party or at all events a dual coalition system, with the Congress and the BJP being at the nucleus of their respective coalition governments. India’s multi-party but essentially Congress-dominant system has evolved to become a bipolar establishment and this certainly contributes to the strengthening of the democratic foundations of the country.

Nevertheless, the over-historicity of one pole and the lack of background of the other leads to glory-hunting which ultimately damages nation interest. The Congress party has its roots in the late 19th century. The Bharatiya Janata Party and its forerunner, the Jan Sangh, are post-independence phenomena. The BJP’s parent organization, the RSS, played no role in the freedom movement. RSS ideology, if not the RSS itself, was decisive in the assassination of M. K. Gandhi. Sardar Patel was a Congress icon who the BJP claims for itself having nobody of like eminence. Besides having no role in the country’s freedom, the RSS/ Jan Sangh/ BJP had no part in post-1947 territorial consolidations which wholly occurred under Patel, Nehru and Indira Gandhi. The weight of history, so to speak, leans heavily in favour of the Congress party.

For a national rival and successful upstart, this is difficult to digest, and it is understandable that the Bharatiya Janata Party should be assailed now and then by an inferiority complex. The parvenu complex, however, has led the BJP sometimes to indulge in unacceptable and nationally weakening glory-hunting. Vajpayee, a fine prime minister and a modest man, did not seem himself when he claimed sole credit for his government for the 1998 nuclear test. Without Nehru’s atomic energy programme and the later advances made under various Congress governments, the 1998 test would not have been possible. Being graceful and correct, Vajpayee quickly made amends. Not cut from the same cloth, Modi has projected himself as the geopolitical first man of India, who has comprehensively and forever rolled back threats to the country from Pakistan and China, while his predecessors were faint-hearted imbeciles. While the geopolitical bankruptcy of openly identifying your closest neighbours as threats cannot be overstated, it is also a perversion of history that India was geopolitically zero before the advent of the current regime. Only regimes that lack self-confidence and self-assurance attempt to warp history. The country suffers and declines in the false glow. It sows discord in domestic politics and it leads all sides in the political competition to beat their own geopolitical drums.

The code of conduct for political competition in geopolitics is clear. Domestic political competition must never colour geopolitics. While the government conducts geopolitics under a broad domestic consensual framework, it must guard against cornering glory. It should visualize itself as advancing a continuum. If the governing side plays by the rules of domestic geopolitical consensus, there is no reason why the opposition will not play along. Anything else becomes undignified. It is gross to claim, for example, that no “surgical strikes” were carried out before last year although the strikes had little strategic impact as such. Also, it assists no one, and least of all progress of stable ties with China, to make Narendra Modi into a superhero of Doklam and dumping his predecessors in a black hole. Geopolitics demands statesmanship of the highest order and that is hard to come by today.

To be continued...

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