How will nationalism converge with India’s standing as a status quo power?
New Delhi: On one hand, India is a status quo power. On the other, it has experienced a surge of nationalism in recent years. Indian nationalism will show greater depth and growth in coming times as India rises. What does this mean for India’s neighbours and the world beyond?
At the outset, there should be no cause for anxiety. Nationalism joined with expansionism has caused problems. Napoleonic France; Nazi Germany; Tsarist, communist and Vladimir Putin’s Russia; and totalitarian China are ready examples of this phenomenon from this and previous centuries.
A status quo power on the contrary, like India, has inbuilt containment structures for nationalism. Indian nationalism, in plain words, will stop at the border. That should provide immense relief to India’s neighbours although they cannot conceivably have thought otherwise.
But heightened nationalism also means India cannot be pushed around as in the past. This transformed circumstance will not be well received by India’s two implacable adversaries in the region, namely China and Pakistan.
In previous times, India showed haste to settle the border dispute with China. It was the key foreign policy aim of Atal Behari Vajpayee. To that end, he made concessions on India’s understanding of Tibet’s status. But China was unmoved. It adhered to its national policy of keeping the dispute unresolved till India was sufficiently infirm to agree to far-reaching concessions. This has been China’s strategy with a large majority of its neighbours where border settlements have been adverse to them and distinctly advantageous to China.
Perhaps Vajpayee was the last Indian Prime Minister to be disposed to negotiating a mildly concessionary border settlement with China. Arunachal Pradesh, including Tawang, would have still remained non-negotiable. But there should have been enough to keep the prestige of both countries intact. China, however, passed up that chance, provocatively dispatching a PLA raiding party into Indian territory in the midst of Vajpayee’s visit.
Vajpayee’s successor from the Bharatiya Janata Party, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, is made of sterner stuff. His rise to power has coincided with the emergence of Indian nationalism. The shoe is on the other foot. India will now patiently await China’s decline and disintegration. India’s preference would be the re-emergence of Tibet as a buffer state. This will retire all the present disputes with China: Or consign them to the dustbin of history, if you prefer that.
Status quo-nationalism will also, in due course, unravel Pakistan’s plans for Kashmir and indeed compel its withdrawal from Indian territories. The last chance for Pakistan to settle the dispute came during the 1972 Simla talks. Indira Gandhi’s interlocutor, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, accepted the Line of Control as an international border but subsequently reneged.
The Indian position has hardened since with a parliamentary resolution seeking the return of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. India’s objection to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor pivots on that point. Without the force of arms, Pakistan will be compelled to quit Occupied Kashmir unless it disintegrates prior. This is the real significance of Indian nationalism mingled with status quo.
States besides China and Pakistan have nothing to fear from rising, nationalist India. The hallmark of a status quo power is that it neither expands nor colonizes. Despite his unalloyed nationalistic credentials, Prime Minister Modi expeditiously settled the border with Bangladesh to Bangladesh’s satisfaction. Relations with SAARC countries generally with the exception of Pakistan are on excellent footing. Indeed, the survival and identity of democratic Afghanistan rests considerably on Indian assistance, goodwill and international diplomacy on behalf of the benighted state. At the same time, India will expand to the last inch of its legitimate territory. No Indian government of the future can constrain this advance.
It is significant that India has shrugged off recent hints from China for a border settlement on its terms. Such hints in the past were likely to set the Yamuna alight with passion and excitement. It shows that India is a matured and serious power that does not feel inferior to China, a characteristic that infected the generation that witnessed the bloody debacle of 1962.
With Pakistan, too, a certain frosty cynicism has set in. Mahmud Ali Durrani’s admission of the Lashkar-e-Toiba’s role in the 2008 Bombay attacks is not treated as novel or extraordinary. Durrani’s exculpation of the state of Pakistan and the ISI in the attacks doubly confirm their involvement and solidify India’s resolve to extract the full cost of the western neighbour’s terrorism. Earlier, Durrani would have been the toast of an apologetic Indian government, and shamelessly feted by the peaceniks. Today, his statement religiously makes it to the front pages of the newspapers but scarcely travels beyond.
In a sense, India has lost its innocence having had to survive with its democratic and peaceable values intact in a violent and authoritarian neighbourhood. The thousand and more cuts inflicted on it have hardened it. Having seen the worst, it has no illusions remaining. Status quo-nationalism will take a toll on India’s “bad neighbours”. For the rest, the best is yet to come.