Nigeen, Srinagar: Like individuals, nations have to plan and plot their way forward. Planning and plotting have internal and external dimensions. Nations that manage this feat optimally rise to become Great Powers. Since the internal and external planning and plotting are continuous and dynamic processes, those Great Powers which keep the tempo retain their status. Others fall. The rise and fall of Great Powers is another story. All nations cannot become Great Powers. They may be Major Powers which are less able to mould the external environment to their favour but still possess considerable sway over international relations. Further down the hierarchy are middle powers, emerging powers and their further subdivisions based on income. Planning and plotting the way higher is what grand strategy is about. And India’s failure in this regard, particularly in the last ten years spanning the second term of Manmohan Singh and the first of the present regime, cannot be more spectacular.

Nations are not built in a day. Grand strategy is not some low-hanging fruit. Since all nations are unique and are located in unique geographies, the one-size-fits-all approach will either not succeed or succeed less than satisfactorily. To be sure, the wheel cannot be reinvented, and if a modular tactic works in a realm, say the economy, there oughtn’t to be an ideological reason to reject it. But it does not detract from the imperative to have a national plan and a sovereign plot to surge ahead where this and that module for x and y realm may be always fitted.

Nations almost never start well and India was reborn in 1947 in hard times. Colonialism had reduced the country to almost nothing and it is due to Jawaharlal Nehru’s genius of nation-building that the country has what it has today. In an uncertain world plagued by the Cold War, he plotted Non-Alignment with Josip Tito and saved India from the perils of becoming a client state of either the United States or the Soviet Union. Pakistan’s travails as a nation point to negligible ideologically neutral nation-building efforts at the start of its existence which contrasts with Nehru’s single-minded focus on this aspect. Reams can be written on Nehru’s contribution but it would suffice to say that he gave the country solid, modernistic foundations. The best part of Nehru was that he was creative; he was a pioneer, not a tinkerer or an epic distracter. Grand strategy is about creativity. He planned and plotted. He moved India from a place of nothing to where it had a future. Modern history commences from year fifteen hundred. There is a sound historical principle for this. The world became aware of itself through the opening of sea passages by great voyagers. India conceivably was the only major nation to re-emerge from darkness in this part of the world after the elapse of four hundred and fifty years of Modern history. Emergence is hard enough. Re-emergence after such a long gap in a phase of history is harder. It is here that Jawaharlal Nehru excelled himself. It may even be said that he reinvented India.

In Nehru’s great legacy, considerations of security lagged, and while it is ahistorical to blame him for the early partition of Kashmir, he overrated Indian military strength to repulse the 1962 Chinese aggression, whose causes are again obscure and open to multiple interpretations. Part of this historical burden was resolved by Indira Gandhi with the separation of East from West Pakistan (imagine an avowed terror state on two opposite fronts) but she left the country internally weakened by an overweening impulse to centralize power in herself which naturally led to the imposition of Emergency. (The same impulse can be seen today.) Centralization of power also leads to the command and control of economic forces and to an obsession with statism and the Indira Gandhi years are synonymous with stagnation and decline. (Parallels with the present are inescapable.) The true legatees of Jawaharlal Nehru were P. V. Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh. Building on Nehru’s foundations but creatively diverging from him in unleashing the country’s entrepreneurial animal spirits, Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh set India on the road to economic resurgence. While Narasimha Rao provided the protective cover, Manmohan Singh applied economic skills to release the creative spirits dormant for centuries. India grew because of its own demand. The second phase of reforms had to prepare the country to meet both internal and external demands. As prime minister, Manmohan Singh possessed all the technocratic competence to transition India to phase two of reforms. But he failed to get political cover from Sonia Gandhi and the Congress that Narasimha Rao so critically provided him from 1991 to 1994 if not later. Battling internal politics of the Congress and an economically regressive Left coalition partner, Manmohan Singh was hampered at every turn from further reforming the economy, and only the threat of resignation prompted the Sonia leadership to support him on the Indo-US nuclear deal which has since nicely evolved to suit India’s rise. In Manmohan Singh’s second term, a narrative that the Congress’s better poll performance was on account of his technocratic exertions instigated differences with 10 Janpath and led to the squandering of five years. The five years that followed were characterized by economic incompetence (crowned by demonetization whose effects still linger in business sentiments), centralization of power in one man, a complete disdain of planning and strategizing, and the relentless polarization of society for majoritarianism. The trend has not altered and if anything grown in intensity.

Nations are not given several chances to re-emerge successfully. It hardly helps that the world is in chaos and disarray. Drawing on his experience in business and learning from the blunders of his predecessors, Donald Trump, the US president, is focussed on geo-economics. While prepared for war, he understands that its costs outweigh benefits. He is the most creative US president in years. Meanwhile, China has lost its way in the trade war with the United States. Should Deng Xiaoping have been in Xi Jinping’s place, the pragmatist would have sued for peace with the United States months ago. Save for the initial decades when the Soviet economy rose just above forty percent of the US one powered by ideology and a war economy, Russia has reverted to historical stagnation with no future. Western Europe has a future if it can speedily resolve the Brexit mess with the United Kingdom and overcome problems of an economic union of states divided by uneven growth and failure. And India will begin to show promise if it can forge a creative growth path ahead. Replicating China’s military and economic expansionist programmes will prove unaffordable and loss-making and are unlikely to yield desired results. Suited to its unique geography and matching its resources and needs, India must plan ahead. While a certain amount of competition with other powers is unavoidable, caution must be exercised that it does not drain the nation’s energies. India has to consolidate economically following which consolidation in other realms is possible. Internal peace and stability and democratic politics are sine qua non for economic growth and prosperity. In the last five years, all these have been compromised. (One of the regime’s own icons and an infinitely decent man, A. B. Vajpayee, would be turning in his grave.) If the awful trajectory persists, India will lose its place among the powers and fail the vision of its founders, chief of them being Jawaharlal Nehru.

There are enough states in the neighbourhood that advertise the perils of failure.