New Delhi: India faces political, economic and strategical decline under Narendra Modi. This piece will focus on how his successors can salvage the situation unless of course it is too late.

If Donald Trump and his kind come to rule the United States for another decade or more, the decline of America will be nearly irreversible. All Great Powers rise and fall. The United States seemed to be the exception having survived and prospered for more than a hundred years as an established power. The twentieth century was postulated as the American century but its decline was anticipated towards the end. The decline has spilt to this century and the election of an inward looking President like Donald Trump has made it all too possible.

The decline of America is and will continue to be quite unlike the other powers of the past. It does not accompany defeat in a major war or loss of territory or the forfeiture of colonies and satellite states. To some, this would suggest that American revival is possible. Of course anything is possible. But the quality of American leadership has declined. For America to revive, it needs a great President, someone who will unite the country, power its economic animal spirits once again, and ensure its number 1 position in an age of intense globalization. It is not easy even for America.

In America’s decline, the single biggest gainer will be China. Of all the Great Powers, it is the most sure-footed today. Its rise has parallels in history, the closest being that of Bismarckian Germany in the nineteenth century. China’s rise to parity with the United States and perhaps overtaking it for a time will change the complexion of geopolitics in Asia and trouble Russia no end. China-Russia rivalry of Cold War proportions is likely to make an appearance and this would test China’s endurance.

In South Asia, India will face the brunt of Chinese expansion and hegemony. Together with Pakistan, it will strive to alter their disputed borders with India. The future of Jammu and Kashmir (including Ladakh), Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh are at stake. India can count on no foreign power to save it from the depredations of these two neighbours. In the post-independence period, this will conceivably be India’s darkest. If India has to survive, it has to optimize its political, economic and strategical powers and lay firm foundations for equal and just citizenship. The selective targeting of Muslims, as is currently happening, for example, has to stop.

A deep, wise, sensitive and pragmatic leadership can save the situation for this country. Unfortunately, this leadership can receive no guidance from history because the world has entered the phase of post-modernism. Every part of the globe is mapped. Very little that happens in one part of the globe can be obscured from another. The reach of information and knowledge is widespread and virtually uncontrollable. In this situation, India can only save itself by becoming more democratic, more market-driven, and more technology-oriented; adopting every means to evolve an effective and friendly foreign policy with neighbours and distant powers; and striving through all this duration to maintain peace within the country and on the borders. India needs peace and quiet to grow and reach its true potential. All round growth cannot take place amidst clamour, violence and erosion of secure citizenship, as is now happening.

Will India’s neighbours permit peaceful conditions to replace the current strife to the country’s benefit? It entirely depends on the Indian leadership. If, for example, A. B. Vajpayee had won a second term, relations with Pakistan would have been qualitatively different from the present. Vajpayee knew when to be tough and when to be conciliatory. With China too, the trend would have been less negative and hostile. The Chinese leadership thinks and acts strategically. Vajpayee was a patient man. He could have consolidated India’s strengths and made a genuinely peaceful rise possible. That is still possible after the Modi phase provided the Indian political establishment is able to retain its strength and imagination.

What may assist the future of India is to know that the Great Powers are not all that eminent any more. Dependence on this or that major power will not bring salvation. The global centre of power has shifted to Asia and especially the arc that covers the region from the eastern Indian Ocean to the western Pacific. Western Europe has run out of ideas to maintain the international order and global equilibrium and the United States is showing signs of exhaustion. The world will soon become a very topsy-turvy place. India will survive and grow if it keeps its sovereign head and thoroughly pulls out of the bog. Every single Indian, overcoming the current divisions, has to join the enterprise; and it will require a whole new political leadership. It does not look hopeful now at all.