India faces vast external threats in this time of disunity.
New Delhi: A country obsessed with domestic politics often loses sight of foreign policy. In times of settled peace and in the most ordinary circumstances, this should not matter. Foreign policy is an esoteric concern. Since India is not engaged in expeditionary wars and is not responsible for the world in the way that the United States is, domestic disconnect with foreign policy should be par for the course.
But even without India fighting foreign conflicts or being in the smallest way a global policeman, this country matters to the world in unprecedented ways. It is the world’s fastest growing economy. It is a military nuclear power. Its conventional military capacity is growing not only on land and air but on sea and in space. If its ambitions are realized, it will preliminarily emerge as a balancer in the Indo-Pacific region and later globally.
India is a status quo power. It is not expansionist and foundationally anti-colonialist. It seeks peace and would be more than happy to be left alone to grow and prosper. After many decades, the country has a Prime Minister whose principal and sole political agenda is development. He won a bitterly fought general election on that slogan as he did again with a key state some days ago.
All nations do not exist to seek a terminal goal of peace and prosperity for themselves and for their neighbours. Just as there are all kinds of people, good and bad, mean and nice, kind and scheming, friends and enemies, so there are nations with conflicting foreign policies. There have been devised various strategical schemes over the centuries to bring order to the chaos and ill-will among nations with only limited success.
Since India broke out of its self-doubts and backwardness and emerged with a forward-looking vision in 1991, it has not been the same for the country. In that year of economic reforms, India was also ironically thrust into an international arena of great contention marked by the end of the Cold War and the final dismantlement of the Soviet Union. The Prime Minister of the day yeomanly prevented the country from breaking up but his extraordinary service to the nation has gone unheeded.
The external threats to the country have only magnified since the time of P. V. Narasimha Rao. Since India has also emerged as a major power in this duration, the threats have become more pointed, intense and sustained. Powers friendly to India prior like Russia face existential problems of their own and are compelled to adopt positions sometimes inimical to this country. The United States, which favourably leans towards India, faces a domestic crisis. A perception has taken hold that it has fallen behind, that it is not as great as before, that the world at large has taken advantage of its goodness and generosity, and that America has to cease giving a free ride to other nations. This writer is sympathetic to America’s anguish, but America’s threatened withdrawal from the world, just the same, adds to India’s woes.
The worst tidings come in the form of bullying China. China is no longer interested in “peaceful development” much less peaceful coexistence. It is terrorizing its Asia-Pacific neighbours and demands possession of all of the South China Sea and the East China Sea and the islands in them. It uses North Korea as a cat’s paw to compel South Korea and Japan to distance from America. Since the United States is so preoccupied with itself, Japan and South Korea are struggling to cope with Chinese expansionism backed by the North’s nuclear brinkmanship.
Sino-Indian relations have also grown progressively worse to the present state of merely peace without war. China has rapidly scaled up transfers of nuclear weapons and missiles to Pakistan to dominate the Indian Ocean against India. Ignoring Indian protests, it has laid the China Pakistan Economic Corridor through Indian territory occupied by Pakistan. It deviously supports Pakistani terrorism against this country by giving cover to Pakistani terrorist leaders with its UN veto. And being most implacably opposed to India’s peaceful rise, it stands in the way of this country’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Club and other export control regimes.
China scarcely cares for India’s peaceableness and its status quo nature. It is targeting India’s growing economic clout and military capacity. It will not accept another rising power in Asia. It wants to establish a Chinese version of the Monroe Doctrine for the region, where it will decide the fates of the nations that fall in that geography.
Only an alliance of democracies led by the United States can contain China, and given American preoccupations, that alliance is the farthest from emergence. At a minimum, India has to safeguard its own interests against China, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi is fully aware of his responsibilities. What is tying his hands somewhat is the country’s obsession with domestic politics. It is obscuring the Chinese threat. Rather than uniting behind him at this critical phase of external threats, the Opposition, the media and the Left-leaning “public intellectuals” are plotting to undermine his executive powers. Their revolt clashes with public opinion which is massed behind the Prime Minister.
There is a time for quarrel and there is a time for unity. The need of the hour is to be together. India’s independence should not be taken for granted; it is barely seventy years old. More than ever, India needs nationalism. It is bogus history to equate nationalism with Nazism. Anyone who has a classical sense of world history would instantly know this. India could do without intellectual scaremongering and get its house in order.