New Delhi: The post-Cold War phase of general geopolitical advancement and consolidation seen in the successive administrations of P. V. Narasimha Rao, A. B. Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh have given way to disruption and decline in the regime of Narendra Modi who is unschooled in the ways of diplomacy and strategy. In an unprecedented snub to India, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation called out the country for alleged “terrorism” in Kashmir days after the Balakote fiasco. As the Indian diplomatic establishment ran for cover trying to make justifications even while trying to hide its embarrassment and dismay, another headline swiftly fell victim to the news cycle without, however, killing its geopolitical significance. In the context of the North Korea-US summit in Vietnam, China said it had never recognized India and Pakistan as nuclear powers. The assertion, though, was neither subtle nor obscure in respect of the state China was principally targeting: India. By stating that Beijing did not recognize New Delhi as a nuclear power, it was reviving Sino-Indian frictions sparked off by the 1998 nuclear test, and it sought to imply that China would never accept India in the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Contrary to Narendra Modi’s tireless campaign that India has grown stronger internationally under his leadership, the opposite may indeed be true.

China is not the only power to be flexing muscles perceiving India to have weakened. The Balakote fiasco provided an unexpected opening for the United States and its predatory president, Donald Trump. Seizing upon India’s post-Balakote de-escalatory outreach, Trump tried to make good with Pakistan which is assisting the United States in its dialogue with the Afghan Taliban. By urging Pakistan (for a price) to release the captured Indian pilot, Trump not only earned India’s goodwill but also its debt of gratitude, and he is keen immediately to encash it. Even as India recovers from border tensions, Trump is calling India a high tariff state, and he will soon demand trade concessions. Not to be left behind, France and the UK (part of the Big Five) have lined up like vultures at a cremation, seeking quid pro quo deals to assist India in the UN and elsewhere against Pakistani terrorism. French proactivity for India has everything to do with the controversial Rafale deal. Narendra Modi’s political vulnerabilities have made a definite contribution to India’s geopolitical decline.

It is not the case that geopolitical advancement and consolidation continued uninterrupted and unimpaired in the tenures of Modi’s illustrious predecessors. Consolidation was hardest for Narasimha Rao with the end of the Cold War giving a spurt to separatism in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab. It could not be known then that the 1991 reforms, initiated on a parallel track, saved the country from geopolitical blight and set it on a consolidation mode. Vajpayee continued Narasimha Rao’s good work but triumphalism and erroneous signalling robbed Pokhran II of much benefit, gave unintended military nuclear parity to Pakistan, and hardened Chinese strategic competition against this country. A born diplomat who was also well-versed in geopolitical realities, Vajpayee reversed much of the negative fallouts of Pokhran II but could not make peace with the Chinese. Manmohan Singh set the gains of Pokhran II on a sound footing with the Indo-US nuclear deal and provided confidence to the world that India’s growth story had a robust technocratic basis. Much of all this has been lost under Narendra Modi. From growth statistics to the Balakote dead, truth has become a casualty.

If the growth and consolidation trend since 1991 had been built on and not disrupted and impaired, India would have taken a different narrative path. It would have been in a position to challenge China economically and geopolitically using the lever of its large market in the background of US-China trade differences. A handle on China would have brought some relief from Pakistani terrorism. Untrammelled growth saved from rude disruptions like demonetization and an extortionate GST should have made additions to the country’s strategic autonomy and manoeuvrability. Narendra Modi, however, has driven the country into the mire and extrication will take all the geopolitical genius of future governments. The lost time is unrecoverable.

Editor’s Note: The IAF chief has done well to restrict himself to the Balakote strike and not speculate on the casualties produced. It would be proper for him too not to speculate on Pakistani motivations for the counter-strike. It would open a Pandora’s Box of allegations and counter-allegations. The IAF was ordered on a mission. It completed the mission. The entire nation appreciates this. Questions have been raised about the mission itself and the flawed intelligence at the core of the mission. Blame for that, if any, is restricted to the national security and oversight political establishments. The IAF can hold its head high.