New Delhi: It is astonishing that India is scouting for bases in the Indian Ocean when its soldiers do not have modern weapons to fight terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir. After terrorists stormed an army camp and killed soldiers, the Narendra Modi government belatedly placed import orders for small arms. You do not have to be a strategist to ask a simple, logical question. If you cannot pacify Jammu and Kashmir, how on earth do you expect to police the vast Indian Ocean and protect it from Chinese encroachment? Under Narendra Modi, logic has been thrown out of the window. Delusions of grandeur have seized both his government and the country as a whole. If China procures a base in Djibouti which it is careful not to describe as offensive naval, India must follow closely in Oman but without attendant qualifications. In Mauritius, Seychelles and elsewhere, every bid of Indian strategic expansion has China in focus. China is following its own logic in expanding into the Indian Ocean. It is a culmination of a sober and steady geopolitical growth of more than thirty years whose blueprint was prepared by Deng Xiaoping. India’s only logic to expand into the Indian Ocean is because China is doing so. Is that logic or unthinking reaction triggered by panic? Daily, the Narendra Modi government gives new evidence that it is pushing India into a geopolitical trap. It has destroyed relations with China to an extent that a point of no return may soon be reached. Conflict with China can no longer be ruled out.

Countries have to follow individual paths to greatness. All countries cannot be Major Powers, much less Great Powers. India cannot be a Great Power or even a Major Power in the foreseeable future. It has too many fault-lines and its political leadership has shown a diminishment of wisdom, vision and intellect since independence. All Great Powers of Modern history have been fiercely individualistic and drawn on great reservoirs of inner strength. Sometimes, they magnified their advantages, as in the cases of the United States and Russia, which could expand at will to lands to the west and east. On the other hand, Great Britain employed its tremendous seafaring and naval traditions and stable politics to colonize states and leveraged that to become a Great Power. In doing so, it overcame its limitations as an island nation. As an island state itself, Japan took a different road to greatness. Fired by the Meiji Restoration, it was the first Asian nation to break the European monopoly on great power, and Britain allied with it to counter Russia. The Japanese further shocked the Western world by defeating Russia in 1905, which added to the Tsar’s woes and contributed to the October Revolution.

In all these cases, nations employed their unique geographies. The geographies of no two nations could be alike. It follows from there that geopolitics cannot be plagiarized, which is what India is attempting with China in the Indian Ocean. Unless India is secure on its land borders, it cannot expand with any confidence and dignity into the ocean. The Indian Ocean is a limitless front. India would be sunk with its limited resources trying to shore it up. Naval power is hugely expensive and takes a massive toll on political capital as well. The world’s richest and mightiest country, the United States, is scaling back on naval power. Its navy today, conceivably, is in the worst state of disrepair of any time since the end of the Cold War. Only Chinese naval power shows steady accretion, but this is part of the cyclical pattern of Great/ Major Power rise and fall. China can no more overcome the inevitability of Major Power decline years from now than the United States today. Indeed, there is a salutary story in the reduction of all Great Powers to Major Powers today, and there is no saying how long the United States, Russia and China could maintain their respective leads.

When confronted by a bigger force and there being no immediate threat of a war, salvation lies in being patient and stoic and concentrating totally on nation-building and liberal democratic unity. An Oman facility cannot compensate for a haemorrhaging Jammu and Kashmir. Political objectives and cost-benefit analyses would have to determine if India needs bases in the Indian Ocean. It is worthwhile to remember that bases/ foreign conquests and strategic overstretch are intimately related. India scarcely possesses strategic reach and surplus to run the risk of overstretch.