Superpower India: A second-hand aspiration
By Sandhya Jain
The idea of an economically rising India as an emerging superpower - when it remains in Western terminology a ‘developing’ and not a ‘developed’ country - was an opiate sold to a dollar-centric political-economic-intellectual elite.
On a larger canvas, the goal is to use India to contain and/or confront China and Iran; neither goal is consistent with the Indian national interest. This does not mean that India cannot play a larger international role in defence of its own needs as well as the international community. Indian naval vigilance against pirates on the Somali coast, the safety of the Indian Ocean sea-lanes, participating in UN peacekeeping operations, are moves in that direction.
THE primary constraint to India’s emergence as a Superpower is simply that this is not the natural culmination of a diligently pursued national quest for affirmation and assertion of the civilisational identity and ethos of this ancient land, now a modern nation-state.
The idea of an economically rising India as an emerging superpower - when it remains in Western terminology a ‘developing’ and not a ‘developed’ country - was an opiate sold to a dollar-centric political-economic-intellectual elite by the administration of President George Bush, Jr. This set New Delhi on a faux quest for this mirage, gave it a false sense of participation in a new club of rich western nations, and made it subvert its national ethos, national interests, and foreign policy. In terms of foreign policy, we have realised some of our mistakes, and are seeking to mend fences with Iran, a neighbour critical to our stability in the region.
Two unstated facts pushed the Superpower-Status-For-Free drive. One, the Indian elite, including left intellectuals and communist parties, needed to cover the shame of quietly ditching its erstwhile Soviet ally for greener pastures in the west. Two, at western prodding, the deracinated Indian elite felt disconcerted at the military and economic rise of China.
China always believed in strong central authority; the Communist Party easily assumed the Mandarin mantle. As prosperity rose, the regime encouraged revival of Confucian-Taoist-Buddhist traditions to keep nationalist sentiments high, and resist the warlike invasion of underground evangelicals. Records of Buddhist pilgrims to India show how Buddhism augmented the Emperors’ aura. In some countries the West has used Buddhist clergy to subvert local power structures, most notably Tibet and Myanmar; but China over two decades restored old monasteries. As recently as May 29, 2010, she invited President Pratibha Patil to inaugurate the Indian-style Buddhist temple at the White Horse temple complex in Loyang, cradle of Buddhism in China, where 1,900 years ago, the Indian monks Kashyapamatanga and Dharmaratna helped establish the first Buddhist shrine.
Surely there is an irony and a message here. The godless Soviet Union, once the vanguard of international communism, reinvented itself as Russia and restored the prestige of the Russian Orthodox Church, a critical component of Russian national identity for nearly a thousand years. Russia’s unrecognised lacuna remains an inability to connect to a deeper pre-Christian identity, and an elite that has been westward-looking since Peter the Great, thus denying her a more vibrant native identity. Communism itself was a western export, funded largely by New York bankers.
China had it easier. It has a wholly Asian landmass and large Han population; it overcame the disastrous Mao interregnum and reclaimed its status as Middle Kingdom (between Heaven and Earth). The timely return of religion and culture was a rudder that helped Russia and China carry their people through painful economic and political turmoil.
India - still burdened with the legacy of Nehru’s pretentious atheism and soul-dead leftist fellow travellers - has failed to bridge the self-created chasm with her ancient civilisation. How can we be a world power without civilisational continuity; to what do we aspire? Military power delinked from civilisational purpose will make us Asuras, as demonic and rapacious as the superpower that foisted this second-hand aspiration upon us in the first place.
We must first ask what superpower status entails for India. In the brief space of this column, only few salient points can be made. By the end of the Second World War, Britain and America had successfully crushed the ambitions of Germany and Japan, and recognised that the Soviet Union was the next challenger on the international stage. Hence the subordination and economic revival of Germany and Japan, and the rush to secure as much of the world as possible as Western sphere of influence. Stalin too rushed to secure the Soviet frontiers in Europe and Central Asia, and spheres of influence elsewhere. Given Britain’s financial collapse, America and the Soviet Union were recognised as superpowers, until financial ruin imploded the USSR. Sole superpower America is now facing the classic symptoms of imperial overreach.
China’s rise as a political, economic and military power in the meantime is instructive. Unlike Washington, Beijing is not run by Corporate Robber Barons who dictate national policy and bear no accountability for the ruin they wreak upon the nation. In its shared neighbourhood with India, China has excellent ties with Pakistan (to counter American influence, right from the days of Gen. Ayub Khan). In Nepal, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, it has taken advantage of the Indian tendency to preach sermons without understanding the national interest of either the concerned nation, or even of India herself.
It baffles me to this day that New Delhi helped undermine the Nepal monarchy, to no benefit to itself. For long it batted for western implant Aung San Su Ki, until strategic reasons forced Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and now Manmohan Singh to court the generals holding the nation together. Even with Colombo, New Delhi vacillated on behalf of the divisive and missionary-driven LTTE; only the tenacity of President Mahinda Rajapakse saved the island from becoming a Western neo-colony. New Delhi has simply forgotten Iraq and in Palestine, it surrendered its long advocacy of the Arab cause at the precise moment when international opinion began to turn against Israel!
China has friendly relations with Iran and all Muslim countries, despite some tensions with Turkey over the Uighurs. India fractured a stable relationship with Teheran by twice voting against it in the UN Atomic Energy Commission at the bidding of Washington, and thereby compromised in own energy security and position in Afghanistan. Can New Delhi-which cannot make Pakistan pay for Kargil or Mumbai, whose leaders repeatedly bow to US diktat to dialogue with Pakistan, whose leaders get snubbed by Pakistani bureaucrats and ministers, which gets jittery at the thought of US withdrawal from Afghanistan-really dream of Superpower status? It is not even a credible regional power.
Why then the Superpower Lemon? China. On the vast resource-rich African continent, the scale of Chinese diplomatic generosity has irked - and exposed - the West. Unlike Britain and America, which used/use gunboats (now bombs and missiles) to wrest economic advantages from unwilling nations, Beijing operates by honest market rules. It buys the resources it needs through generous long-term contracts, a policy that, if emulated by the United States, would cut its military budget by at least half.
But old dogs don’t learn new tricks. Britain established the Raj by a policy of Subsidiary Alliances with native rulers. Superpower India is a modern-day version of this modus operandi; it really means Subservient Power, one that will serve the Anglo-American geo-political agenda. The idea itself was mooted around the time the Bush regime tried to lure India into providing troops to hold Iraq on its behalf.
On a larger canvass, the goal is to use India to contain and/or confront China and Iran; neither goal is consistent with the Indian national interest. This does not mean that India cannot play a larger international role in defence of its own needs as well as the international community. Indian naval vigilance against pirates on the Somali coast, the safety of the Indian Ocean sea-lanes, participating in UN peacekeeping operations, are moves in that direction.
But a US-led multinational action in concert with Russia, China, Pakistan, and India, to extract (read loot) the rich mineral resources of Afghanistan, is a path New Delhi cannot tread. India is not a mere landmass stretching from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean; it is a land created by the gods. The Hindu Rashtra is a Protective and not a Predatory State, and a Hindu polity can never be divorced from Dharma.
Long years ago, Greek philosopher Aristotle noted with wonder that Hindus were the only people in the world to have founded a polity on the basis of Dharma. The quest for Subsidiary Superpower status, to join the club of nations that oppress and loot other nations and peoples, would be a terrible perversion of this legacy.
(The writer is senior columnist)