India – Desperate to be Great
(First published on June 1, 2016)
People like Ajit Doval do not even hesitate to publicly admit they plan to interfere in the internal matters of their neighbours and have no qualms about exporting state sponsored terrorism in countries like Pakistan. Elsewhere where no safety net exists it continues its bullying habits. A recent example is Nepal which was almost choked to death because Indian government did not agree with the country’s constitutional choices. And India still enjoys incredible amount of international goodwill because of its growing market, demographic dividend, entrepreneurship and the efforts of Modi’s predecessors. But that is where the fairy tale ends.
Pakistan lives in a rough neighbourhood. And it is mainly due to constant Indian belligerence that the ride has so far been so rough for the young country. From the very inception Indian state has used every element of power to undermine Pakistan and to force its hand. From the dire predictions about Pakistan’s future to the fall of its eastern wing, India did whatever it could to make things difficult for the new country. Unbridled hate is a sickness that when not cured in time can change the state and the society beyond recognition. And while India has used its considerable soft power and charm to project its neighbours, especially Pakistan negatively, it has done little to cure itself of this sickness.
With the election of Narendra Modi as Indian Prime Minister, a feat that looked impossible only a few years ago, things have taken a turn for worse. Narendra Modi is both a product and a symbol of what is wrong with India today. Even though the spadework of an economic revival and growth was done by people like Dr. Manmohan Singh, like Gustav Stresemann in post-WWI Germany, such options were too timid and monotonous for the people of India. Like Nazi prejudices, the extremist tendencies that existed in the Indian society since the very outset and were consolidated in the shape of Hindutva ideology during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s rule, broke surface in 2014 national elections and made their way to the very top.
While Modi’s restless efforts to make India a bit more intolerant bore fruit by bringing to him the ultimate prize – the premiership of India, for other hawks in his party it was merely a beginning of a journey of inspiration. Like Modi’s true Gujarat model where violence against Muslims claimed countless precious lives and thrust Modi to national stage, hawks within the BJP and its allied Sangh Pariwar find it the easiest route to success. So as a consequence Indian state and society are irreversibly morphing into most lethal and unstable versions of themselves.
Along with Modi came his advisors and ministers like Ajit Doval, Arun Jaitley, V.K. Singh and Manohar Parrikar, two-bit snake oil salesmen hell bent on retaining their posts through every means possible. In their presence Indian national discourse, already so muddied by the country’s hawkish media, got further radicalized. So today’s India has acquired an imperial hubris without actually earning the status or capacity of a great power. Hence the country’s self-image is drastically different from the objective reality or what it is to become in due course. From now on you can expect it to be more belligerent, even openly hostile, thinking it has already arrived on the world stage. And it has too; only not in the shape it was expecting to.
Narendra Modi’s face is a constant reminder to the world that a man accused at the very least of looking the other way when extremists burned citizens from a minority community to death under his rule can become the Prime Minister of world’s largest democracy. Hardly the correct marketing mascot you would expect to have. But Indian electorate chose him over other far more palatable options because India today wants to be ‘great’ without actually going through the necessary motions and evolutionary processes. A quick fix if you please. It needed a strongman, tough on its neighbours and aggressive in pursuit of perceived Indian national interest. But while India is not there yet, its choice threatens to be irreversible given how quickly the Sangh Pariwar is changing the social fabric and risks losing the soft power it had acquired by selling the image of a pluralistic democracy for decades. But more of that a bit later.
Today India is well placed in Afghanistan to create more trouble for us. It has sponsored terrorism in Pakistan. In the intervening period it has also enhanced its lobbying capacity in the western capitals to such an extent that Islamabad finds it difficult to make its case there. It has used its media muscles and whispering campaigns to heighten wartime paranoia within our country ensuring that we keep fighting among ourselves and never unite to face the common threats. To the extent that India has even monopolized cricket to make it virtually impossible for us to bring international sporting events back to our country.
Today if you express these concerns on any of open forums like social media, Indian cyber trolls take a minute in reaching you to disabuse you of any notions of parity between the two countries. We are told that India has moved on, it has become something and Pakistan cannot even match. But beneath all this hubris and arrogance lies the age old petty mindedness mired in the cold war mentality where every Pakistani failure is considered India’s gain. From Indian triumph over Pakistan in international cricket tournaments to capturing space left behind by struggling Pakistani foreign policy in America, Europe and the Arab world, India celebrates every small victory as if it is the ultimate purpose of being. And yet this unhealthy obsession with Pakistan is India’s undoing as it keeps it firmly anchored in mediocrities of her initial life.
There is no doubt that Indian bureaucrats and diplomats have played the field well. But that has been made possible because of Indian soft power and legacy of previous governments which is now under constant pressure. The country is rapidly weaponizing and building partisan alliances. It basks in the reflected glory of China, at once trying to project itself as the socialist polity’s partner and the counterweight. It uses fancy ideas like its Cold Start Doctrine to threaten its immediate neighbours. People like Ajit Doval do not even hesitate to publicly admit they plan to interfere in the internal matters of their neighbours and have no qualms about exporting state sponsored terrorism in countries like Pakistan. Elsewhere where no safety net exists it continues its bullying habits. A recent example is Nepal which was almost choked to death because Indian government did not agree with the country’s constitutional choices. And India still enjoys incredible amount of international goodwill because of its growing market, demographic dividend, entrepreneurship and the efforts of Modi’s predecessors. But that is where the fairy tale ends.
Indian society under Modi government is at risk of going flat and losing pluralistic nuances created by the so called Nehruvian consensus. Two core Indian values of democracy and secularism are at loggerheads today. And this state of affairs is not lost on the world. Reports about cow vigilantes, forced and bribed conversions, rapes and hate crimes have all eroded the country’s moral leadership. And such incidents are only a few initial signs of RSS sponsored growing Indian intolerance. Despite best efforts of well-placed Indian diaspora these devastating trends have not been hidden from the world. The New York Times alone has written a number of editorials on the matter. Recently eight U.S. senators and 26 members of the House of Representatives, many of them consistently pro-India, have written an indicting letter to Indian government on the very subject.
One of the election promises of Modi campaign was that his government would bring Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to the country. Owing to the above mentioned negative trends and state of the world economy that promise is still far from being fulfilled. Despite India’s best efforts it is nowhere near becoming a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. Its attempts to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group has met stiff resistance. In desperation Narendra Modi has done what he does best. Converting each international interaction for his personal domestic projection as an international statesman. As we were reminded during Modi’s U.S. and UK visits nothing could be farther from truth. There are people who only work with him because he is India’s elected leader. Meanwhile domestically his supporters and allies are making free and open discourse, once hallmark of Indian polity, impossible. It seems more and more unlikely that electorate will vote Modi out in next general elections. As the free space and dissent in India shrinks the world will gradually but increasingly notice the change.
For Pakistan the biggest risk was that a power drunk Modi government would inhale its own propaganda about its infinite power and start a nuclear war. Fortunately, we have Pakistan’s own defence capabilities and deterrence safeguards to stop India from initiating a full scale war. What it has chosen to do in the face of such limitations is to wage a cold war against Pakistan. As the arrest of Indian spy Kulbhushan Yadav within Pakistani territory reminds us that it would leave no stone unturned to destabilize us. But as our nation has already shown true grit in fighting terror for over a decade, our job today is relatively easy.
Pakistan today is on the mend. The country’s biggest problem since independence is its economic sovereignty. With China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and other similar trading opportunities knocking at our door, the dream of financial independence seems achievable at last. India naturally has sought to sabotage such projects through covert operations. But that too is as much an opportunity as a challenge. What we need is a meticulous cataloguing of such excesses. The time for advocacy will come a bit later when Pakistan has developed enough economic muscle to merit serious global attention.
Meanwhile apart from the economic aspirations, Pakistan’s sacrifices in the fight against terrorism and its democratizing polity have equipped it with effective tools that will eventually overtake Indian propaganda campaigns. As India slowly goes in the wrong direction Pakistan can stick to the correct path by building a truly pluralistic, informed and enterprising society. Basing these, a true democracy will be Pakistan’s soft power. That is why India often finds ways to cast aspersions on our government’s civil-military harmony and quality of democracy. As India’s desperation to be great unleashes the Frankenstein’s monster within, we can take solace in the fact that our country’s defence is in able hands and we are on the right track. Once institutions are strengthened in Pakistan, the great irreversible Indian meltdown would become more evident to the world in contrast. We need national harmony and unity like never before.