India can be a presence in future multipolar world
THE turbulent 1990s began with an unprecedented global change on the geo-political scenario. One of the two superpowers just vanished without much notice and the great divide between the two combative ideologies of communism and western capitalism abruptly disappeared, ending the dreaded Cold War era. The world is adjusting to the new world order in which the USA alone fits the bill of being termed a superpower that is in a position to exercise its economic strength and armed might anywhere in the world.
Ten years down the line, new trends are beginning to show up, proving the logic that the world community would not accept grave asymmetries across the globe. For one, the forces that had driven out the Soviet army from Afghanistan spurred on by the slogan of jihad soon took on the USA with the same war-cry. Their perceptions of western hegemonism grow strong not only in the Pak-Afghan belt but in many other parts of the Muslim world as well. The Taliban-Al-Qaida axis represents the Deobandi-Salafi combine with its strong anti-US agenda. It connects with the masses and that is the reason that the new form of terrorism rooted in nations of faith has become such a large phenomenon. It is trying to occupy some of the ideological space against the only superpower of our times. India has become a target because of the machinations of Pakistan.
Pakistan is deliberately playing the Islamic card against India in Kashmir and elsewhere as part of a plan to hit India where it thinks India is vulnerable. We have to find an effective response to this. The advent of a unipolar world has coincided with the new phenomenon of globalisation and knowledge economy triggered by the IT revolution. This has only boosted the American monopoly over the world economy. In the early part of the Clinton Administration in 1993, Warren Christopher, the Secretary of State, made a policy enunciation that national security is not complete without economic security. One of the reported consequences of this doctrine was that corporate America was given the benefit of sharing the readings of the US agencies on the competitive environment across the globe. There is a lesson in this for India in the matter of formulating the back-up role of the state in the handling of globalisation and liberalisation. Our economic policy should strengthen the nation.
In the new dynamics of power, India needs to carefully strategise for achieving its rightful place in the world. The world cannot remain unipolar for long. It is likely to move in the direction of multipolarity with some major powers—not necessarily superpowers—emerging as the other pillars. China’s emergence as one such pole is becoming obvious. It has drawn the best lessons from the demise of the erstwhile USSR and is successfully trying to achieve economic growth and upgradation of its war machine under controlled liberalisation. China is still buying time and the USA is also happy pursuing a policy of engagement rather than containment towards that country.
We are a nuclear weapon state with a defined doctrine of ‘no first use’. We should back it up with a demonstrable will to make an effective second strike. We have somehow not progressed towards our goals with a speed and consistency that were expected of the largest democracy in the world. We should have been, by now, an acknowledged major power with a support base of our own in the comity of nations and a veto in the global decisions on world peace and harmony.
If this has not happened yet the reasons are not far to seek. The impediments are internal and show no signs of abatement. They are, in fact, the ailments in the body politic that are making the country weak in a strategic sense. Two of these deserve special mention.
It is a matter of concern that divisive politics has overtaken the country and made the national government progressively weak. Political empowerment is now totally sought on the strength of caste and community with the result that the ‘Indian’ identity’ of the voter has become secondary. There are 537 political parties registered with the Election Commission. In the 1998 general election, as many as 176 parties took part, of which 127 secured zero votes. It is not surprising that important decisions are deferred for lack of political consensus with the result that the problem of unevenness of development cannot be tackled. One third of the population is below the poverty line and these people without a political voice cannot receive attention. Only a strong government at the Centre could have done something about this. Unfortunately, the factious polity has weakened governance on the one hand and has, on the other hand, produced an unhealthy VIP culture in which a few people are able to corner all the benefits of the state.
The second important
factor is the malady of corruption. There is a diminishing debate on
probity in public life. An effective check on big time corruption which
means blocking the seepage of government money just for a couple of
years can wipe out the budget deficit. Corruption essentially is the
diversion of public funds to private pockets through the misuse of
government authority. This is why it directly affects the quality of
governance and subverts development. It is rooted in a crisis of
supervision, systemic disregard of merit and political blackmail that
our policy system is breeding. All this takes away the fear of
punishment and the logic of deference. We have not been able to build
moral accountability of our political leadership. Poor implementation of
plans on account of corruption is one of the reasons for the inadequacy
of infrastructure in India.
Economic development is the anchor on which the strength of a country rests. Despite the pressures of globalisation India must set her own priorities and modalities of development. We do not have to emulate any other model of development. Our development has to have the Indian stamp because it has to suit our people, our geography and our strategic culture. Outsiders will not build our infrastructure. The illusion of growth we see in urban India is mainly due to the arrival of MNCs specialising in consumer goods. The totality of India’s upper and middle classes makes for an attractive market of 200 million that is next only to the European Economic Community of 320 million. The IT industry has no doubt produced a large service sector for our graduates but the country is seriously beset with rural and urban unemployment.
The strategy of rural development is not producing the desired results. Our Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRIs) are still filtering out the light of development and knowledge from obscure rural dark spots. There are disquieting reports on the conduct of the panchayats. A sarpanch recently socially expelled an unmarried girl for suspected pregnancy and remained totally unmoved when it was discovered that the girl had a big abdominal tumour requiring surgery. Another panchayat did nothing when a woman was lynched for being a ‘witch.’ Politics is creeping into these bodies and what is worse many rural youth are taking to muscle power as a shortcut to political empowerment. The State must reach out to every village through its administrative machinery geared to providing service, welfare and protection. In India the district administration should have been a primary instrument of national integration. This has somehow not happened.
A positive feature of India’s strategic culture is that the citizen here places national security above everything else. An Indian rises above his personal concerns of poverty and wants to contribute his might for the larger cause. Kargil was an ample demonstration of this Indian legacy. The people of India want the defenses of the country to be built to a point where they create an effective deterrence for the enemy. If we are slow in implementing strategic frameworks and decisions it is mainly because of internal turf conflicts and lack of coordination. In a historical perspective our strategic culture has always favoured a strong security and intelligence infrastructure in the service of the State.
At a time when the world is creating its own checks and balances by favouring the rise of superpowers in a hitherto unipolar scenario, India must put its act together and rise to the occasion. India can become a balancing power by safeguarding our frontiers, our region and our maritime interests and providing a point of reference on issues of world peace and harmony. This has not happened yet because our leadership has not performed that well. India, meanwhile, is losing precious time.The writer is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau.