The Tribune - Spectrum

Special Issue
Views of eminent experts and thinkers on the occasion of Republic Day of India.

Hari Jaisingh

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

M.V. Kamath

D.C. Pathak

S.D. Muni

Barjinder Sodhi

A.P.S. Chawla

V. N. Sharma

Ujjal Dosanjh

Gurcharan Das

J.N. Dixit

Yash Pal

I. K. Gujral

Arun Jaitley

Jaipal Reddy

Prakash Karat


Symbols of greatness


Sunday, January 26, 2003
Tribune special

India has to shed image of being a soft state

Despite its mediocre governments, India has steadily progressed over the years mainly due to the initiative of itís people. There is little doubt that superpower status will be attained but India has to first tread the present difficult path of turmoil. It is already doing so and fresh successes are reported frequently, with the growing support of the Indian diaspora abroad, says V. N. Sharma.

INDIA can certainly become a superpower. In many ways India is already a superpower and has been so since the first millennium BC. Today, however, after 56 years of independence, India requires to review and realign its rules and procedures for the legal process and implementing the law, the elections and legislatures, policing and civil administration. India also has to learn to recognise its enemies and learn to deal harshly with them. How do we define a superpower? The term became familiar in the mid-1950s, during the Cold War, when the USA and the erstwhile Soviet Union were the only two most powerful nuclear weapon states contending for world hegemony, some years after the end of World War II. Each controlled its own group of client states; it was the democratic Western Alliance versus the Communist Warsaw Pact, balanced in military power by the overwhelming threat of use and counter-use of the ultimate weapon. The less-developed countries (LDCs), including those who recently became independent from colonial rule, such as India, were under constant pressure to join either of the two superpower blocs to ensure national security and receive vital monetary and technological foreign aid essential to their development.

It was in such a milieu that Jawaharlal Nehru, then Prime Minister of India, showed the way to all LDCs by organising the Non-Aligned Movement, in close alliance with Tito of Yugoslavia and Nasser of Egypt. Most LDCs joined this movement to form their own Third World pressure group. They tread a middle path between the two superpower blocs and were able to accept military, economic and technological aid from both superpowers while not joining either block.

Modern India thus showed an early proclivity to managing international affairs to mutual advantage of all nations involved, besides the leadership capability to bring diverse nations together to achieve a combined aim. This initiative enabled the LDCs to develop rapidly, whenever their governments followed pragmatic fiscal policies.

With the demise of the erstwhile Soviet Union in 1991, the world is left with the USA as the only superpower with its power bloc that includes the UK and NATO. A weak Russia will take some years to attempt to regain its erstwhile superpower status to create a balance to the military, economic and political clout of the USA. This clout is causing reverberations throughout the world, as the United Nations itself is powerless to prevent the USA from acting as it pleases in any part of the world.

Despite their economic strength, Germany and Japan are not candidates for superpower status due to lack of geographic space, internal material resources and sufficient population. At present, the countries that present possibilities for such a status are China, the European Union and India, besides Russia. In course of time, perhaps within the foreseeable future, the opinions of these nations, if coordinated and backed by economic and military power, are likely to weigh on international decision-making and would tend to balance the USA.

What, then, is the sort of superpower status we expect India to acquire and what path is it likely to follow? Would such status make India the regional bully that Pakistan, and some smaller states, fear?

India is unlikely to ever become a 'big boss' superpower in the threatening style of the USA or the erstwhile USSR. India's culture of being non-aggressive, with political and judicial secularism as accepting all citizens as equal despite a variety of creeds and caste, and its respect for all types of religions and other cultures, will remain its greatest forte. This places India in easily acceptable international leadership roles with an enviable record of fair and restrained handling of international problems, and of effective peace-keeping operations, with the human touch, under the aegis of the UN.

Like in ancient times, India is already being accepted by many nations as a pragmatic and wise international player, a leader in many aspects of sheer intellectual brain power, design, science, arts and culture, cheap effective technology, trade practices, entrepreneurship, corporate and government management, the military art and handling of vast internal human and natural disasters.

Since India's Independence in 1947, everything that could possibly go wrong with a newly independent colony has gone terribly wrong. But India has adequately coped with war, pestilence, starvation, and massive population growth of the restive and angry poor, a continuous internal lethal conflict fired by dirty politics and foreign assisted terrorism, besides a series of natural disasters.


Few nations have faced India's problems and many developed nations have never imagined such problems could exist. Yet India is one of the few LDCs where the army has consistently refused to interfere in the political process and has insisted on loyally upholding the law as interpreted by the judiciary. This is the main factor that has strengthened India's democracy that has no equal the world over.

It is only in India that a minority Muslim, Christian or Sikh can become the President of the country, a minister of government, a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, a military chief of staff or a police chief, in a nation comprising a 90 per cent Hindu population. This is not presently possible in any western democracy or in the Muslim nations of the world. It is a celebration of the Indian culture of equality of all human beings and of all religions; it is also an example for a future United Nations of a peaceful planet Earth. The Indian media has attained standards of free reporting with detailed and logical criticism of internal governance and strategic or foreign policy issues, unequalled by the world media. This nation is poverty-stricken but its people are unafraid to voice their disagreements with officialdom and keep demanding better standards of governance.

It is the discontented and ambitious millions of India that are driving the nation towards better and ever higher standards of governance and opportunity. A seething mass revolution of the have-nots is ongoing for a number of decades causing a churning in society. There is violence but the security forces are in control. The country awaits a more effective political leadership and statesmanship, and the public and media are realising their responsibility in bringing this about by democratic means and effective voting in elections.


India needs to take hard decisions. The major threat to the nation is the internal conflict, caused by political skullduggery, the lack of high character and proper conduct of officials in the service of the nation, endemic corruption at all levels of administration and a slow, painful legal process. It is time to expose those at fault and to take legal action to rectify incorrect and corrupt practices. It is time to take political parties and guilty individuals to task for inflamed communal speeches and goading the public to violence to garner vote banks; or to attempt to destabilise state governments by creating violence. Such conduct is illegal under the Constitution and must be contested in the courts.

Senior officials of the bureaucracy and police tend to succumb to threats of postings and prevention of promotions if they fail to 'overcome their conscience' and obey their political masters in the conduct of their nefarious activities. This has to stop. They must learn to contest any illegal instructions and expose any incorrect conduct of superiors, no matter what the consequences to themselves. The rules must also be changed to ensure that all postings and promotions are decided by authorised service boards, under the head of the service, and finally approved by government in accordance with laid-down norms open to examination. Only an alert citizenry, wise and determined officials and a forcefully active media can ensure correct conduct of those in power, so that open democratic conduct becomes the norm. Constant public vigilance is the necessity for freedom and democracy.

India has to eradicate its 'soft state' image both in internal management and in foreign relations. There is a tendency to appease hostile neighbours such as Pakistan and to easily accept pressure from powerful foreign friends such as the USA. India has no feud with the people of Pakistan and there are many close friends on both sides of the tense borders. But the single-minded hostility of the Pakistani military dictatorship and its terrorist war, which has caused thousands of casualties, is a threat that must be met by all means of the state. The Indian public is angry at its government's uncertain stance. Concerted action is required to eliminate the Pakistani menace once and for all. Since Pakistan does not respect the Simla Agreement and can cross the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir at will by sponsored terrorism and by its military during the Kargil war of 1999, there is no reason for India to respect the LoC and restrain its actions due to Pakistani nuclear weapon blackmail. India's own nuclear philosophy is politically wise but faulty since it fails to deter Pakistan's aggressive posture; this has to be made more aggressive and capable of effective and determined use if it is to serve as a deterrent.

A stronger handling of Pakistan will tend to eliminate the terrorist menace and reduce India's bickering with Bangladesh and Nepal. India is rapidly becoming a powerful state both militarily and economically, but it lacks the 'guts' for harsh action against its enemies. The powerful and rich nations of the world spend thousands of millions to keep India in internal turmoil and prevent its rise to great power status in accordance with its potential.

India has its tasks clearly before it to shape up. It is every Indian's duty to become personally disciplined and effective and spend some effort towards the betterment of this nation.

India has steadily progressed over the years, despite its mediocre governments, mainly due to the initiative of its people. There is little doubt that superpower status will be attained but India has first to tread the present difficult path of turmoil. It is already doing so and fresh successes are reported frequently, with the growing support of the Indian diaspora abroad. When India succeeds it will be an example for the world to emulate.

The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff