Asiaís next giant?
M. Rajivlochan

India and Emerging Asia
by R. R. Sharma. Sage, New Delhi. Pages 331. Rs 640.

India and Emerging AsiaA dozen Jawaharlal Nehru University scholars of considerable repute have been brought together by Prof. R. R. Sharma to provide some insights into the role that India could possibly play in Asia in the future. They all presume, and quite rightly, that the pursuit of Indiaís foreign policy leaves much to be desired. It is without any focus and with no particular objective. Neither is it clear where the interests of India lie in Asia and how to fulfil these goals. Such thoughtless practise of foreign policy needs guidance.

Between them they look into matters of identity of Asia and its security, the manner in which internally rift states such as Pakistan could be provided ways to abjure a situation of perpetual conflict, the need for mutual cooperation and consultation and the manner in which to handle the special problem posed by West Asia, with its tremendous oil resources and jihadi factories.

In a democracy deficit world, many countries in Asia are democratic only in name, pursue some form of democratic government and yet manage to impose one party or family dictatorships on their people. This schizophrenic existence becomes possible because of the tremendous help that they get, directly or indirectly from Japan, the countries of Western Europe and America. Such help is also available to many of the African and South American countries as well. What sets these Asian countries apart is that most of them are doing rather well economically and their internal rebellions have been quite manageable. In this gamut of Asian countries, India stands out in being extraordinarily large, rich in natural resources and having a vibrant democracy. It is believed by all the contributors to this book that such unique characteristics make India a prime candidate for taking a significant leadership role in Asia.

However, there are certain hindrances. There is a deficit of trust, as S. D. Muni and Raja Mohan put it, between India and her neighbours. Moreover, the economic ties that bind India with the so-called great powers of the West are far less strong than the ties that bind these powers with the other countries of Asia. Perhaps, they suggest, the way India could forge ahead is by providing greater connectivity with other nations of Asia. Muni and Mohan mean merely the connection between south Asian countries. The present trans-Asian rail and road links that are being set in place do not figure in their analysis. But once whole Asia gets connected, then the possibility of India emerging as a leader would increase too.

Mahendra Lama and Ajay Patnaik too lament the insularity of India in dealing with her neighbours. Lama makes a case for greater strength to the South Asian Association
for Regional Cooperation . Patnaik points out the importance of central Asia for the energy needs of India and the ongoing plans of China, Russia and the US to increase their economic and military position in this region. He suggests that India too needs to make greater investments in the region to ensure that it does not get left behind in the energy stakes. Similarly, Kesvan discusses the economic penetration of South-East Asia by Japan and warns that unless we have a single-minded foreign it would be difficult for us to dislodge Japanís premier role in the South-East Asian countries.

All of them talk of the need for India to abjure strong-arm tactics, as if India possesses the capacity to frog-march anyone. They also advocate greater Indian economic intervention in other countries. But none of them gives any thought to how this could be done without the country being internally strong. For a country, which till recently could not muster enough political will, capital and technology to even start a power project such as Dabhol, seeking a dominating role in other Asian countries seems a pipe dream. Our foreign policy interventions will continue to remain so much hot air like the erstwhile Panchsheel unless our country is able to first become strong internally.