H K Dua
Three economies are going to matter in the 21st century —the U.S., China and India — whatever the order may be. Willy-nilly, national consensus has indeed got evolved among all parties that India should emerge as a major economic, political and military power of the 21 century. What is needed is considerable economic strength, military prowess and political will. It also requires national unity and national cohesion. Lately, there have been some disturbing trends, however, which need to be checked as urgently as possible.
If there is no national cohesion, there will be no national unity, and whatever strength we may gain by economic and military strength, national unity will be seriously disturbed. We will be wasting much of our energy on sorting out social tensions, which are unfortunately not being attended to.
We also require a few years of peace around us in the neighbourhood. Look at the Chinese. Deng Xiaoping — not that we have to follow other peoples' example — decided not to have too many tensions around China and concentrate on economic and military modernisation. Whatever the results, it has paid dividends to the Chinese. We also need to attend to lack of social cohesion at the moment. The disturbing trends should be checked immediately, otherwise, they can go out of hand. If you do not have national unity behind economic, political and military strength, we will not achieve the aim of emerging as a major power of the 21st century. We should realise that we do not have much time to waste.
It was a good idea on the part of the Prime Minister to have invited the heads of neighbouring countries to his swearing-in ceremony. Pakistan's Nawaz Sharif could not deliver because, on one side, he has terrorists, and on the other, he has the Army breathing down his neck. We should understand the prevailing situation in Pakistan. .
The Foreign Secretary's recent visit to Pakistan should be backed by considerable political will so that the process of peace around — peace in our neighbourhood — is given a push. The Prime Minister did go to Bhutan, and Nepal, and lately to Sri Lanka, although he could not go second time to Nepal; the Minister of External Affairs visited Dhaka and China, and other foreign visits have taken place. Shinzo Abe, Xi Jinping, Barack Obama and Putin came, but their visits need to be followed up.
With Bangladesh, two issues have been lingering for long and are India's responsibility to sort out. One is the Teesta waters; but we have not seen through it because we could not resolve differences with Mamata Banerjee's West Bengal government. Some attempts need to be made to live up to our promise to give Teesta waters to Bangladesh.
There is after all a friendly government in Bangladesh. India has to strengthen its hands, and if we don't give Teesta waters, and take some other steps to cement friendship with Dhaka, we are harming our own national interest. On the Land Boundary Agreement, luckily, it is out of the Standing Committee of Parliament and the earlier this agreement is ratified by India the better it is. It is a question of a few villages, whether they are on this side of the border or the other, it does not matter. India is a large country and can afford to be reasonable. Our wider national interest lies in the Land Boundary Agreement being ratified and its ratification is long overdue. It is not a new agreement that has been arrived at recently.
In Sri Lanka, luckily, there is a positive turn of events for India. There is a change in the government after the recent elections there and the Prime Minister's visit — first after 28 years —was a success. This would require a sustained follow-up to ensure that Colombo remains mindful of Indian concerns.
The Indian Ocean situation, in general, should be of utmost concern. What is happening in the Maldives should be of concern to South Block. India seems to have lost influence in the Maldives. While the Chinese are becoming more assertive, we have to have a clear policy on the Indian Ocean. We need not come out with a sort of a Monroe Doctrine or a similar proposition, but we should be careful in evolving a security policy, giving considerable attention to the Indian Ocean which is of vital strategic importance to the country.
For West Asia, we don't have an answer yet on whether the 39 Indian hostages are alive or dead in the Syrian conflict. Two possibilities were thrown up in Parliament and the Minister of External Affairs said that “both the versions were there, we don't know which one to believe”. An Indian who had escaped from there had given both the versions. Their families in Punjab are living in agonising suspense over whether they are alive or not. Parliament and the country need to be taken into confidence as to what fate they have met.
That is not the only issue in West Asia. We need to have a well-defined policy on West Asia. India's neighbourhood does not just begin or end at the Wagha border. Our borders extend from the Malacca Strait in the East, and go right up to the Suez Canal in the West. Six to seven million Indians are working in West Asia. Most of our oil comes from West Asia — from a Shia power, Iran, and from a Sunni power Saudi Arabia, both caught in a continuing adversarial relationship. We need to evolve an active policy so that there can be some peace in the wider arc around India, if we want to be comfortable in pursuing our policies at home and in the world around.
Certainly, India has improved relations with the US and President Obama's visit has gone off very well. But the nation would like to know whether the 49 per cent FDI in defence, which has been promised, will lead to the import of critical technology, which we wanted from the Americans and they were denying us. The nuclear deal does not say much on this question. The defence agreements also have not been released so far, although these have been worked out by the two countries.
For India to play a global role, it has to think big and also work for it with a clear mind, backed by political will. What is needed most, however, is internal social cohesion which is coming under serious strain lately. This can divert our attention inward, defeating our 21st century goals.
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