Friday, May 30, 2008

Why India is not a threat May 04, 2008

On a recent lecture tour of the Far East I was repeatedly asked a fascinating question: Why does the rise of India not threaten the world in the same way as China does? We in India don’t realize the depth of fear that China inspires in the East.
My first reaction was that India is a democracy and democracies are supposed to be more peaceful. I was quickly reminded that democracies have been known to invade places like Iraq.

True, but democracies tend to have more voices and more checks and balances. India’s democracy, in particular, is a coalition of twenty parties. It cannot govern itself--how could it possibly threaten anyone? India’s inability to take advantage of an historic opportunity to climb to world power status through the Indo-US nuclear deal shows this. My audiences found it inexplicable that Indians could quibble over a treaty that is so obviously in India’s self-interest. Someone wondered if we had a self-destructive streak. The consensus was that had China been a multi-party democracy, and had it been presented with the same opportunity, it would grabbed and run with it. .

Asian security analysts, I was surprised to note, had deep respect for India’s military capabilities. They seemed to know all about our navy’s aircraft-carrier force, our air force’s latest Sukhois and MiGs, and our army’s professionalism (although they felt that we had been badly let down by DRDO). They believed that India’s military did not threaten Asia because of the turmoil in our neighbourhood. Terrorist threats from Pakistan, an unending civil war in Sri Lanka, Maoists in Nepal and Bangladesh’s chronic instability—these were huge distractions which prevented India from thinking strategically about its role in the world.

East Asians who had visited India felt that we still needed to get our act together. Although India’s economy was growing brilliantly and Indian companies had become world beaters, they found our physical and social infrastructure “depressing”. What is the point of having a world class airport in Bangalore if it is isn’t well connected to the city? What is the point of having a million government primary schools if half the students can’t read a single sentence? One speaker asked why Indians are still wedded to democracy when it has failed to deliver the most basic public services.

Nevertheless, I came away with a feeling that East Asians are cheering us and believe that history’s momentum is on our side. They have their own reasons, of course—they fear China and desperately want a countervailing power. They don’t trust Japan—the wounds of the Second World War have not yet healed. They wish that the Indian state would show more determination, however, and shed its old self-perception of a victimized Third World nation. Some expressed the hope that India’s rise would improve Asia’s image as a whole. India’s mind was closer to the West. Indians spoke good English and were more open. The West distrusted Han China profoundly because it was closed, and the Tibetan protests had not helped.

Buddhists in the audience seemed to cheer India’s rise because the post-9/11 world needed our traditions of tolerance and non-violence. I was surprised to see how many remembered Mahatma Gandhi and Tagore. They even wanted me to feel embarrassed about our nuclear weapons. On my way home, I asked myself that if it is true that the Indian state is genuinely less aggressive, then that is in fact the right answer to the original question about why India’s rise does not threaten the world. I, for one, do not want an intimidating India which seeks military greatness. .

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7 comments:

chakresh mishra said...

sir,
your last paragraph was the most correct answer to this question. India has been a soft power. In history of 5000 years, India has never attacked any outside country. Even the expedition to south east asia were non-violent. That is why people feel safe with India compare to China
Between, I read your book two months ago, a masterpiece sir.

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