New Delhi: Jawaharlal Nehru had an imagination which soared far above ground level. His many admirers saw him as the Global Peacemaker and Teacher, the benign and wise leader acknowledged as such by many in the world, as he was by the house-trained social science community in India, who forecast that he would point the world into a peaceful, if not prosperous, future. Foreign policy was designed by Nehru to subserve that lofty ambition, with the country having to look the other way even when its vital interests were challenged. So what if there were setbacks?
In time, those countries that flouted Nehruvian dictums would accept the error of their ways, repent and return to the path laid out for them by the Wise Teacher of all Humanity. While in the Nehruvian view Partition was a tragedy made unavoidable by the obstinacy of Jinnah and the machinations of Whitehall, all that was needed to ensure that those who pressed for that outcome (and succeeded) would reverse course was to ensure that in India, it was the Hindu community which was discriminated against. As Prime Minister, Nehru looked askance even at the rebuilding of Somnath and rejected calls to return the three holy sites of the Hindus (Kashi, Mathura and Ayodhya) to their pre-Aurangzeb state. The affirmative actions taken on behalf of citizens other than Hindus were regarded as steps towards the eventual peaceful return of those territories that broke away to the bosom of a united subcontinent. Instead, Pakistan became more hostile to (what was left of) India by the day, and newly formed Bangladesh smarted at the refusal by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to put on trial at least a few of the tens of thousands of Pakistan Army soldiers and officers who had committed easily provable atrocities on Bengalis. Such trials would have served as a historical record (and proof) of the nature of the Pakistan Army, and given pause to those who sought its friendship. Instead, all 93,000 PoWs were safely returned to Pakistan, their deeds covered up. Soon, that country resumed its anti-India course, adding terrorism to the list once Zia-ul-Haq took over from the Victor of Shimla, Z.A. Bhutto.
NEHRU’S UNREAL SELF-IMAGE
According to the Nehruvian mindset, thanks to the moral and ethical leadership of India headed by the chosen successor to the Mahatma, there would dawn peace and fair play, especially in Asia. Hence the conquest by Chairman Mao Zedong of territory after territory that had earlier not formed part of Beijing’s remit was accepted in silence, and even the taking over of Aksai Chin (where in Nehru’s words “not a single blade of grass grew”) was accepted without any counter to the action taken. For eventually, the Chinese Communist leadership would see the error of their ways and either return the land to India or compensate for the loss with the handover of territories elsewhere. While costs were immediate, compensation and reward was always in the future, which never came. Instead, territory has steadily been lost to the PRC, including during 2020. But in the Nehruvian view, just a few more years of pain and sacrifice, and all would be well. The skies would clear, and milk and honey flow in abundance. Over and over, while the pain and the sacrifice continued and multiplied, the promised relief (much less reward) never appeared. This did not faze Mahatma Gandhi’s considered choice as the first Prime Minister of the Republic of India. After all, Jawaharlal Nehru was the World Peacemaker, the Teacher of Humanity. It was only a matter of time before every society, every country, understood that his was the only correct path, and began following it.
Nehru gave lengthy lectures to his hosts in Moscow and Washington, among other capitals, and was received by polite silence at the vision that was on offer. His hosts declined to stop factoring in of ground reality in framing policies against contemporary threats and challenges. As for India, flattering words were always effective in ensuring consent to concessions and compromises, even if nothing substantive was offered in exchange.
REALITY OF CHANGED TIMES
In an atomized world where each individual can gain access to a flood of information and competing ideas, it is unreal to believe that a sermon unaccompanied by action can affect even a limited number of destinies, unless it be related to the exigencies of everyday existence rather than based on an idealised view of the world. Over the years, the world has changed and continues doing so, but much of policy, both domestic and foreign, has remained tethered to the constructs put in place by Nehru. As mentioned by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when the present pandemic began its deadly run across the world, history was divided in 2020 into “before” and “after” the novel coronavirus, even though there is as yet no certainty about when the pandemic will abate. Perceptions abound that it is China under Xi Jinping—that devoted follower of Mao Zedong Thought, which has evolved into Xi Jinping Thought—which is the country that has been given the pandemic-presented opportunity to break into the global primacy tier, displacing the US. The reality is that it is India led by Prime Minister Modi that has been presented with an opportunity to get free of the self-created coils that have restrained India from grossly undershooting its potential. Metrics on development and the quality of life show the considerable distance yet to be travelled to achieve globally acceptable levels since 1947. The close of colonial overlordship and exploitation took away any excuse for poor performance except deficiencies in the policies fashioned by the successive leaderships of the country and the manner of their implementation. Despite giving away bits and pieces of territory even after the vivisection of 1947, peace on the borders has remained elusive. Despite repeated peace overtures from New Delhi, the PRC has doubled down on its occupation of Indian territory in Ladakh and elsewhere, and has now sought to take slices of Nepali and Bhutanese territory for the first time.
SUPPORT DOMESTIC SCIENCE
At the same time, the decoupling from China of global supply chains linked to the major democracies has now reached a point where a reversal of the trend is out of the question. In the Indo-Pacific, Japan, Australia and the US meet repeatedly to coordinate action designed to ensure that primacy is maintained by them in this geopolitical hub. India seems to have absented itself from most of such deliberations. This is the consequence of efforts at a continuation of Nehruvian policies decked in a new garb, policies that would prevent India from gaining the abundant synergies made possible by existing geopolitical shifts that are accelerating as a result of the global spread of the coronavirus. The primary cause of the pandemic was because more than two million individuals travelled from the afflicted province of Hubei in China to various parts of the world during early 2020 (when such travel ought to have been banned through a WHO warning, which never came until it was too late). Unlike the WHO, Taiwan and North Korea read the signals right and took early action. The US and the EU ignored early warnings of the toxic disease that was gaining ground in Wuhan until Xi Jinping ordered an unprecedented lockdown of the city on 23 January 2020. Soon afterwards, despite being assured by the WHO that such travel was risk free, Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a ban on flights from China and rapidly expanded that to other countries. On 24 March, the Prime Minister ordered the Great Indian Lockdown, the biggest such exercise carried out in human history. The inevitable consequence was a sharp contraction in business and industry, which was later sought to be ameliorated through measures designed to provide palliative relief to some sectors, notably the underprivileged. Covid-19 cases in India have risen even as treatment protocols have improved. Despite regulatory bottlenecks, it is likely that it will be in India that an effective vaccine against the novel coronavirus first gets developed. Unfortunately, the grip of external players intent on sabotaging domestic scientific capacity continues, a recent example being the goings in at the Sri Chitra Medical Centre in Thiruvananthapuram, where the Director has been ousted by the Department of Science & Technology just when the institute under her leadership was on the cusp of operationalising major discoveries that would have led to further indigenisation of medical devices. Next to come from SCT labs would probably have been arterial stents. Had this taken place, a $15 billion global market would have been created for India that is presently being dominated by companies from China and the US, including in India. Thanks to the manner in which the SCT leadership has been treated by bureaucrats in the Department of Science & Technology, foreign suppliers are likely to continue to have lucrative sway over the Indian market. A special task force in the PMO is needed to ensure that such sabotage of India’s domestic capabilities not be allowed to continue. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has the capability to roll back the sabotage by vested interests of domestic science that has led to a massive brain drain and a puny level of advanced R&D over the decades. The tendency to protect officials from examination by their seniors needs to be resisted by the latter. The loyalty of an officer has to be to the country’s interests and not to his or her cadre. Routine acceptance of recommendations by junior officials should be discouraged, and action taken against those carrying out measures that are harmful to the national interest. Should PM Modi succeed in creating a healthy environment for Indian science, this could lead to a $500 billion industry over the next decade, surely an objective worth pursuing under Modi 2.0.
TIME TO CHOOSE SIDES
External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is ensuring that the MEA is on course to implement a course very different from the pathways followed in the past. This is as it should be in Modi 2.0. The world has changed, and India has changed with it, certainly since 2014 and still more emphatically in 2019. Aware that the image of Jawaharlal Nehru is less than what adulatory historians sought to make it (and still do), efforts are on by those clinging to past nostrums to camouflage Nehruvian policies in a new garb. There is a revival of the 1950s concept of India being the “Global Thought Leader” and the “World Peacemaker”. The fact is that the world is once again divided into camps, and straddling both is no longer an option.
During Cold War 1.0, despite occasional sounds and pirouettes by the MEA and the PMO at the time, “non-alignment” in effect meant a tilt to the USSR. In the context of the present, a policy of non-alignment by any other name would work to the interests of China. Russia is the magnet that Beijing hopes will keep India from aligning with the US in practical and substantive ways, rather than merely indulging in exercises in symbolism. The Sino-Russian effort is to ensure that India remain on the sidelines of the conflict that is gathering speed between that alliance and the US (and allies) as a consequence of Cold War 2.0, which is now an irreversible fact. Even the closet Nehruvians do not any more seek to deny this reality. Instead, they say that India should follow a “balanced” approach that “keeps the door open on both sides”. This when the door has long been shut on one side, most recently demonstrated by events in Ladakh and in the UNSC. Where India and Pakistan are concerned, China has chosen its side and is making no secret of it. Just as the inclusion of Pakistan within US security systems during Cold War 1.0 made it impossible for Delhi to join with Washington, the close relationship between Pakistan and China has killed any chances for the Russia-India-China trilateral being much more than a photo-op. However, fear of the Russian and Chinese reaction has thus far prevented India from ensuring the formalisation of the Quad and the setting up of its operational headquarters in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands.
Cold War 2.0 has created as significant an opportunity for India as Cold War 1.0 did for the PRC. Since the 1970s, in a process begun by Mao Zedong and taken to a high decibel pitch by Deng Xiaoping, Beijing took full advantage of the clash of interests between Moscow and Washington, and ensured that it emerged the major gainer from the conflict. There was no ambiguity in Deng’s stand, although he made ritual noises about “Great Power Hegemony” and even sanctioned occasional bursts of vitriol by his officials against the US. Away from the cameras and from press microphones, China and the US worked together to weaken Moscow, and in the process, China was built up into a formidable force by the US, Japan and Taiwan. Today this trio is looking to India as a counterbalance to China, and investment potentially can be redirected from the PRC to the only other country in Asia that has the absorptive capacity to host the scale of activity involved in the relocation of supply chains from China to another country. This move can take place only if and when India is clearly part of the global coalition formed to ensure that the PLA does not push the PRC into war in theatres such as the Himalayas, the South China Sea or the Taiwan Straits. It is, therefore, disconcerting to hear some within Raisina Hill claim that there is an inevitability about China’s rise. Since at least 2017, when President Donald J. Trump went into battle mode against the Chinese leadership and economy, such a conclusion is no longer tenable. Either the US or the PRC will come out the winner, and if the US does, the PRC will witness significant changes in its political structure. Talk of India needing to be a “balancer” and to “keep all doors open” is unreal in a context where the one door remains locked and bolted from the other side. According to the closet Nehruvians, India still has the option of neutrality between the two superpowers now engaged in an existential battle for the survival of one or the other system. No slap in the face is apparently serious enough to persuade them that the use of fluent language and concession upon concession will not work on a country that is at war with another, and in alliance with a military (GHQ Rawalpindi) that regards the destruction of India as its reason for existence. A dalliance is fine with the US and its allies according to the closet Nehruvians, but not an alliance. The problem is: why would capital moving away from China because of geopolitical risk caused by Cold War 2.0 move into India, unless it were assured that India is not on the same side as the Sino-Russian alliance? Why would defence supply chains from the side other than the Sino-Russian alliance choose India to set up production facilities unless Delhi was clear about its stand and did not equivocate? Time is running out, and an opportunity such as that provided by the intensification of Cold War 2.0 comes only once in a generation, if that soon. Cold War 1.0 called for the Atlantic Alliance. Cold War 2.0 calls for the Indo-Pacific Alliance, and to believe that either China or Russia or any of the powers linked to it (such as Pakistan) can form part of this alliance is to allow Nehruvian daydreams to once again fashion policy. Of course, Moscow, Beijing and Islamabad would be delighted if this were so.
INDIA AS INVESTMENT DESTINATION
Japan, the US and Taiwan were the prime movers of the PRC’s rise from an economy of little consequence to the world’s second-largest. Taiwan in particular has in present value terms nearly a trillion dollars of accumulated investments in China, and before 2025 it will become untenable for many Taiwanese businesses to operate in the PRC while being headquartered in Taiwan. These will need to move, just as Japanese and US companies already are, in part because PRC law is such that all enterprises will need to assist in the strategic and other objectives of the Chinese Communist Party no matter where in the rest of the world its other units are located, if that entity has substantial investments in the PRC. A company will need to break the security laws and codes in Japan, the US and Taiwan in order to run its business in China without hindrance. More than $400 billion in actual value is likely to flow out of China over the next five years just where Taiwan is concerned, and India is the best alternative location. This is the case provided (a) security of investment is ensured through mutual agreement, (b) industrial and technological parks get set up where Taiwanese companies can cluster, and (c) high level visits take place between the two sides, as they do between Taiwan and the US or several other countries. Once India is clear as to its geopolitical orientation in Cold War 2.0, investment that needs to find an alternative location to China will flow into India in a manner suitable for the fulfilment of PM Modi’s objective of a $5 trillion economy.
Another potential partner is the US, whose aerospace industry would be better able to compete with future competition from the Sino-Russian alliance were some of the manufacturing stages to take place in India, for example at Nashik. First F-21s and subsequently F-35s can be made there, while Airbus would be open to relocating its facilities in China to India, provided a proper policy matrix gets worked out. Such an offer was made in 2014 in the context of the Eurofighter, and such an overall (civilian and military) pairing can be revived once the geopolitical direction of India is set rather than remain clothed in ambiguity. Japan is another potential partner for defence equipment. Over time, India would itself be able to emerge as a major seller of defence equipment to friendly countries such as Vietnam or some of the states in the GCC. The problem comes from China’s ally Russia and the magnetic pull it exerts over India’s defence and security policy, much of which has been formulated in a state of denial about the reality of the Sino-Russian alliance. In Cold War 2.0, so far as security and defence are concerned, one or the other side has to be chosen. Apart from the Nehruvian siren song of being a neutral “Global Thought Leader” in place of a realistic assessment of the national interest, another rationale for neutrality proffered by closet Nehruvians is that the US is too “dominating”, and India must never allow itself to be “bossed around”. Absolutely correct. Which is why good relations need to be maintained with Iran despite frowns from Washington. Or that Russia should continue to be a valued friend, except that avenues other than defence need to be explored to increase trade between that country and India. Russia under Vladimir Putin is still a Great Power and may in time become another superpower. Delhi can maintain close ties with Moscow while ensuring that the extreme reliance on that source for defence equipment gets downsized in a context where the Sino-Russian alliance clearly has a substantial military component. Just as the US placed China in a separate category from all other countries during Cold War 1.0, the same can be done in the case of India during Cold War 2.0. As for China, the stronger the security matrix fashioned by India is, the better the prospects of reaching a mutually acceptable compromise on both the economy as well as the border.
Deng Xiaoping is the father of New China, while the successor to Deng and Mao, Xi Jinping is working to position China into global leadership and primacy. The utilisation of the geopolitical synergies unleashed by Cold War 2.0 can ensure that Narendra Modi get recorded in the history books as the architect of Empowered India. This calls for the “Naya Soch” called for by the Prime Minister, thinking reflected in policy designed to enable India to maximise the gains made possible to this country by the transformation of 21st century geopolitical dynamics.