India could never be a superpower

The London School of Economics study that India minght never be a superpower was given a prominent place in almost all the major Indian newspapers. An impression was created that India, had a national goal to become a superpower,

a goal that it would never be able to achieve due to its many failings.

The details were sketchy and arguments not properly summed up. Many readers thought it was another attempt by a western institution to belittle India. In a climate of uncontrolled corruption, non-governance, policy paralysis and uninspiring leadership the national mood was already depressed and the media

reporting of the LSE study further dampened it.

Scholarly studies are balanced and more carefully worded than the casual media reporting. The study, in fact, seemed to be a reminder to the US policy makers

who expect India to be an assertive regional superpower.

The editor, Nicholas Kitchen wrote: “India’s rise in geostrategic terms is rendered all the more significant since its power resides at the confluence of the United States’ two great hegemonic challenges: counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the management of China’s growing regional assertiveness. If India’s proud non alignment during the Cold War had given it a leadership role in the developing world, its 21st century position places it at the heart of superpower geopolitics… The United States, in particular, is placing India at the very heart of its strategic reorientation—and with it, the orientation of the rest of the world—towards Asia.”

It’s a strange expectation. The question must be asked why should India serve the interests of the Unites States, who has historically been the biggest supporter or rather sustainer of Pakistan and its military dictators?

True that India had come closer to America in recent years, but the relations between the world’s two largest democracies are still overshadowed by past mistrust. Burdened by many pressing domestic concerns, India doesn’t have ambition or national will to throw its weight around as a global superpower. Therefore, the main assumption of the LSE study is rather unrealistic. In fact, the Indian policy makers had repeatedly stressed in the past that they would not like to emulate other superpowers— threatening neighbours, carving out spheres of influence, sponsoring military uprisings, sustaining friendly dictators and overturning ideologically unsuitable democracies.

That didn’t mean that India never wanted to play a larger role in global affairs. India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru conceived that role carefully and tried to discharge it honestly. Call him naive or idealist, he saw no conflict between national interest and global interests.

Just before the independence of India in March 1947, Jawahrlal Nehru, then interim prime minister of India, defined the role that India was to play in the changing world. Addressing the Asian Relations Conference in Delhi Nehru said: “one of the notable consequences of the European domination of Asia has been the isolation of the countries of Asia… In this Conference and in this work there are no leaders and no followers. All countries of Asia have to meet together in a common task…”

And that common task was to create a community of nations in which all nations were to be equal partners in the pursuit of freedom, democracy, co-existence, mutual respect and economic emancipation.

Nehru made another perceptible comment in Bandung Conference, 1955, about what superpowers are capable of. He said: “The mistakes of my country and perhaps the mistakes of other countries here do not make a difference; but the mistakes the Great Powers make do make a difference to the world and may well bring about a terrible catastrophe.”

History proved him right. One superpower, the Americans, left a trail of catastrophic devastation from Vietnam to Nicaragua, while the other, the Soviet Union, wrecked brutal suppression in places like Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. India’s journey has been a unique journey. No other country

in the world with so many competing and balancing diversities has been able to sustain a liberal democracy.

The LSE study acknowledges this fact as one of its authors Prof Ramchandra Guha writes: “We should judge ourselves not against the achievements, real or imagined, of other countries, but in the light of our own norms and ideals… We are a unique nation, unique for refusing to reduce Indian-ness to a single language, religion, or ideology, unique in affirming and celebrating the staggering diversity found within our borders (and beyond them).”

Vijay Rana

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