These are dispiriting times. So soon after the release of that “India as punching bag” foreign policy agenda contained in the quasi-official ‘Nonalignment 2.0’ (NA 2.0) comes an even more enervating collection of opinion-pieces put together by the London Scool of Economics called “Ïndia: The Next Super Power?” at http://www2.lse.ac.uk/IDEAS/publications/reports/SR010.aspx.
Leading off is the popular historian, Ramachandra Guha, who writes history that is low on original research but rendered in easy writing style that goes down easy with lay readers. Here he makes the case that having far too many problems of social inequity and economic disparity to tackle — and he is especially exercised about the Naxalites and the internal security problems they pose, India should not be distracted by the pursuit of super power status. Again, this is not a terribly new or novel theme that Guha is mining for the first time. Rather, it is an old argument of “sequencing” — whether or not India should prioritise economic and social development before becoming a military power of consequence (which, in turn, would lead to the country’s ascending to the great or super power ranks) — and is as old as independent India. By emphasizing development in the first 60 years of its independent existence, India has neither obtained social equity, nor lessened economic inequalities. All that our founding fathers — and Nehru in particular — have managed to do is erect a Leviathan socialist state apparatus that discourages individual initiative and enterprise, and has set itself up as distributor of wealth and opportunity. The result is a near non-functioning state unable to govern, leave alone deliver govt services, and armies of apparatchiks manning the state machinery — the babus — who, like termites, are consuming the natl resources and eating away at the superstrcuture of the nation. In other words, Guha and his ilk can wait for ever but the poor are unlikely to get their due. So, how does it make sense for the country to continue to just wait and see nothing happen?
Had Guha’s prescription been accepted by Elizabeth I of England, that country would still be in the throes of state mandated wealth redistribution, rather than actually doing what she did — fund the great expansion of the Royal Navy that her father Henry VIII had founded, authorise pirates like Francis Drake to accost Spanish ships carrying bullion from the New World to Europe, on the high seas, and by these means augment the royal treasury, and generally seek to take on adversary countries. She set England firmly on the course of Pax Britannica.
Or consider Bismarck. Had he been overly concerned about freeing the serfs in Pomerania, say, instead of waging small wars against Austria and France in the 1870s and unifying the Germanies, there wouldn’t have emerged the greater Germany from the kernel of the Prussian state that shook and reshaped Europe of the mid- to late 19th century. And so on.
Indeed, like NA 2.0, Guha exults in the idea of India as example, which of course no other people in their right mind would follow. But he is a harmless enough historian if left to himself. Except in a Delhi where reading books is anathema and knowledge is book-jacket deep, Guha’s kind of writing is taken seriously. Any wonder, why India isn’t going anywhere fast?
The other articles — having flitted through them, support Guha’s thesis in one form or another — though I confess I didn’t have the patience to read them start to finish. Not surpisingly the LSE editor who has, presumably, put this collection together, Nicholas Kitchen, seems to commend Guha’s main theme. Any why not — hard for the Brits to conceive that in six short decades India has gone from a crown colony and basketcase to being lauded as possible super power, which last status will not be realized if the country swallows Dr Guha’s medicine.
P.S.: saw the piece by Rehman on the military aspects: Glad to see the points I have been making, such as about the need for India to acquire expeditionary capability, being repeated here. May be with more people writing this way, there will be a critical mass generated for the Indian govt and military to get going.