LSE report: platform for Ramachandra Guha’s whole-hearted nonsense

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

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.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in civil-military relations, Great Power imperatives, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Politics, Internal Security. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to LSE report: platform for Ramachandra Guha’s whole-hearted nonsense

  1. India can be a military super power if it chooses to, but it would need a Soviet style system to convince people that buying Tanks for the army is of a more immediate concern than owning a car

    • Wrong tradeoff. Nobody is arguing for expenditure on the military in exceess of 60% — the reason why the Soviet Union went down. Rather, that the the 1.8%-2.2% of GDP spent on defence in the past decade and more is inadequate to protect our expansively defined national interests — normal for a would-be great power, such as India. The point I have been making over the last 20 odd years is not that this level of expenditure is low but that its quality is abysmal. India can maintain this expenditure level but achieve its great power goals by investing in mostly strategic-use forces and wherewithal, including expeditionary forces, long range aircraft and missiles with high yield thermonuclear warheads, and SSBNs and SSNs, instead of wasting them on a legacy force structure emphasizing short-legged armoured and mecahnized forces (which absorb the bulk of the funds). Surely, even Guha would not object to having bigger bang for the buck.

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