India’s Modi gunning for Pakistan but subservient to China, the US — Ál-Arabiya review of ‘Staggering Forward’

[From right to left — Shivshankar Menon, Admiral Arun Prakash, Yashwant Sinha, Jairam Ramesh, Ajai Shukla (moderator) and Karnad, at the book launch]
By S. N. M. Abdi, Special to Al Arabiya English, Monday, 17 September 2018


The hardback is a delight to read since other books on India’s external relations post 2014 are fawning accounts by toady favor seekers. Their writings are strikingly similar to the sycophantic stories most correspondents and editors of top Indian newspapers and magazines regularly dish out extolling Modi.

But servility is alien to Karnad, Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, 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).

Ruthlessness uncoils

According to Karnad, “Modi is concentrating on the smaller Pakistan while giving the more dangerous and challenging China a free pass. His ruthlessness uncoils only against a weak and enervated Pakistan, on the one hand, and his domestic political opponents on the other. One wishes he had shown as much ferocity to China and in furthering India’s national interests and strategic security.” “To remain distracted by Pakistan is the surest guarantee of India never making it as a great power. If Pakistan weren’t there we would have to invent it!” “Candidate Modi roared like a tiger, as Prime Minister he has been a purring kitten when dealing with big cats…taking care he gives no offence to them.”

In the chapter on Adversarial Geopolitics, Karnad scathingly writes that having been groomed by the RSS which is “disciplined and hierarchically structured”, “Modi is reflexively deferential to the US and China and their heads of government, Trump and Xi, acknowledging them and their countries as India’s and his superiors in the rank ordering of nations and leaders.

“This attitude is reflected in his foreign policy based on giving minimum offence to these two countries, as also in his respectful and placatory behavior where Trump and Xi are concerned. This fits in nicely with Trump’s and the US’s idea of their exalted place under the sun, and it confirms to the Confucian notion of order ‘under the heaven’”.

‘America’s satellite’

Karnad [has written elsewhere] that Modi’s India has become America’s satellite “because serving senior Indian civil servants and military officers are suborned, in the main, by offers of ‘green cards’, work visas, and ‘scholarships’ for their progeny. It constitutes the new set of inducements to sell the national interest down the drain; secret offshore bank accounts are passe’.”

“The trouble is Modi’s tilt is less strategic than aspirational. His apparently unconditional love and admiration for America and his subaltern thinking have together imposed a low ceiling on India’s ambition. This explains why he has tolerated personal slights, from denial of US visa when he was Gujarat chief minister to, as the New York Times reported on 2 September, President Donald Trump making fun of him by frequently mimicking his accent in internal White House discussions.”

“That Modi is willing to swallow such insults is his business. Preventing the erosion of India’s sovereignty, national interest and security are the Indian people’s concerns.”

Imran Khan’s offer

Karnad is of the opinion that New Delhi must accept Imran Khan’s offer to fast-track trade relations between India and Pakistan. At present, direct trade is measly because of hostility between the two nations but indirect trade through third countries is 10 times more. Karnad is advocating immediate formalizing of the informal trade.

Within days of his book’s launch, Karnad said: “Presently Indian consumer goods of all kinds – marked for export to Dubai on merchant ship manifests – are offloaded with the same ships anchoring outside the immediate Karachi waters. The annual loss of revenue to the Pakistan exchequer from this informal channel is in billions of dollars. It is money the Tehreek-e-Insaf party government can use to fulfill its election promises in the social welfare sector.”

Karnad wants India to quickly reciprocate Khan’s initiative to boost trade by “adopting a facilitative mindset, initiating enabling measures, clearing lines of credit, approving banking channels and preemptively easing the processes of encouraging commerce” to break the dangerous sub-continental deadlock.

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.
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2 Responses to India’s Modi gunning for Pakistan but subservient to China, the US — Ál-Arabiya review of ‘Staggering Forward’

  1. Abhi says:

    While rightfully trivializing the nuisance Pakistan is, you mention that Delhi is Pakistan obsessed. But I still don’t understand why the fact that the political class being obsessed with Pakistan surprises a strategist such as yourself. As long as the voter-base has a west-facing display of Jingoism, one should expect the Babu’s to echo the same rhetoric. From Amit Shah’s (or Sonia Gandhi’s) perspective, the national interests take lower precedence in comparison to electability. Even Modi said “Jaise Bharat meri maa hai, waise BJP bhi meri maa hai”, while tearing up in a speech right before his term as PM commenced.

    This mindset is the reason why funds are trickled to Ambala instead of the much needed mountain divisions.

  2. AD says:

    @ BharatKarnad

    I see two deeper problems. Firstly, many Indians (especially over a certain age) still do not see themselves as Indians. Their self-identity is based in some combination of regionalism and jati politics. Contrast this with more successful countries where there is some concept of shared identity and destiny which transcends such older divisions. That is why India has (and always had) so many gungadins. massey sahibs and mir jaffars.

    The broad socio-cultural structure encourages defection, and treachery for paltry and temporary gains. That is also why so many allegedly powerful people in India behave like grateful and subservient beggars in front of “phoren people” while simultaneously doing everything in their power to screw over their own countrymen. I don’t think that there is a non-messy way to fix this issue.

    The second deep-seated issue concerns the education system in India, specifically its extreme emphasis on rote memorization, following instructions blindly, not asking questions and generally not allowing critical thought. The product of such a sad system is inevitably a person who “know” all the “right answers” but is incapable of independent or critical thought. Now imagine what happens if you hire those that excel under such an “education” system into decision making positions.

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