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Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Indian bid for Great Powerdom A higher global profile will inevitably be ours, but not yet, says Firdaus Ahmed September 2002 - India understandably has Great Power ambitions in keeping with her size, heritage, and potential. However, translating these into reality has proven problematic.
The country's earlier bid for regional preeminence was in the 1980s. During that decade, there were several indicators of India’s unease with its relative position in the pecking order of states. These included heightened military spending and flexing of muscles in the Sundarji era, the dispatch of the peace-keeping force to Sri Lanka, intervening on invitation in Maldives and the taking over of the Siachen glacier. Cumulatively, these initiatives had a substantial impact on the economic and political difficulties of the early 1990s. Thus it was a chastened India that faced the ‘new world order’ brought on by the end of the Cold War.
The current bid to transcend the strategic confines of South Asia arises from the recent emergence of a self-confident upper-middle class and the political ascendance of the right. This time there are two elements deemed favorable to a fresh initiative in taking our rightful place at the high table. One is that the Indian economic trajectory is reckoned as affording a higher military profile. The hope is to entice Pakistan into an arms race, and thereby speed it on to being a ‘failed state’. The second is the understanding that the logic of the current unipolar moment in world affairs requires India to forge a ‘strategic partnership’ with the sole superpower. 9/11 has acted as a catalyst in this process that had arguably been underway over the previous decade. The anniversary of 9/11 is therefore an appropriate juncture to reflect on the strategy crafted by the Realist-Rightist combine at the helm of affairs.

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As a consequence of this bid for Great Powerdom, India will become a more militarized and militaristic nation; this poses dangers both on the domestic and international fronts. Internally, the liberal democratic complexion of the Indian state is endangered by this posture. Externally, India will be an accomplice in facilitating the neo-colonial embrace of peoples whose only fault is to inhabit energy-rich lands. It is historically proven that Great Power games are militarily fraught, with communities and the environment paying a long-term price. We therefore need to be mindful of the main lesson from Pokhran and Chagai, namely that there is a case for applying fresh security perspectives to help navigate a nuclear world.
The practicability of the present Indian quest is equally questionable. In the external sphere, the United States is unlikely to allow the Pakistani state to collapse, if only because of its positional utility in the ongoing ‘war against terror'. As such any hostility and ongoing threats from Pakistan will continue for the foreseeable future. The other angle relates to China. Even a cursory reading of the parameters of power will indicate that China is approximating the US in the middle term, and will soon be a geopolitical player of significance.
Gaining entry into the Great Power club will be harder than it was to blast our path into the nuclear club. While the civil disturbance in Kashmir continues, and should there be further episodes of internecine conflict as in Gujarat, the focus on global aspirations will be surely distracted. These events are also quickly seized upon by other nations as indicative that "India is not yet ready to assume the mantle of a leading nation, beset as she is with her own internal troubles". Cohesion within the nation is a must, before any projection of power outside the boundaries can be made.
This year's principal features have been the mobilization of the armed forces, and the ‘carnage’ in Gujarat. Placing these two events together, we see that the quasi-alliance between the realists and the rightists who aspire towards Great Powerdom clearly must be rethought. Essentially secular realists are our security managers. However, they are oblivious to the internal political utility of the rightists who actively seek to project power externally. This foreign-policy posture, however, is tarnished because it is partly derived from the rightists' dubious links to extremist majoritarians. This will further marginalise and ghettoise Muslims through contrived linkages with an already- hostile neighbour. The process of gaining power thus has unforeseen implications for internal cohesion as well.
One must conclude, then, that the current Indian bid for Great Power status is premature yet again, even if the post 9/11 world lends itself to more intimate Indo-US engagement. We must always bear in mind that Great Powerdom does not require to be grasped. It will devolve of its own in due course on an India at peace with itself and its neighborhood. When that hour arrives, India must be ready to redefine what ‘Great Powerdom’ entails.

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