India’s Wary Rise?

Was Samrat Ashok a mythical emperor?

Dominique Moisi asserts so in an article published by Project Syndicate. Did he want to quote Lord Ram instead to justify the mythical tag?

India’s history and culture, from Asoka, its mythical emperor in the third century BC, to Gandhi, push it to emphasize ethics and to consider itself an “exceptional” nation in its relationship with the world.

Perhaps he does refer to the historical emperor from third century BC whose qualities appear mythic but mythical he is not.

Moisi is an expert who appears on the board of European Council on Foreign Relations. Here, an amateur expresses his ideas about what his nation stands for.

Moisi states that India considers itself an “exceptional” (his quotes) nation in its relationship with the world. I guess this will apply to almost all the nations. I have spent a few years in Japan and UK. Both these nations consider themselves exceptional and so would other countries. But Moisi is talking about ethics and I can only agree with him.

The Indian constitution grants special status to Kashmir not attempting to change its fabric. The fabric has indeed changed with the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits which is a result of militancy not state interference. Exiled Tibetan Government finds a seat in Dharamsala but military support is neither sought nor provided. Pre-emptive surgical strikes are unheard of despite material evidence about the location of training camps. The state resorts neither to terrorism nor cyber-warfare for asymmetric advantage. Various parties have governed the nation over 60 years, including the right wing, but all of them have adhered to this ethical position while being fully aware of the difficulties that arise as a result.

It is natural for India to proclaim its “democratic” superiority to China while recognizing that on all strategic fronts it is not in the same league. But is it even possible to draw a comparison between what one Indian academic has called the “robotized Chinese man” and the vast human diversity of India?

Another set of quotes! No one will disagree that on all strategic fronts, India is not in the same league as China. The same lot need not be educated by the ‘Indian proclamations’ to understand the state of democracy in these countries. Moisi prefers to put quotes around the word “democratic”. I am glad that he does not find the need to put quotes around the ‘vast human diversity of India’. Both are facts not opinions.

Viewed from New Delhi, the vision of a reasonable, prudent, and ultimately satisfied China – a vision “sold” to the world by the Minister Mentor of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew – appears less than obvious.

I am confused now. If Moisi believes that the vision is “sold” to the world then why do we need the emphasis that it is as ‘viewed from New Delhi’. Either this view is held by others or it is a case of Indian myopia. It would have sounded better had he stated that ‘view from New Delhi’ is not any different to several capitals.

When it comes to Pakistan, too, India seems to lack confidence. On all fronts – demographic, economic, military, and political – India is far above Pakistan. But India does not seem to know how to deal with its northwestern neighbor, and even less whom to deal with in its government.

Yes indeed. A question that would puzzle any nation. Unless it is a nation in hurry to leave Pakistan’s neighbour. The Indian dilemma is ethical. A Prime Minister equally focused on inclusive growth for all his citizens and peaceful relations with the northwestern neighbour needs an authority to talk to which does not exist. So no wonder that

what prevails in India is a deep sense of frustration with Pakistan.

Also unlike China, India is not an ‘all weather friend’ of Pakistan. Does Europe know whom to talk to in Pakistan? But that is not the point of the original article.

If India seems not to believe that America and its allies can really “succeed” in Afghanistan, nor is it willing to resign itself to a return of the Taliban to power, which could in turn lead to Talibanization of Pakistan. Yet India seems to behave in a very “European” way in Afghanistan; it is ready to send money and experts, but not troops.

The assistance provided by India in rebuilding Afghanistan has been acknowledged by the locals. The country leading the effort in Afghanistan relies on Pakistan. And Pakistan avoids Indian footprint for its strategic depth in Kabul. Will India be able to send troops even if it was keen to do so? So why raise such a question?

India is impaired by its lack of practice in the exercise of power on a grand scale.

The lack of practice is a choice made by several rulers across millenniums. Yes its residents are argumentative but more so they are spiritual. This nation has exported spirituality going back to that not so mythical emperor. China has designs to influence the globe, India does not. The article identifies its increasing power. So also the frustrations. But these frustrations are business as usual for India. It is a tortoise not trying to win any race. While protecting its borders and citizens, it needs to steadily improve the conditions for all. India needs to spend even more resources to uplift the millions below poverty line. Global influence, if any, is a side effect not a requirement.

P.S. The article should have pointed out the emphasis given by Indian Foreign Ministry to get a permanent seat in Security Council. It is unfortunate how SM Krishna continued to plead China in his recent visit seeking a public backing that will not materialise. Indian establishment considers UN to be a place to achieve global good. A focus on substantial rebuilding efforts in Haiti instead of diplomacy on UN Security council suits the Indian psyche.


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