A couple of points about The Economist’s view of India

I am an admirer of the craft of conflation for the sake of it. I do not necessarily believe in the final product of that conflation but I do like to see where the process ends up.

Take for instance what I am about to say. In the early 1990s, The Economist described the New York-based India Abroad as a weekly of “unusually high quality.” In the late 1980s and 1990s, nearly 35 percent of all cover stories and other stories used to be reported and written by me. I can conflate these two facts to claim about 35 percent of the credit for India Abroad being a weekly of “unusually high quality.” This, in turn, gives me the right to hold forth on The Economist from time to time.

In a two-piece report (one leader, one article) on India, The Economist makes some interesting points about how a lack of a grand, overarching (my words) strategic vision inhibits India’s rise as a truly great power alongside China. The British newspaper zeroes in on some specifics to be behind this shortcoming. In particular, it speaks of how “the country lacks the culture to pursue an active security policy.” To that end, it points out India’s “ridiculously feeble” foreign service. “India’s 1.2 billion people are represented by about the same number of diplomats as Singapore’s 5m,” it says. It also speaks about how India’s creeds of “semi-pacifism” and non-alignment might have served the country well in some ways are now outdated and need to be given up. All this, in the interest of rising to its inherent potential to emerge as a truly great power.

All these are cogently argued points in the tradition of The Economist which is itself a weekly of “unusually high quality.” For once, the newspaper takes a much less dismissive view of India than it has been known to. Its prescription in favor of significantly increasing the foreign service, bulking up the military, sharpening its security culture and generally recognizing and deploying its fundamental strategic strengths in the region and around the world cannot be quarreled with. However, that view is valid only if you happen to subscribe to the idea that countries with great demographic, cultural, economic and military heft should necessarily cast themselves in the role of a power seeking global consequence. That argument is not valid if you happen to subscribe to the view, like many Indians do, that India’s strengths are fundamentally civilizational, therefore long-term and enduring, rather than strategic, therefore short-term and shifting.

The Economist has been known to represent a distilled view of what was until 1947 arguably the greatest colonial power, namely Britain. India was arguably the most important part of its standing as the greatest colonial power. As a nation-state which is not even 70 years old yet but a civilization stretching back at least 5000 years, India unconsciously takes a contemplative, philosophical view of the world which by its very nature runs counter to what The Economist prescribes. It is probably wise to consider some of the specific suggestions made by the journal if India’s objective is more short-term. But as an Indian I suspect the country’s entrenched civilizational predilections will continue to overwhelm its more realistic, practical needs.

A part of this inability or reluctance, if that is what you want to call it, has to do with the fact that unlike the West, India does not treat life as a profession or a career which has to have a specific path and achievable goals and objectives. The underpinnings of India’s statecraft are always more philosophical in nature rather than strategic. What is remarkable is that India’s political leaderships, notwithstanding their often conflicting ideologies, generally tend to agree on this point even without consciously trying. Of course, it is always possible that with the giant demographic of 550 million people under the age of 25-30 , which is in itself bigger than any other country except China,pushing them, India’s future leaderships may become less burdened with this civilizational consciousness and follow The Economist’s prescription.


About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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