In the past month or so, two words most commonly associated with India in the news were ‘nonalignment’ and ‘tax’. The former concerns the Indian global stance in this, new century and the latter refers to its domestic fiscal policy which, if implemented, would have huge international ramifications. However, both reflect the struggle between the conflicting factions of the India’s ruling class in formulating the best response to its external and internal challenges as the country’s power and influence are projected to grow.
Growing up in the Soviet Union during the 60s and 70s I can remember that hardly a week would pass without a praise from the Soviet state controlled propaganda machine toward ‘our friend’ India and its policy of nonalignment. Little did I know at the time that the very fact of such Soviet endorsement was an indication that in reality, contrary to its official stance, socialist India heavily aligned itself with the communist Soviet Union on a large number of global issues.
That alignment culminated in 1971 in the form of the Indo-Soviet Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, which effectively made a mockery of the very essence of the nonalignment movement, the cornerstone of Indian foreign policy at the time. That, coupled with the India’s siding with the Soviet Union after its invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 dealt a severe blow to India’s prestige and influence both within the movement and among the developing nations in general.
At the time, from their respective positions, the Soviet-Indian strategic alliance made a perfect geopolitical sense. India was responding to the ever closer cooperation between the US and Pakistan, its arch enemy then as it is now, and rising China, with whom it fought a disastrous war in 1962. The Soviet Union was counter-balancing its own tensions with China, which hit their lowest point during the short but fierce military conflict on their mutual border in 1969. On the broader international scene, through its alliance with India the Soviet Union gained a wider access to and bigger influence in the nonalignment movement.
It has to be said that nonalignment movement, or ‘NAM’ as it was known at the time, was a product of the ‘Cold War’. India, as its main author, together with the other active members of the movement, was trying to charter the third, independent way for the developing world without being sucked into either side of a bitter geopolitical and ideological rivalry between the two opposing superpowers: US and USSR. It never really worked, as at one time or another either an individual member or the whole group of ‘nonligners’ would align themselves with one of the two.
With the removal of the Soviet Union from the political map, the end of the ‘Cold War’, and general discreditation of communism and socialism in the eyes of the developing world (with a few anomalies like Cuba and North Korea notwithstanding) the ideal of NAM lost even its official purpose.
Profound changes have been occurring in India itself. Thanks to the deep structural financial and economic reforms implemented in the early nineties by then finance minister and current prime-minister Manmohan Singh, the country did away with the shackles of socialism and has since been displaying a remarkable, albeit recently stalling, progress.
The roughly first 40 socialist years of its independence cost India dearly. As Mr. Swaminathan Aiyar, a research fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity and a former editor of India’s two biggest financial dailies, the Economic Times and Financial Express wrote in his paper, had reforms been put in place earlier ‘14.5 million more children would have survived, 261 million more Indians would have become literate, and 109 million more people would have risen above the poverty line.’
At the end of February the group of eight leading Indian experts issued ‘Nonalignment 2.0’, a report which offers an analysis of the India’s present position in the world and a vision for the future.
A very puzzling aspect of it is why the authors of the document decided to give it a name oriented toward the past, especially due to the fact that the document calls for an Indian foreign policy based on a practical realpolitik type approach. To sum it up, India’s elders of foreign policy are calling to take into consideration the projected rise of India in the context of global challenges and threats, especially coming from its immediate neighborhood, without forming a strategic relationship with any of the world’s great powers or regional centers, hence NAM-2.
The dichotomy of this approach is self-evident. As an example, while acknowledging that China which outperforms India in just about every category presenting the main ‘strategic rivalry’ which potentially could ‘…provide the pretext for some military assertion or show of strength in areas ranging from Taiwan and the South China Sea to India’s own borders’, it carefully avoids calling for a partnership with the United States, its democratic ally, to counterbalance the China’s threat. It should be noted that as opposed to China, the relationship with the US is not even allocated a separate paragraph in a lengthy document.
All of it is being presented after the efforts of at least two US administrations, Bush’s and Obama’s, to make a significant strategic shift toward India in its overall global priorities. It all culminated in 2010, during Obama’s historic visit to India during which it was named as ‘cornerstone’ of American engagement in Asia.
Answering that desire to ‘have its cake and eat it’, Ashley Tellis, a former US State Department adviser and senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said that in the face of the growing Chinese challenge ‘India’s need for having special friends and allies is going to increase,’ and ‘One of the special relations India ought to have is with the United States.’
But even more troubling example of India’s nostalgic ‘throwback’ to its socialist, isolationist past and and disastrous economic policies is the budgetary proposal recently submitted to the parliament that, if approved, would impose prohibitive retrospective taxes on all foreign companies invested in India going back decades.
The proposal, which amounted to a financial ‘shock and awe’ to the India’s foreign investors has drawn their strong negative reaction. It could quite possibly be the best indication to date that the powerful forces on India’s political landscape that are deeply rooted in its failed past policies, taking full advantage of the weak government and are gaining momentum. As a result, the ‘chilling effect’ is setting in and the climate of uncertainty is being created at the time when India badly needs an increase in foreign investments.
In the above-mentioned paper on the India’s foreign policy and its place in the 21st century, the authors state the following:
‘ The fundamental source of India’s power in the world is going to be the power of its example. If India can maintain high growth rates, leverage that growth to enhance the capabilities of all its citizens, and maintain robust democratic traditions and institutions, there are few limits to India’s global role and influence. ‘
Unfortunately, the recently revealed pattern of thinking regarding India’s future place in world and the government’s latest budgetary proposal could not only further hamper already slowing growth rates but would set a really bad example of the wrongly headed policy at the crucial time of its development.
By Sevim Geraibeyli@2012, all rights reserved.
Write to Sevim: firstname.lastname@example.org
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