The prestige and influence of nations are predominantly moulded by their economic resilience and the integrity and resolve of their leadership in the face of adversity. India’s international prestige rose towards the end of the last century, as its liberalised economy started taking off. This process was augmented when India overcame US-led global economic sanctions that it faced after its 1998 nuclear tests and successfully countered challenges posed by Pakistan’s ill-advised Kargil intrusion in 1999. Goldman Sachs soon proclaimed that the shape of the World Order 21st century would be significantly influenced by BRIC—the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China.
The UPA government assumed power in 2004, when India was riding high in the councils of the world. It was this image of India as an emerging power that led the US, together with France and Russia, to end global nuclear sanctions on India, imposed after its 1974 nuclear test. When the world’s economy faced a downturn, the US was compelled to end its exclusive dependence on the G-8, made up of the US, its NATO allies and Japan, and turn to emerging powers like Brazil, Russia, India and China and constitute the G-20, to face global economic challenges. India, with an economic growth of 8% and a growing military potential, stood tall in world forums. Even Pakistan’s Musharraf was compelled to give up old clichés and negotiate in a realistic way to resolve the Kashmir issue.
Barely five years later, UPA has succeeded in ruining India’s standing in the world. In the eyes of many across the globe, the Indian economy is in tatters, with a ballooning fiscal deficit, which has led to spiralling inflation, rendering its exports increasingly uncompetitive, and a growing and unsustainable current account deficit, which is eating into its forex reserves, which stood at around $300 billion. This is largely seen as a result of populist and unsustainable economic policies forced on a constitutionally elected government responsible to Parliament by an extra-constitutional ‘National Advisory Council’. India’s economic performance, in terms of its per capita growth, is well below that of its BRICS partners, Brazil, Russia and China. One frequently hears remarks nowadays that the cause of BRICS would be better served if Indonesia, which manages its economy prudently, replaces the fiscally profligate India.
Economic mismanagement has led to curbs on even essential investments and expenditure on national defence. Plans to counter China’s military and logistical build-up on India’s borders by raising a new strike Corps for the Northeast have been put on hold; acquisitions like fighter aircraft postponed on one pretext on another, while the submarine fleet is becoming obsolescent. China, therefore, feels increasingly emboldened to challenge India’s control of its border areas. India looks on passively as China strengthens Pakistan’s military and nuclear capabilities, while increasing its presence in PoK. Moreover, Chinese companies based in Sri Lanka are preparing to fish close to Indian shores, Pushpa Kumar Dahal Prachanda visits Beijing proclaiming Nepal’s “equidistance” from India and China and Maldives arbitrarily abrogates a contract for the largest Indian project on its soil.
As Bangladesh prepares for elections in January 2014, the fundamentalist Hefajat-e-Islam (HeI) has attacked the homes, businesses and dozens of worship places of the Hindu and Buddhist minorities, demanded introduction of “blasphemy laws”, advocated curbs on the rights of women and called for “Islamic education” in Bangladesh. What is, however, more shocking is the tacit support HeI received reportedly from the state government, during demonstrations in Kolkata that denounced the secular Awami League government in Bangladesh, with the slogan “Islam is in Danger in Bangladesh”. India’s Northeast will become a hotbed of communal violence if an appropriate national response is not framed to developments in Bangladesh. Our relations with our South Asian neighbours need to be seriously reviewed.
firstname.lastname@example.org Parthasarathy is a former diplomat