Modi heading to redefine India’s new identity
Posted on June 3rd, 2014

H. L. D. Mahindapala

“India has won,” declared Narendra Modi when the BJP tidal wave swept India and put him on the crest of the latest political wave.

 These three euphoric words, though somewhat cryptic, express exuberantly the triumphant mood of Modi. He clearly identifies his victory with that of  India. This identification is justified in that Modi represents the current mood and expectations of India. It also conveys his self-confidence in forging ahead by restructuring, reforming and redefining the bygone post- Gandhi-Nehruvian era which has run out of steam.

 Its meaning  is not  confined to the newly acquired power of the center to govern in its own right without depending on the federal units in  the periphery like Tamil Nadu, for instance. It goes beyond that to signal that India has reached a new phase, breaking away from the past, in which neither the regional states nor the Big Powers can no longer treat India as a pliant appendage that would accept any humiliation to its image and status at foreign airports, for instance. It means that India plans to emerge as a significant player befitting its demographic, geographic, economic and nuclear strengths. It means that India will not claim greatness by basking  in the reflected glory of being partners with one or the other Big Powers, as it has done so far. It means that even its indispensable “strategic partner”,  America, can no longer refuse to issue the new Prime Minister a visa whatever the accusations may be. In short, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is claiming a new global relationship with increased respect for India’s status as an independent force of its own.

 In the immediate aftermath of the post-independent era India was claiming to be one of the “Big Boys” by first aligning itself with the Soviet Union, which was almost an act of defiance opposed ideologically and  politically to Western capitalist domination. Then it dumped the Soviet Union after it collapsed and switched its loyalties over to hegemonic USA. The timing was wrong again. America is now almost an exhausted volcano which is in irreversible decline, both militarily and economically, and losing its political clout  to determine the outcome  of global events as it did at the height of its hegemonic days. Both alignments were ill-timed. Both were declining powers when India joined the Cold War warriors.

 In any case, the old power alignments of the old world order have lost  its potency in the new world with its multi-polar centers of power. With Russia and China ganging up on all critical issues the balance of power is no longer in favour  of America exclusively. Despite its super power status of “the indispensable nation” America, more than ever, is in need of friends to “rebalance” and it is more in America’s interest to keep India as its “strategic partner” in the Indian Ocean. India, however, doesn’t have to play America’s game and India signaled  that  it cannot be taken for granted when it voted against US-led resolution  against Sri Lanka at UNHRC last March. India has everything to gain by getting  closer to its SAARC neighbours  rather  than looking across seas and mountains to America.

 It is in this context that Modi’s very first diplomatic move to invite the neighbours for his inauguration assumes a significance greater than a gesture of good will. If it is an indicator of things to come, then it can be concluded that his intentions are to strengthen his bonds with his immediate neighbours more than distant allies. His invitations to all his SAARC neghbours to join him at his inaugural celebrations, despite protests from the fissiparous forces from within, can be read as a strong  emphasis he  places on mending fences with his neighbours – a nagging issue that refuses to go away in a hurry. For India to win it must first consolidate its neighbourhood. As in any domestic situation it is the neighbours that surround you who are vital for your long term security and in instances of unexpected crises. Keeping the neighbours on your side, overlooking or smoothening irritants, is essential for the security of all SAARC neighbours.  

Consolidating SAARC region should be India’s first step to gain a respectable place in the global theatre. A destabilized and insecure SAARC will weaken India externally and internally. It is the geography of India that will determine its history. Any estrangement with SAARC or any of its members will make India very vulnerable and exposed to external tensions and threats. It will also impede the economic and political growth of SAARC as a regional bloc. India has big ambitions of playing a major role in the global theatre, including  eyeing a seat in the Security Council. In the prevailing global order there is no room for India to gain a commanding leadership role in any other part of the globe except through the SAARC.

 India’s greatness will increase  manifold if SAARC is behind her. Working out positive relationships with the neighbours is, therefore, a prime necessity for India to win the place it hopes to play on the international stage. In Nehruvian times India achieved greatness by giving leadership to the NAM movement. That was in the Cold War period. In the post-Cold War period dominated by multi-polar blocs Modi’s role in the world stage will be enhanced if he can gather SAARC into cohesive and consolidated bloc.  

 Of course, India can play the role of the lone ranger but how far will it take India in the first decades of the 21st century? India at loggerheads with its SAARC neighbours is a non-winner, particularly at a time when Asia, the most critical region, is sizzling with cross-border tensions and Big Power rivalry for supremacy in the blue waters. More importantly, Delhi has not yet accumulated the critical gravitational pull to attract and hold its neighbours in any significant partnership to protect its own security. It  has invested its critical commitments to the “strategic  partnership” with America. It is a  long shot. It means sacrificing regional interests for the fluctuating and short term gains from America. After the brief leadership role as the guiding light of NAM India lost any credible leadership role by tying  itself as a willing partner of one or the other Cold War warriors. And its on-again and off-again vacillations in the region made India an unreliable partner to its neighbours. India, in short, lost its trust and, worst of all, became even a center for exporting terrorism to its neighbours.

 Destablizing the neighbours, in the misguided belief that it would strengthen India’s internal and external security, has been the fundamental flaw in the strategies of the South Bloc – the home of the bureaucratic Brahmins who runs India’s foreign policy. By and large, the neighbours it destabilized had so far kept a cautious distance from India, not willing to invest all their trust in India as a reliable and loyal partner. Consequently, the neghbourhood has begun to look elsewhere for sustenance and security. All the carrots India has offered from time to time, in between phases of aggressive arrogance, has not paid any substantial dividends because RAW and direct Indian interventions (example: IPKF) hit harder, leaving blood-stained images of India as a neo-imperialist power wielding the big stick to impose its will on its neighbours. The time has come now for India to change course. India’s mission is to recapture the rapture of the early Nehruvian leadership of non-alignment that lifted India’s image to heights of great respectability and trust worthiness. Narendra Modi has imparted the spirit of this approach initially by inviting with a warm generosity the leaders of all SAARC nations.

It is a good start. The question is can he sustain it during  his reign? Internally, he is right in the middle of two extremist cells: 1. Jihadists and 2 Maoists. Both are time-bombs ticking under his  bed. Externally, he is faced with the tasks of mending fences in its far-flung borders. He has to alternate between his steely will and flexibility in dealing with challenges from its four corners. Perhaps, a steely will at home  balanced by flexibility abroad may be the applicable prescription for the current needs. He has also to navigate through the waves that may obstruct his passage through the Upper House. But most of all he has inherited all the sins of the Congress. Revisiting the sins  of the past to clear the path for the future is not the most desirable job  in the world. But that is Modi’s burden and it is bound to grow in size as he goes along.

 Right now he has in his hands the power to carve out an independent path of his own without depending on regional alliances. In the main he has power, the mandate and the new spirit of renewed India behind him – the three indispensable assets – plus his own image as a strong man with an iron will to take whatever steps that are needed to take India to the next level. Of course, there are doubts as to whether his success at the micro-level in Gujarat, where he was the head, can be repeated at the macro-level covering the complex conglomeration that is India.  The combination of the formidable political numbers (in the Lower House) and his steely nerves gives him all the chances he needs to break away from the Gandhi-Nehruvian post-natal period, where India had to go through the agonizing teething problems. India has grown since then into adulthood. It has gone through the experimental ideological phases. It has abandoned the state-run socialist experiments, particularly Indira Gandhi’s “Kali Amma” nightmares. And Modi has come up from the depths of history as the chosen man for the new era with a sense of new directions for India to forge ahead. 

 There is more to Modi than the obscure boy who journeyed from his father’s tea shop to Prime Minister’s residence in Delhi. The zig-zag route he took from Gujarat to Delhi has all the hallmarks of a leader handpicked by subterranean historical forces rising to claim its unfulfilled rights. Just as much as Nehru was chosen by history to usher independence it is apparent that history has chosen Modi to lead India into its next phase of post-Gandhi-Nehruvian era. Among other socio-economic factors it seems one  of the main tasks before Modi is to diverge radically from the fuzzy Gandhi-Nehruvian past  and redefine India’s identity in accordance with the grassroot forces. He was responsible for awakening and fostering the dynamic home grown forces and his electorate will now expect him to further invest, nurture and strengthen the roots of  his brand of politics.

 This raises the specter  of  him coming  out as a genie  from India’s corked bottle. Appeasing the grass root expectations of his electorate and fulfilling the needs of the nation at  the top are two different goals which are bound to cross and clash. Can he balance both demands without losing face internationally or losing his domestic electorate? Overall, can this Modi moment  herald the new Indian spring? That is the general expectation. In any case, the time has come for India to get out of its stagnating past that has outlived its usefulness. India needs a new leader with a pragmatic will to breakthrough obstacles that lie ahead. Modi seems to have arrived at the right time at the right place to take the lead. The big question is, can he find the right direction, particularly in external affairs?  

 So far he has played the role of a leader without illusions. In  Gujarat he was daring. Willing to take risks. And it paid off mainly by pursuing market-oriented goals. His positive attitude of “Yes, we can” has paid of handsome dividends. Now he has to stage a repeat performance on the national stage. Nehru despaired mostly about his ability to take the people with him. He knew that the gap between the people and the visionary leaders at the top was akin to that of Edmund Hilary and Tengzing Norgay at the Himalayans peaks and those in the plains below. Can Modi take  the people who voted  for him along  with him in the battles he is likely to encounter on the way to his goals?

 Nehru, of course, was struggling to pull India out of the bullock cart age. Modi, on the contrary, is standing on the cusp of a new advanced age with many opportunities waiting in the wings for him to grasp with both hands and run forward. Besides, the new middle-class can no longer be swayed by the ideological baggage of state-run utopias. In these early honeymoon days “the Modi mood” carries with it a touch of messianic populism which must be utilized before it evaporates as time goes by. Considering the massive tasks ahead of  him it  won’t be long before events can overtake him. Right now, however, he is standing on the peak of his popularity. How to maintain this initial bubbly fizz before it subsides is going  to be his perennial problem.

 For “India to win” Modi has to score convincingly, both internally and externally simultaneously. India’s internal success will be incomplete without commensurate success in the SAARC.  It is, therefore, imperative that India should get the SAARC neighbours on side. Internally, there is an urgent need to restructure the legal and institutional arrangements to release and liberalize the new energy needed for Indian to win. There is no one else in the Indian horizon, right now, who can do it. He has the will, the mandate and the skill to do it. But it is the external dimensions of India’s internal imperatives that are likely to stall his progress.

 All this places a huge responsibility on Modi’s shoulders: he has to carry the weight of his time without dropping the bundle before he could reach his goal. Besides, a huge mandate brings  huge expectations. There is so much dependent on him. He cannot afford to fail. He has to fulfill his mission. If he fails it is not only India but the entire region that goes down with him. It is imperative that India should back him all the way not only for its sake but for the region  as well.

 As of now, he is in possession of the necessary powers to make things happen his way. What is to unfold under his stewardship will reveal whether he can make India into another Gujarat, on the one hand, and, on the other, whether he can mend his fences at the borders to carry  his neighbours, along with his people, to make  SAARC the next powerful bloc in global politics.

4 Responses to “Modi heading to redefine India’s new identity”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    Yes, Mahindapala, Modi has an invaluable opportunity to raise India to TRUE greatness.

    But, four HUGE PROBLEMS stand in his way:

    1. SOCIAL INDISCIPLINE as evidenced, for example, by widespread corruption in business, government and law enforcement, caste-related discrimination, rape and murder of innocent children and women.

    2. PERSISTENT SOCIAL ILLS such as widespread Illiteracy, Poverty, lack of minimal health impacting infrastructure (toilets, sewers, clean water, housing) which have been far better addressed, for example, in neighboring Sri Lanka.

    3. The RISE of REGIONAL POWER CENTERS that routinely challenge and flout the Central Government’s authority (eg. in West Bengal and Tamil Nadu) undermining its ability to implement national government policies.

    4. Widespread TERRORISM in a wide swathe of India extending from the Southwest to the North East and inhabited by over 840 million people.

    5. CONFLICTS and POOR RELATIONS with ALL neighboring countries such as Pakistan, China, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar primarily, but not solely, due to hegemonic interference by India in their INTERNAL affairs.

    Until India addresses and substantially solves these INTERNAL PROBLEMS, it will be UNABLE to rise as a GLOBAL POWER.

    Modi must address these problems effectively in the next 5 years, or he will not win another 5 years in power to improve upon it.

    India should HEAL ITSELF first before prescribing bitter medicine to HEAL OTHERS.

  2. Ananda-USA Says:

    Oops, I meant to say: But, five HUGE PROBLEMS stand in his way

  3. Nanda Says:

    Oops , you missed the biggest challenge.

    1. How to handle GTN (Global Terror network) of your home country USA without getting assassinated.

    Yes. Modi can do it , if he get together with China.

  4. Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha Says:

    Quoting the article: ” In the immediate aftermath of the post-independent era India was claiming to be one of the Big Boys” by first aligning itself with the Soviet Union, which was almost an act of defiance opposed ideologically and politically to Western capitalist domination.”

    The problem with that move was India being one of the founders of the Non aligned movement had no intention of honoring it. She violated the very essence of the Non Aligned movement and made it into a joke when she aligned with the Soviet Union. I point this out that Nehru was determined among many issues, to keep India out of the cold war but instead India became part of the cold war while championing the non aligned movement. Without further ado the implications were clear. India looked out for her own interests and championed nothing except those interests. Partly due to that move she was isolated by the Western powers but gained the nuclear technology from the Soviet Union. She also held her neighbors to their commitment to the non aligned movement.

    the second issue is the first three words of the article “India has won”. So did Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s victory in comparison to her giant neighbor is far greater in scope and magnitude. Yes “Sri Lanka has won” so claimed Colombo in 2009. Sri Lanka won Asia’s longest war and a proxy war waged by India. It however did not translate to normalizations in the region. India then stepped up her campaign against Sri Lanka using the UN. Since the victory over the terrorists Sri Lanka had to bear the humiliation of Indian, UK and US sponsored media propaganda as the most vile human rights violating nation.. for four years and counting.

    Taking this into account outside of India’s victory as checkered as it is, Sri Lanka has her own path to follow. She too aspires to be a global presence along the lines of Singapore in some aspects and in others much greater than that of Singapore. Those decisions like that of Modi’s New Delhi have to be formed with Sri Lanka’s interests being placed first. Just like India Sri Lanka drew her strength through alliances with China. In this age of a US demise and by that an EU demise the rise of China and her proven track record of solid alliance with Sri Lanka is an asset for Sri Lanka

    One more issue, with the collapse of the Soviet Union many have stated that left the US as the sole superpower. What was not stated was that the NATO alliance also took a severe blow. Their main existence was due to the cold war. The collapse of the Soviet Union rendered the importance and potency of the NATO powers nil. Their existence is as significant to global politics as the existence of the former Soviet Union.

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