Can India Become a World Power Without Resolving Internal Discord?
Image used for representational purposes.
Image used for representational purposes.(Photo: Kamran Akhter / The Quint)

Can India Become a World Power Without Resolving Internal Discord?

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  • In 2014, the Indian voter had shrugged off the decade-old UPA regime, whose lack of resolve and lethargy had allowed the ‘affairs of state’ to drift.
  • Clarion calls for ‘vikas’, ‘swachhta’, ‘make-in-India’ and ‘maximum governance’ were welcomed; Utopia seemed around the corner.
  • Reality has played out differently. The promise of India’s economy, dubbed the world’s ‘fastest growing’ for many years, has proved to be illusory.
  • Two measures — abrogation of Article 370 in J&K, and passage of the CAB — have annoyed Muslim nations and invited opprobrium from UN.
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Reflecting on the current state of affairs in our country, one is reminded of the ‘lemming syndrome’, which refers to the reputed suicidal proclivity of these small rodents. Driven by an irrational instinct, lemmings are said to jump, en-masse, off cliffs, and drown in waters below.

It is not too long ago, that India was the cynosure of the world. Its liberal and vibrant democracy which saw governments rotated with clock-work regularity, through universal suffrage, was the toast of the free-world. The manner in which India’s resilient culture had assimilated people of diverse faiths, castes and creeds into its tolerant fabric, was the envy of nations which had disintegrated in similar circumstances. Our free-market economy was amongst the fastest growing world-wide, and we looked forward to our ‘youth power’, yielding rich dividends in an ageing world.

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Why Traditional Congress Loyalists ‘Jumped Ship’ For ‘Vikas’

In 2014, the Indian voter had shrugged off the decade-old UPA regime, whose lack of resolve and lethargy had allowed the ‘affairs of state’ to drift and whose neglect or connivance had encouraged corruption on a mega scale. Fed-up with decades of rule — direct or proxy by a single family — not all of whose members were adept politicians, the electorate had voted for change.

Millions of traditional Congress loyalists had ‘jumped ship’ to bring in — what they saw as — a ‘nationalist’ regime, with a clear-cut agenda for development, and whose leadership promised to root out corruption.

It would, they hoped, pull the nation out of its rut and propel it towards the attainment of its full potential as a ‘world power’. Clarion calls for ‘vikas’, ‘swachhta’, ‘make-in-India’ and ‘maximum governance’, as well as the PM’s manifold public schemes, brought welcome benefits for the common man. Utopia seemed around the corner, but the reality was different.

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India Facing An Existential Crisis?

The current government has demonstrated that with its huge majority in Parliament, it can legislate and enforce any agenda that it wants to. The ruling party’s exclusive focus on implementing measures to bolster its vote bank, for now and for 2024, raises two questions:

  • Do they pause to consider whether their short-term ‘political interests’ are coincident or even convergent with the country’s long-term ‘national interests’?
  • Secondly, are they conscious of the dire need for national interest to be given priority over all else?

Without entering into specifics, let me point out some developments that have existential implications for India.

First, the promise of India’s economy, dubbed the world’s ‘fastest growing’ for many years, has proved to be illusory, and the resultant slow-down has aggravated urban unemployment and agrarian distress. This has also impacted the cohort of hopeful millennials emerging from schools and colleges, who now see a bleak future. Many of the highly-publicised post-2014 economic initiatives have not only failed to deliver, but are being seen as having contributed significantly to the downturn.

Secondly, a slowing economy has led to defence budgets that are shrinking (in real terms), and grossly inadequate to sustain existing force levels – leave alone undertake re-equipment of our armed forces.

This is cause for serious concern in the context of rapidly modernising components of China’s powerful armed forces. We must remain mindful of the ominous Sino-Pakistan Axis formed expressly to pose a threat, and to contain India.

India Has Annoyed Muslim Nations & Earned Censure From UN

Thirdly, the August 2019 abrogation of Article 370 and downgradation of J&K — India’s only Muslim majority state — to a Union Territory has been accompanied by prolonged curbs on communications and civil liberties. This was followed by the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in December 2019, whose provisions offer Indian citizenship to followers of six religions from neighbouring Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh, pointedly excluding Muslims.

These two measures have served to annoy Muslim nations and invited opprobrium from the UN and many European states, adversely impacting India’s international standing.

Finally, even as the MEA tries to deflect criticism by claiming that these are India’s ‘internal matters’, widespread public demonstrations and campus protests are taking place across India, against CAA and the impending National Register of Citizens (NRC). Violence and allegations of police brutality are attracting criticism and even condemnation world-wide.

Govt Must Separate Political Agenda From National Interest

India had weathered past crises such as the 1971 War and 1998 nuclear tests with aplomb on the strength of its sterling international reputation and its people rallying behind the government. In the present instance, not only is there major internal discord, but significant segments of our population apprehend discrimination and eventual marginalisation. Moreover, there is alarming intolerance of any opposition, with dissent being branded as sedition.

If a uniquely diverse and heterogeneous India is to survive without succumbing to the ‘lemming syndrome’, a distinction must be made between political agendas and national interest.

India’s supreme national interest demands internal peace, harmony and unity so that its multiple challenges can be addressed; everything else is a distraction from the vital task of nation-building. For this, the government must reach out to its people – especially the youth – and seek a national consensus over issues of contention.

(Admiral Arun Prakash (Retd) has formerly been Chief of the Naval Staff of the Indian Navy, and Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee. He tweets @arunp2810. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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