SO addicted is India’s power elite to being treated as the representative of an unstoppable rising great power that it finds the recent decline in India’s global stature incomprehensible.
The decline is unmistakable. The “India Story” is no longer the flavour of the month, “the Next China” metaphor has faded from the Western media, and the seamy side of politics is being highlighted, including corruption.
Added to this is Mr. Narendra Modi’s hate-filled bid for power, rising threat from communalism, growing exposure of crime-politics links, and the December 16 rape, which underscore society’s ugly pathologies.
The negative perception is reinforced by the economic slowdown and the steeply falling rupee. With manufacturing shrinking, India is no longer seen as a fast-industrialising nation. Nor is she the preferred destination of foreign direct investment, as she was only a year ago.
The rudest shock, however, comes from India’s so-far-unsuccessful bid to secure one of the 10 non-permanent seats for 2020-21 on the United Nations Security Council from the Asian quota.
India threw its hat in the ring for a permanent Council seat with Germany, Japan and Brazil (G-4). But it’s now hard for India to get support even for a temporary seat. Vietnam, a candidate for the Asian-quota seat, wants India to stand down if it wants Vietnam’s support for the G-4. Or else, India will face a contest in 2019.
India held a two-year Council seat until last December, and celebrated its victory in 2010 as a “big day for diplomacy” (the-then foreign minister S.M. Krishna) and a “monumental” triumph.
In reality, India won just one more vote than tiny Colombia despite a furiously energetic campaign in which Krishna spoke to 123 foreign ministers, and India got Kazakhstan to withdraw its candidature.
An India-Vietnam contest would set back their bilateral relations. They see a common adversary in China: India, because of its long-term rivalry with China and its Look East policy, and Vietnam because of China’s territorial claims on it.
Equally fraught would be the 2020 election, in which Afghanistan wants its first non-permanent seat. India, which seeks influence in Afghanistan after US withdrawal in 2014, will be hard put to deny it this. India also wants to get Afghanistan’s nascent democratic institutions international legitimisation.
When the Asian-seat election comes up yet again in 2021, the United Arab Emirates will be a candidate. Opposing the UAE, where millions of Indians work, would be tough. Nor can India in 2022 easily oppose Mongolia, which it is cultivating strategically. 2023′s likely contender is Pakistan, which backed India in 2010.
Thus, India probably won’t get back into the Council for a decade-plus without a contest. India’s experience in fighting Council elections isn’t happy. When it last contested, in 1996, Japan humiliated it 142-to-40.
So much for former Indian UN ambassador Hardeep Puri’s earlier boast: “We are entering the Security Council … after a gap of 19 years…we have no intentions of leaving the Security Council … Before we complete our two-year term we will be a permanent member…”!
The G-4 face tough opposition from the “Coffee Club” comprising Pakistan, Italy, Spain, South Korea, Mexico and others. China is allergic to Japan’s permanent-seat bid and will probably resist India’s till the very end. So support for India from the US, France, Britain and Russia won’t ensure the absence of a veto.
India’s Council bid is driven by a search for (false) prestige, not a transformative universal agenda. In 2011-12, India offered no forward-looking perspective, nor even resistance to the dominant powers in the Council.
India failed to prevent the “responsibility to protect” paragraph enabling attacks on Libya, with disastrous consequences. India failed to raise major issues such as reform of the International Financial Institutions, the global economic crisis, and North-South inequalities.
To boost its power, India has joined numerous alliances/regional groupings, including BASIC (Brazil-South Africa-India-China) in the climate negotiations, IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa) for South-South cooperation, and BRICS (Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa), and others.
These “force multipliers” haven’t performed to expectation. BASIC was created mainly to ward off pressure from the developed countries most responsible for causing climate change. But this substantially weakened the developing-country Group-of-77, of which India was a leading member.
At the Durban climate conference (2011), the developed countries and many poor developing countries ganged up against BASIC. Since then, South Africa has broken ranks with BASIC on the legal form of a new climate agreement to be negotiated by 2015.
BRICS comprises five of the world’s fastest-growing economies, with 40% of its population, 27% of its purchasing-power GDP, 15% of trade and two-fifths of foreign currency reserves. But it has failed to translate its clout into radical reform of the global economy.
Take the global Great Recession. Instead of challenging neoliberalism, and demanding a sea-change in the world financial system, BRICS accepted Western-dictated (non)-solutions, which perpetuate corporate power, speculation and inequality, and impose harsh “austerity” upon working people.
During the 2010 World Bank debate, ostensibly to promote voting-power “parity” between developing and developed countries, BRICS went along with cosmetic changes.
The low-income countries’ vote-share in the Bank only rose marginally from 34.67% to 38.38%, leaving over 60% to the rich. Post-“reform”, China’s share (3.23%) remains smaller than France or Britain’s (4.20%), and Brazil’s lower than the Netherlands.’
These failures partly explain the growing disenchantment with India among concerned citizens and underprivileged people.
India still can play a worthy global role if it returns to the agendas of a just economic and political world order, becomes an advocate-campaigner for the world’s subjugated and dispossessed people, upholds non-military dispute resolution, and champions elimination of mass-destruction weapons.
But this means giving up the addiction to power projection by military means, abandoning delusions about India’s assured place at the world’s High Table, urgently improving relations with neighbours as a high priority, and articulating a humane, compassionate global vision.
But can India’s elite, which does just the opposite domestically, invest India’s global power with such universal purpose?
The writer is an eminent Indian columnist. E-mail: email@example.com