Column: How the next decade can be India’s

Dec 31 2009, 02:01 IST
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SummaryIn the past decade India has proved its resilience. The nation survived two global recessions and multiple terrorist attacks with its secular democracy intact and its economy stronger...

In the past decade India has proved its resilience. The nation survived two global recessions and multiple terrorist attacks with its secular democracy intact and its economy stronger than ever. Along the way it gained de facto admission to the club of nuclear weapon states and established itself as a future world power.

India’s task in the coming decade is to make this future a reality. For the world to accept India as a major power, it has to start acting like one, not just talking like one. Here are 10 things that should be on India’s to-do list for the next 10 years:

Quit NAM: The organisation’s membership is a who’s who of third rate powers. To be in NAM is a declaration of impotence. India has outgrown it, and should withdraw. The remaining members can then non-align themselves against India if they wish.

Forget the UN Security Council: Indians should be embarrassed at its government’s repeated requests for a permanent seat on the UNSC. It is a legacy institution comprised of the victors of a war that ended 65 years ago. Three of its five members are declining powers. India should look towards the 21st century and prepare itself for the new conflicts that will confer great power status.

Build a world-class navy: India has the fourth largest navy in the world—in terms of manpower. But wars are won by tonnage, not by headcount. In tonnage, India’s navy is currently seventh, behind France and at one half of China’s strength. India needs to be among the top three in navy: at par with China and behind only the US.

Complete the NPT Two-Step: It’s a nice dance move. Say the NPT is discriminatory and you will not sign it. Get an exemption to trade in nuclear technology anyway. Then, once you are a de facto nuclear weapon state, say you would like to be admitted to the NPT. It will be another triumph of nuclear cunning if India can pull it off.

Police the neighbourhood: India was traumatised by the IPKF experience but must get over it. Great powers do not let anyone mess with them in their neighbourhood. A young America declared in the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 that it would not tolerate any further European colonies in the Western Hemisphere. Britain sees as an act of aggression occupation of the low country ports of Holland or Belgium by another power. Russia fought a war in 2008 to keep Georgia from getting too chummy with NATO. So, why is India letting the Chinese build a port in Sri Lanka? India has to defend its perimeter or it will find itself vulnerable to more strategic-thinking adversaries.

Lock up natural resources: Here India needs to take a page from China’s playbook. From South America to Africa, China has been sealing deals for the minerals to feed its growing industrial base. India has to start to catch up, and quickly.

Start India’s own H-1B programme: It is time for India to become a net importer of talent. Smart employees worldwide will flock to India’s growth. If Mumbai is to become a global financial centre, it will have to have as many foreigners as Hong Kong or London.

Open up the higher education sector: Apart from infrastructure, education is India’s greatest barrier to faster, more inclusive economic growth. For higher education, many students have no choice but to go abroad for studies, and their parents’ money goes with them. Others can neither afford to go abroad nor get a place in India. This is an intolerable situation for a nation that values education and self-improvement. The only way to change it fast is with outside help. The government should pass the Foreign Education Providers Bill.

Sell Indian culture overseas: Global powers enhance their influence by exporting their popular culture to the world. The English and the French did it with literature; America has done it with film and television. India has a thriving English-language creative industry that is an untapped instrument of influence. The Indian government should devote more energy and taxpayer money to selling Indian culture overseas, from Bollywood to high literature. The Chinese are nowhere in this regard, having hardly encouraged artistic expression, much less in English. India has a real opportunity to step forward and define new global artistic motifs for Asia’s Century.

Find India’s own Teddy Roosevelt: A century ago, America had a thoroughly modern, young President unafraid to stake a claim to global power status. TR mediated an end to the Russo-Japanese War, dug the Panama Canal and showed off the US navy on a world tour. India needs its own TR for the 21st century. He or she will change the way the world sees India and the way India sees itself.

India’s restraint in the face of provocations over the past decade has earned it the world’s respect and paid economic dividends. To become a world power, India will have to continue to build its economic and military strength, flex its muscles and—where necessary—shed its blood. Nations become great powers by winning wars. There is no other way.

The author is a former US diplomat

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