India 2020: How To Win Friends
One can count this as a huge achievement. Churchill's observation that India was no more a country than the equator was true at the time of its pronouncement, a mere hundred years ago. The British empire walked into India virtually unnoticed because there was, to be honest, no India in any sense: They traded with various Nabob's territory and bought the empire over a few years. One can argue that India was discovered, somewhat, by the dismemberment of its territory, which every Indian now resents to, and with the creation of Pakistan. In a sense, not only Pakistan was born out of a negativity to the concept of India; modern India was born as a reverse image of what Pakistanis imagined.
But that seems a long way away, at least now. Effectively, an India was imagined and sculpted, its thousands of years of History remoulded with a new imagination and even its Gods rediscovered in a new form. That's usual with nationalism. What Ashok's roads, Akbar's armies and British tax codes couldn't achieve, Bollywood movies on Television and Cricket (till the recent debacles, one may argue) achieved within a few short years. This is an India both in denial and a counterclaim of its own history, forever in search of its rightful place in the world.
This India is deeply disturbing to its neighbours, as they were undergoing their own nationalist transformation. From a self-effacing Bengali nationalism in Bangladesh to almost technocratic pride in Pakistan, to the search of Sinhala identity in Sri Lanka and a new secular Nepal unhinged from its King, the whole region seems to be deeply obsessed with what may be called, with justification, an European disease. The world, for these nations, seemed to be defined by a few arbitrary lines drawn by some colonial grandee rather than the nature: It is a race to prove that the countries that exist must have always existed.
Nationalism is always about redefining the past and we have already paid the price once in Europe. It seems that the game is addictive and we can't just get out of it. There is every possibility that South Asia will become nasty. The competition between neighbours are always there, but also a general dislike for India and Indians, as a regional bully and its attitude that they are the only real 'country' and rest are just there. The problem with nationalism is that everyone thinks the same and claims to be authentic.
The problem with India is that this does not help its search for rightful place. As the Second most populous nation on earth, it wants to be on global top table, at least wherever the Chinese get an invitation. But, the trouble is, it can't even get out of its own backyard. It behaves that narcissistic lady who spend so much time in front of the mirror that she can't go to the party. When it claims that it should be consulted in world affairs, its failure to get along well with its neighbours come to haunt it.
One would wonder why, with so many intelligent leaders, India still can't get over it. One reason is that intelligence does not help solve problems arising out of self-obsession, and Indian polity is sort of self-obsessed. It is waiting for the world to recognise its greatness: Alas, no one other than those trading in Indian bonds has any time for that.
So, one should now make a start. The trouble is that this start must be made by moving to exactly the opposite direction than we were moving so far. Don't punish Pakistan by not trading with them, but just go and open the borders and let the goods flow. That would be the undoing of the ISI lot, really: The Generals can't keep inciting the hatred if there is nothing to hate. If one reads Indian customs codes, one wouldn't think India is a great power (or aspires to be) and Bangladesh is just a small country neighbouring it. It looks like the opposite, that India is terrified that Bangladeshi goods will flood the market and Bangladeshis will drive Indian workers out of work. How exactly?
India, if it has to achieve its imagined greatness, have to get out of hole that it has dug for itself. As the big country, it is up to us to start the respect culture: We respect the others, we shall get respect. And armies don't win friends: They can merely keep enemies away. So, lining up Jawans on the border is not the way to build a great country: It is merely behaving like an insecure and quarrelsome neighbour. I think before India start thinking that it should have a role to play in solving world's problems, it needs to solve its own and of its neighbours. That Indian leader, who does not see Pakistan as a threat, but an opportunity to build a productive partnership (as with the others in the region), will take the country to the next level.
As always, we wait.