Beating drums of progress
The world is in turmoil. From Europe to the USA to West Asia and North Africa to South Asia, it appears that the vision of the 16th century English political philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, is coming true. Hobbes had an apocalyptic notion of the world that he propagated, which held that without a sovereign state, there will be ‘war of all against all.’
In that condition of the world, Hobbes opined rather evocatively that, ‘In such condition, there is no place for industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving, and removing, such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.’
This led him to believe that there was a need of a ‘social contract,’ by which the people cede some of their sovereign rights to a sovereign authority so that the latter could promulgate laws and administer the larger society. The concept of ‘social contract’ was later further expounded upon by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the 18th century. This is the world that the Narendra Modi government has been handed down. It is easy to develop a reductionist worldview from these set of occurrences, and create a protectionist ‘fortress Indica.’ Modi in the next few weeks will be meeting the rising superpower China’s president, Xi Jinping; followed by a meeting with the president of the current superpower, Barach Obama.
So what will he tell them? Will the conversation of these two leaders be solely based on mutual interests, or will Modi and his cohort seek to define a vision that brings back peace, harmony and mutual prosperity, which have been the traditional bedrocks of New Delhi’s foreign policy. Or will they be creative, thus more pro-active if not activistic. Most of all, does India have the required resilience to sell these postulates to other world leaders? Modi has till now not unfurled his vision of the world that holds where he wants to see the world in, say, the next five years. External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj held her first press conference at the end of the third month of her ministerial tenure recently. An articulate Swaraj did not deviate from the tried and tested formulae of Indian foreign policy. She gave an impression that there was a clear design behind what the Modi government was doing internationally. But isn’t that the position of status quo?
India since independence has eschewed revisionism. Yet, in the second decade of the 21st century the world is throwing up so many challenges as terminal decline sets-in with the global power of the USA that doing nothing differently is not an option.
India will have to decide whether it will talk of the expansionist nature of the NATO in Europe; discuss what the Cold War relic’s new mission statement will be. That will define the special relationship, which the country has with the successor state of the former Soviet Union, Russia.
The USA is a simmering cauldron of social and economic inequities that are waiting burst out in the open. The story of Ferguson, Missouri, is only the preface of a significant chapter that will soon unfold, threatening to erupt and engulf it all. In West Asia, where the multi-billion dollar remittances of expatriate Indians are generated, New Delhi cannot just be a help-line number for emergency evacuation. For, the region also ensures the supply of oil and natural gas that keeps the industry running. Should India just keep a wait and watch mode, though following a nudge it has decided to support the Kurds. But the Kurds are just a minority. The majority Arabs who populate Iraq are now being threatened by a bestial group called Islamic State, which not just beheads unarmed civilians including journalists, but also have taken control of some oil production, trading it in the market (the oil market, that is, no less) clearly signaling that there are some resourceful people in the world, who are willing to fund it by buying this oil. Shouldn’t India be at the frontlines of this battle with rabid Islamists with a killer gene?
North Africa is not just affected by the scare of the spreading Ebola virus. It is also a haven of failed state actors who have given birth to the Hobbesian turmoil that threatens to expand faster than the American drones can identify terrorist perpetrators. Neighbouring Pakistan is witnessing political theatre as some globally networked people are holding the duly elected government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to ransom, all because they could marginally tap the vast mass of the unemployed youth of Pakistan. Does New Delhi have a role to play without stepping on sensitive toes, the bearers of which think all this are internal problems?
From a geo-strategic viewpoint the situation around the world is ominous. Will Prime Minister Narendra Modi have something to say and do to shape the world for India a bit? Or should we consider the newly viewed skill of drum-beating, witnessed in Japan as a signature talent of his character?
The author is a senior journalist