M D Nalapat: India to China: “Treat Us As Equals”
Unlike in the US, where experts have a decisive say in the formulation of foreign policy, in India the political establishment is reluctant to cede space to experts while determining policy towards other countries. Since the time of Jawaharlal Nehru (1947-64), successive Prime Ministers have fashioned policy less on the basis of ground reality than on their own predelictions and political needs. The result has been policies that often act only as short-term palliatives, without resolving core issues. And because the power of the elected Prime Minister is constrained only by his council of ministers and Parliament, policies get implemented that usually have little support among the people or even the bulk of the cadre of the ruling party or parties
An example is “non-alignment”, which resulted in India failing in the 1960s to reap the dividend (of becoming a source for equipment and other procurement) that the Asian tiger economies of South Korea and Singapore got because of the huge expenses incurred in the region by the US. Interestingly, when the PRC was formed in 1949 and for more than a decade thereafter, China had a per capita income half that of India. Today, the situation is reversed. And while countries such as South Korea had a standard of living close to what was then the case in India just forty years ago, today that country is an advanced economy, while India has 300 million desperately poor people. Yes, for the 300 million “middle class” in India, the country is beginning to shine. But for the rest, life is still extremely dismal
It was the Congress Party’s first prime minister outside the Nehru family to complete a full term (of 5 years), Pamulaparthy Venkata Narasimha Rao (PVN Rao), who in 1992 began to unshackle both the economy and foreign policy from the Colonial-Cold War past. Rao recognized Israel, and began the “Look East” policy that reversed two decades of Delhi’s neglect towards the present ASEAN group. He made several efforts to coax the US to enter into the same kind of alliance with India that Delhi had enjoyed with Moscow for four decades, but met indifference from a Clinton administration that focussed only on two touchy areas, nuclear capability and Kashmir. Bill Clinton was blind to the multiple links that were developing between his country and India during his eight years in office (1993-2001), links that comprised hundreds of thousands of Indian students and migrants heading towards the US, as well as numerous business and other partnerships. Finally, the volume of such US-India interaction became too much for Clinton to continue to ignore, and he visited India during his final months in office, charming hearts liberally.
Professor M.D. Nalapat is director of the School of Geopolitics at Manipal University in Manipal, India. A gold medalist in economics from Bombay University, Professor Nalapat’s original theories include the India-China-Russia Trilateral Alliance (1983).