In the decades after Indian independence, Western powers, led by the UK and later increasingly the US, were irritated and disappointed with Nehru’s India. Nehru’s exaggerated view of his world standing, mostly in his own estimation, led to imparting gratuitous advice to the US on the Korean war and relaying of messages about the likelihood of Chinese entry into the war if US forces crossed the Yalu river. This warning was dismissed by the US and the Chinese duly entered the war that ended in bloody stalemate and loss of lives on the kind of grand scale that Western powers usually countenance if the slaughtered are non-white. A conviction had been growing in the West that Nehru’s India was mostly a Soviet stooge and nonalignment a cover for typical Brahminical Indian duplicity. At the same time, India itself played the game of maintaining equidistance between the Cold War antagonists poorly and the Pakistanis jumped on to the Western Cold War bandwagon, joining CENTO and SEATO with alacrity. As good Muslims, they were enthusiastic in taking up the cudgels against godless communism and win favours in their rivalry with India in the bargain. They reaped rich dividends by garnering Western support for their revisionist aspirations in the Indian subcontinent that would have otherwise terminated in due course.
The inadequacies of Nehru’s world-view were laid bare by the punitive Chinese military chastisement of India in 1962 that exposed the naïve intellectual and political pretensions of its ruling clique. It is also possible that anti-communist senior army officers and others at the highest levels of Indian intelligence services, suspicious of Nehruvian India’s political drift, were content at the national military setback. They may have even hoped it would bounce India into the Western Cold War camp. The stout anti-communist political culture of India’s British-spawned intelligence services was ingrained before Indian independence and they had continued to collaborate with the British authorities after it, apparently without keeping Nehru fully informed. The subsequent upsurge of communism in West Bengal in the mid-1960s led to covert US intervention and joint sponsorship with China, by then a firm de facto ally against the Soviet Union, of a self-destructive Maoist split within Indian communism and fratricidal violence. Local issues were easily galvanised to mobilise anti-CPM Naxalite activity that also had the merit of destabilising a truculent Indira Gandhi on her eastern flank for her intervention in East Pakistan. The CPM suffered the greatest damage during the bitter violence that only subsided after 1972 amidst harsh security measures.
India has always remained an important prize in global geopolitics and it was the Canadian High Commissioner to India in the 1950s who recounts, in his memoirs, a conversation with the Delhi CIA chief that India alone could supply the manpower for a major military encounter in the contemporary world. Nothing had apparently changed in India’s perceived usefulness to imperial powers since Britain waged wars across the world, from the late nineteenth century, with Indian manpower, during the Anglo-Boer war, the blood-soaked trenches of France and the deserts of West Asia.
The contemporary world has sandwiched India between the two new superpowers, seeking to establish their spheres of dominion. US pretensions of primacy after the collapse of Soviet power in 1990 were rapidly shown to be hollow. The overthrow of regimes across the Middle east and Afghanistan and elsewhere in the world demonstrated its ability to initiate unbridled chaos where it sought regime change, but not create and sustain a preferred outcome. The trillions of dollars spent on military ventures, partly because as a reserve currency the US has been pretty much unconstrained in its ability to misspend, was to no discernible beneficial purpose. The principal legatee of US folly has been China, whose mercantilist control of the national economy allowed targeted expenditure on the sinews of economic, technological and military power though denying, in the process, the Chinese people levels of consumption they might have wished had they been permitted. China has now overtaken the US in a whole range of advanced technologies and manufacturing capacity though the US still remains preeminent overall, when the wider portfolio of capabilities is considered. But the US is increasingly challenged and unable to achieve goals like reversing China’s economic ransacking of its knowledge capital and hollowing out its manufacturing base. China now possesses countervailing power and the ability to impose costs on the US for action against it.
India is in an unenviable predicament, contrary to the lazy Indian imputation of a privileged position as a supposed so-called ‘swing power’. India is alleged to enjoy bargaining power with the major global contenders for political and military domination because it possesses the capacity to tilt the balance in favour of either party by joining it. This conviction is false. Quite clearly, India cannot join China, with which it has insuperable conflicts of interest and it is wholly a supplicant dependent on US goodwill, as all its actions in the past two decade have underlined. So much for deep reflection by prominent Indian thinkers, too many of them personally connected to US institutions and unable to think unsparingly of India’s perilous fate. A good place to start would be to recognise that the US has always been a ruthless imperialist power that only pursues its own declared interests regardless of the cost to others. This has been the history of US expansion westward within the US itself, though contextually different from the barbaric wars it has fought, whether in the ‘peaceful assimilation’ of the Philippines in 1898 or Vietnam in the 1960s to recent scorched earth wars waged in the Middle East. It is not fundamentally different from how Roman Consul Scipio Africanus subjugated Carthage pitilessly. Indians themselves cannot really preposterously imagine they alone in the world are exempt from malafide US attention and the brutal realities of US power political goals. It is therefore vital for Indians to reverse their national penchant for looking at the outside world from within and an Indian perspective and try to understand, without sentiment and self-regard, how the US might use India to pursue its own foreign policy aims.
A preeminent US goal is to make India a durable outpost for itself and expunge its long history of self-indulgent autonomous behaviour that was punctuated with becoming the midwife at Bangladesh’s birth, against vehement US opposition, and the nuclear tests of 1998. The US has long regarded India and its leaders with disdain and may well have had a hand in the elimination of Indira Gandhi, which had been pledged by the Nixon administration after she intervened to create Bangladesh. India is now mainly useful to the US as a counterweight to China, but helping it attain its economic goal of becoming a robust self-reliant economy is not something to which the US is giving priority. It has learnt the lesson of sponsoring China to counter the USSR and ending up with a militaristic rival. The US surely does not now want to catalyse the racial nightmare of two powerful Asian economies challenging the historic primacy of people of European-origin, first inaugurated by Christopher Columbus.
In the contemporary global geopolitical setting, any Indian leader found to be negotiating in earnest with China to create diplomatic and political space for India to progress will likely meet the same fate as Indira Gandhi. They will also face myriad forms of domestic unrest through the many US proxies that roam free across the land. One ongoing and now successful US goal has to been to sponsor, with its ever-eager British allies, massive religious conversions across India in order to reinforce US capacity to pressurise an incumbent GoI by triggering domestic protest. The entire south beyond the Vindhyas seems poised to become a de facto federation that will instantly look to the West to defend its political autonomy and cultural identity as a nascent Christian people, in a couple of decades at most. An India-specific US State Department division already exists, in the shape of USCIRF, to organise a full-scale political and diplomatic crusade against India that would likely include crippling economic sanctions. India’s extremely valuable IT exports are basically an outsourced US economic activity and these Indian IT companies are already in bed with the US State Department and funding dissent in India by allies of US evangelist organisations, masquerading as leftists and human rights campaigners. In addition, Pakistan remains a potent old US lever with which to put pressure on India and China has also been using it like a tap since the late 1950s. No US leader has ever truly sided with India in relation to Pakistan except to make symbolic gestures, though that is what apparently satisfies India and its leaders.
China has some known territorial ambitions against India that will likely escalate if India faces military defeat and domestic chaos, a taste of which has recently been experienced in many Indian cities. In addition, other Indian neighbours have territorial claims against India and Nepal’s revival of them of late has been instigated by an evangelist group banned in India but active in it. The elimination of Indian influence by the surge of Christianity in Nepal is an echo of the seizure of India’s Northeast by the church despite its nominal though uncertain status in the Indian Union. The contest for political control of Nepal and apparently much of the Himalayan foothills will eventually become a contest between Anglo-American evangelism and Chinese imperial policy. China has understood that the rapid implantation of Christianity in Nepal is a US political manoeuvre to facilitate US military access to Tibet in the event of a serious confrontation. India seems to have acquiesced to this situation, as usual, sacrificing vital long-term national interests for obscure short-term political gain and the aspirations of elites, compromised by personal and family anchoring in US society.
Bangladesh has also always had historic claims and aspirations to Assam and India’s Northeast, the original hope of how East Pakistan would be constituted in the partition of India. Its pursuit of such ambitions cannot be ruled out altogether. Incursion by its nationals into the region has created a situation on the ground that might be advanced if political circumstances are propitious, with the collapse of authority at India’s Centre and military setback on the border. Pakistani aspirations are much more extensive and include the overarching goal of cutting down India to size, which is what China also seeks. One major Pakistani goal is an independent Khalistan as neighbour, with territory that extends to Haryana, parts of Rajasthan, a coastal region of Gujarat for access to the sea and, in some maps, all of Delhi itself. Such aspirations have the support of an overwhelming majority of the Sikh diaspora and nurtured by Anglo-American officialdom.
Those who find such a potential scenario unduly fanciful might reflect that a vast swathe of the educated Indian elite in the media, public life and universities is actively engaged with foreign subversives and poised to create domestic upheaval at foreign prompting. And that alone makes such an outcome possible. It also accurately reflects the historic fate of India over centuries, accompanied by devastating invasions. Modern Indian nationalism remains weak and the instant evaporation of Shiva Sena’s patriotic platform to secure crass family ambitions is a revelatory example of the circumscribed nature of commitment to an Indian identity. It is also noteworthy that virtually all Indian-origin social science and humanities faculty and a majority of Indian students in universities abroad are fierce critics of any manifestations of Indian self-assertion. They treasonously choose to combine instead with its enemies who have committed heinous crimes against Indian security forces and Hindus of the Indian subcontinent for many decades. It is shocking to observe Indian students repeatedly participate in demonstrations, alongside Pakistanis, in leading British universities against Indian government policies they appear not to comprehend, highlighting only a default animus towards their own country. The USSR, the once mighty global superpower, provides a salutary graphic illustration of the phenomenon of rapid national collapse in its liquidation after 1990, with the complicity of its ruling communist party leadership. The territorial losses suffered by the Soviet Union and the consequent dire security and economic predicament of the successor state of Russia, is a warning to India of how fragile domestic disunity makes its place in the world. The short-term policy to resist the ever-present threat of India’s liquidation as a nation is to systematically and unsentimentally neutralise foreign-funded domestic subversion. India must also earnestly strive to avoid any wars by resorting to multi-level diplomatic manoeuvring, for at least three decades, while it augments national economic capacity and socio-political integrity. In the medium term, there is great urgency to strengthen India’s nuclear deterrence, particularly based in its submarine fleet. Serious consideration should also be given to deploying tactical battlefield nuclear weapons along the border with China once submarine-launched ballistic missiles guarantee India’s second-strike capability to deter a pre-emptive strike. In addition, sober attention is required to cybersecurity and that should include a cataclysmic offensive capability to deter others, since merely defending against an assault is more costly and less assured, in order to send a message of the consequences of launching a cyber attack on India. The third longer-term policy is to institutionalise India’s nationhood even if it means giving up some of its vaunted secular pluralism that only ensures and deepens national division and continuing the drive towards economic self-reliance. Virtually all these ideas are in fact actual operational policies and only need purposeful reinforcement and application.
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Dr. Gautam Sen taught international political economy at the London School of Economics and Political Science for over two decades.