Last week speaking at the India Economic Summit Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urged the audience to accept the idea of India as an economic powerhouse. "History will judge us harshly for not making bold to make it happen," he said. "Why should we be gripped by diffidence? Why should we live in fear of globalization?" Earlier at the same forum Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran for the first time acknowledged that after the emergence of China as a global economic powerhouse, closer Indo-US tie would help maintain a balance of power in Asia. He said both America and India could contribute to a new security paradigm for the region. But he hastened to rule out the containment of China as an objective. "I wonder if that is at all practical, given the scale of the US-China engagement," he said.
The Foreign Secretary was right. To think that America would jeopardize its relations with China for the sake of India would be presumptuous. To conclude that America would protect India's core interests simply by having closer engagement would be reckless. The PM rightly implied that globalization is inevitable. Security collaboration with America is most desirable. But the American vision of the New World Order (NWO) is questionable. There are more imaginative ways of advancing globalization.
If mankind is to survive, a world order is inevitable. Technology dictates it. Both Hegel and Marx dreamt of it. Hegel advanced the dialectic and the determinist view of history. History he thought would progress towards a world order through thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis. Marx adopted this vision, but with an important difference. For Hegel progression lay through clash of families, tribes and nations. For Marx it lay through class differences and class struggle. The Marxian vision implied a centralized world order after the state withered away. In Hegel's vision a federal world order was implicit. After those ancient visions emerged America's concept of NWO espoused by the first President Bush following Desert Storm. His son, the present President, is attempting crudely to translate that vision into reality. As a result he has made NWO a hated term. He has made globalization unpopular inside America itself. An increasing number of Americans yearn for a return to isolationist America.
That is a pity. America had the opportunity to evolve and become the hub of a genuine democratic world order. For that its leaders would have had to rise above narrow nationalism and act like world citizens. Instead they adopted a myopic vision and unleashed unprincipled policies. Ironically, America has never been in classic sense a nation. It was a bizarre experiment that miraculously succeeded. It is a land of migrants drawn to its shores from all corners of the world during a few centuries. People came in search of fortune and freedom. Almost every American has dual loyalties. He is loyal to America as well as to his family roots. This could have become a source of great strength had America emerged as the hub of a federal world order. International disputes could have been resolved through interaction of global lobbies inside the US. Instead America has emerged as a chauvinist nation bullying the world. Its government has failed to protect its own people from exploitation by transnational corporations. These corporations have created a centralized global system through marketing in which profit takes precedence over loyalty to nation as well as over concern for humanity. Surely this is not the kind of globalization that the PM wants India to enter? So, what is the alternative?
No other big power offers prospect of a better alternative. Russia is yet to recover from the damage inflicted by its misadventure with communism. China is more subversive, equally hegemonic as the US. Europe made a flying start. De Gaulle's vision made European Union the most revolutionary political accomplishment of the twentieth century. It was the first institutional expression of cultural oneness. Its fifteen founding members shared history and culture. They were overwhelmingly Catholic. Now it too is coming unstuck. Driven by the corporate world it expanded mindlessly to include East Europe, and possibly Turkey. Citizens of its original member nations are beginning to turn their backs on it. Its progress has slowed down. When politics gets divorced from economics, such things do happen.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should take note. Before India can effectively play a global role it must do a lot more than achieve a 10% rate of growth. It must set its house in order. To do that it must initiate constitutional reform and political reform. There is not space enough here to outline how that might be achieved. The government needs to prepare a vision document which might serve as a roadmap for policy in the coming decades. Only after such reform might India look beyond its borders as a global player.
India's first priority must be to create a New Asian Order. Learning from history, it must avoid the pitfalls of the European Union. The SAARC nations broadly represent the contours of South Asia's cultural oneness. Whatever views the respective governments of South Asia may have, however much its peoples may be influenced by them, the close cultural links existing among peoples stretching from Afghanistan to Sri Lanka, from Baluchistan to Dhaka, are undeniable. International borders of South Asian nations are a legacy of imperialist colonialism. The Radcliffe Award dividing Punjab, the Durand Line dividing Northwest Frontier Province, or the border between West Bengal and Bangladesh violated all norms of nationhood. But they have endured for over half a century. People have developed emotional attachment to their respective sovereign nations. That is where the original EU can become a model to emulate. It would allow the subcontinent to re-establish its unity without compromising national sovereignties.
Some SAARC member states want China to join it in order to checkmate India. India has made its share of mistakes in the past. But it would be extreme folly to ignore historical cultural oneness by subverting the original purpose of SAARC. Bangladesh, Nepal and some sections inside Pakistan are attempting to do this. If they remain adamant, India should walk out of the Association. Bilateral relations with all nations would then be more rewarding. The eventual emergence of a South Asian Union as the political expression of a cultural entity is inevitable. If SAARC members are smart they will achieve it through peaceful diplomacy.
Otherwise, painful events would compel them to accept the same result. Nature has a relentless way of asserting itself. Kashmir is not the only trouble spot. The rulers of Pakistan might consider the developing unrest in Baluchistan which remained independent for full one year before Pakistan annexed it by force. Or they might view the situation in NWFP. The tribal belt bordering Afghanistan has not been ruled by outsiders for a hundred years. Today it is a recruitment centre and sanctuary for Al Qaeda. These trouble spots can be fatal. A South Asian community having joint defence, a common market and free movement of labor and capital for all member states would go a long way to defuse these trouble spots.
Only after a New Asian Order based on democratic federalism becomes a reality might India meaningfully turn its attention to UN reform, disarmament, or reform of world trade. Most Indians would ridicule the idea of India playing a leading role in shaping the New World Order. They would be mistaken. The world has entered an era in which brains can be more powerful than big bombs and big banks. It is a world in which one can go over all the heads of all governments to reach people with new ideas. India may never become the most wealthy or powerful nation. But it can strive to deliver high quality to life. While lying in the gutter one can see the stars. One can dream of touching them. Achievement begins with a dream.