South Asia is in a sorrow state – much of its own making. India is in a sorrow state – as yesterday (8th October, 2009)  Naxals killed 17 policemen in Maharashtra and in Kabul, another attempt to blast Indian embassy resulted in similar number of deaths.

What’s happening in India? What’s happening in South Asia? And why?

Not long ago, Indian media was gung ho on ‘India superpower’ topic. I was one of the few skeptics – not because I am less or more patriotic. It’s something similar to the views one Singapore-based Indian fund manager once said: whenever in his TV interviews he states Sensex may correct more than many other markets, he has been perceived as a non-patriotic.

The last two years may or may not have seen decoupling conclusively – however one decoupling that has happened conclusively is comparing India along with China in global forums and media. President Obama would be visiting Asia next month – India does not feature in the list of nations.

India, like China, deserves to be a superpower if counted by its population only. However sadly, in global stage, population numbers don’t count. And India still struggles to get a seat in the UNP5.

Question is: how much has India (and whole of South Asia) prospered relatively in (1) infrastructure, biggest of which is education; (2) regional collaboration, and (3) social justice over the last two or three decades? The world has been more concerned about Sub-Saharan Africa (and good to see they score better compared to South Asia in many parameters of HDI) whereas South Asia has further created problems of its own.

It was comforting to see Rahul Gandhi recognizing part of the Naxal-problem, true with some political color, when he attributed lack of governance and improvement of quality of life as the root cause. On the Naxalite menance, Home Minister Chidambarm is again right when he said that agitation and terrorism by Naxalites is hampering further progress of these backward regions. But that’s the obvious well-known problem, and not the solution. In-spite of that problem, we need to find a solution going beyond the chicken and egg story of vicious cycles of poverty to destructive agitations.

 Externally too, India does not feature prominently in ASEAN or in discussions when many Asian nations talk about a common currency following the Euro.

The ‘easy and acceptable’ Indian view of above would be India faced tremendous challenge from inside out (diversity along with terrorism leave aside corruption) and outside in (unfriendly neighbors). The best example of the inside problem is the presence of elements like Raj Thackeray in Indian politics, whom media projected recently and who proudly showed his concern for Maharashtra by speaking in Marathi in national channels. Credits must be due to both Raj Thackeray and those channels!

The other view could be – can something else work because following the same path has not solved domestic problems, neither has Indian stature in AfPak, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh or even with China has gone up in recent years.  One can even include Iran and Myanmar in South Asia, and again indecisiveness of India has acted against Indian interest (or broader interest of humanity) there. The reason is primarily Indian indecisiveness.

Best example of that is found when no one globally notices India as a responsible nuclear power (unlike Pakistan or even China), however what they notice is India has not signed the NPT.

The best example of this indecisiveness is epitomized in many an external relationship. I often heard from Indian Diaspora in African continent that whenever due to a natural calamity, some country there is affected – India takes years to send food grains/relief materials (due to bureaucratic delays) whereas assistance from China reaches them in days. It helps in creating public opinion.  

Columnists (or bloggers) live with critics and one such feedback (by one Andrew) to one of my earlier related columns in BNN read like: ‘This is why India has no friend in the world because India is always so selfish. If India become a superpower, it will be the most selfish country too.’

For deliberate reason, I avoided the next sentence that Andrew had in his feedback. However as one sees how India stands in regional and global forums, one can’t but avoid noticing that India doesn’t have much friends to count on in the world or even within South Asia (or broader Asia). And leave aside the blowing Indian mainstream media, in the grassroot levels, India may not have many friends of its domestic policies too if the Naxal problem is indeed as deep as it’s popularly projected (25% of Indian districts). Naxals may be one such dividing force, India actually has many more. And surprisingly, all these happen in the land of Mahatma Gandhi!

I could not help but write a painful spoof article on that sometime back (India warns Iraq with Cold War rhetoric). One can replace Iraq with AfPak today whereas India again remains the common contender.

It’s time probably India relooks at its South Asian policies – ensuring militants are never helped by neighboring countries trying to settle scores with India (or any other countries). A true spirit of partnership rather than outdoing each-other is what is needed in all of South Asia, including India. A stable Pakistan is in India’s interest and so is for Pakistan. A strong China can be for India’s interest and as the largest power in South Asia, respecting India’s rightful positions can be of China’s interest. And all these interests can benefit 20% or more global people who live in South Asia. Even it is time that the west (the US, EU) involves local powers (India and also China) in solving their problems in AfPak.

India should also ensure that domestic imbalances are taken care from its roots rather than parliamentarian speeches and faulty policy-implementations. That probably demands reviewing how the Constitution works in grass-root levels.

India and whole of South Asia indeed needs a lot of genuine help from rest of the world – for the betterment of South Asia and for the betterment of the world. The rest of the world should not find faults with South Asia – due to its inherent unique historical characteristics. They should rather try genuinely to resolve same.

Lastly – this article needs a disclaimer. ‘India – a failed state’ may raise a lot of eyebrows within India and unnecessary criticism by being ‘not in the same page’ (or for South Asia). One such example comes to mind when a recent UN discussion talked about comparing caste based differentiation with racism and applying same to India. Many in India viewed that would embarrass India. But the truth is something deeper (and as stated by Rahul Gandhi again when he said he doesn’t believe in caste) and may be in grass-root Indian culture. Can we ask the UN to help us resolve that problem rather than finding fault with our historical diversity or even denying the problem? Can we ask UN to help us in improving literacy rather than lecturing alone (and spare the public-private mode there)?

The objective of the article is to ensure India should never be anywhere close to a failed state and South Asia should never look like a failed region. But recent events are indeed disturbing. By taking the worst possible scenario, it’s time to re-think how India as the largest country in South Asia and as one deeply affected formalizes her internal policies and external relationships. India, due to her stature in South Asia, definitely owns a significant responsibility in bringing peace, stability and growth in the whole region. However lately we only see failures. And the blame games can’t continue.

The best thing one can learn from the media in the west is to critically self-evaluate oneself rather than glorifying oneself (what China so far does). Indian media would probably do more justice to India by critically (and not superficially) examining the effectiveness of India’s external and internal policies, if anything like that at all exists. And that goes for countries in other South Asian nations as well.

One can learn from failures, alternatively one can sink further in those failures.  If Russia and the US can do business leaving aside cold war memories, if the US and the communist China can do business for mutual benefit; why can’t China, India (and if need be with Pakistan, Bangladesh and others) do business for mutual benefit?

It’s time to think outside the box for the problems that India and whole of South Asia faces. That genuine out of the box thinking must start from India, percolate to the other South Asian nations and finally to the rest of the world.

Ranjit can be followed at Twitter @ http://twitter.com/RanjiGoswami

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