Although given to expansive talk about the global reach of India, much of the bureaucracy within the country has yet to move sufficiently beyond its subcontinental focus. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the subcontinent a high priority, breaking precedent by inviting SAARC heads of government to his 26 May 2014 swearing-in and appointing a much admired maestro of subcontinental operations as his National Security Advisor, who thereupon chose other former colleagues with the same geopolitical focus to man key slots within the security system. Overall, these former IPS officers are of exceptional quality and have done excellent work, especially in matters related to troublesome neighbours of this country. However, Pakistan’s effect on this country’s security is not based on its own domestic strengths as it is with Islamabad’s linkages. Hence, the need to work on policy approaches towards both these superpowers as would prise them loose from the hold that GHQ Rawalpindi has had on both of them for several decades. For that, the still-powerful Lutyens Zone element in the bureaucracy needs to go much further and much faster in operationalising the Prime Minister’s innovative approach to both superpowers. Unlike many of his predecessors, Modi has been unafraid of both a closer security relationship with the US as well as a deepening of the commercial relationship with China. However, on both fronts, foot-dragging by a bureaucracy still anchored to the past has resulted in the progress made on either front being well below the exploitable potential. Not to mention the continuing obsession with Pakistan to the neglect of several other parts of the globe that are far more consequential for India.
In China, the Communist Party (CCP) ruling that country since 1949 has for decades had a single-minded focus on the economy that has resulted in hugely beneficial policies, especially after Deng Xiaoping took over the leadership of the party. While Mao unified a long-fragmented China, it was Deng who made certain that his country broke away from the low-income trap that it had fallen into for centuries. However, trade between India and China is still well within the double digit range, despite its full potential approaching $300 billion. This would include investment by Chinese entities in India, financial flows from PRC banks to entities in India, receipts from tourism and services, as well as trade in commodities. Once annual financial flows between Beijing and Delhi cross $150 billion, the hold of the Pakistan-favouring People’s Liberation Army (PLA) on policy towards India will begin to get diluted, and by the time such flows near $300 billion, the CCP will embrace what has been a reality since the 1990s, that it is India rather than Pakistan that is beneficial to China’s interests, and indeed that Islamabad has been for some time antithetical to Beijing’s overall interests. Despite the rhetoric of those who seek to ensure an adversarial relationship between Delhi and Beijing and in the process throw away the China Card (thus placing India substantially at the mercy of the US), Prime Minister Modi has sought to change the paradigm for Chinese investment and tourism into India, a process which needs to be liberated from the slowness with which the security and financial policy establishment in India has dealt with the matter thus far. Simultaneously, the Modi government needs to free itself of the Lutyens Zone fear of Chinese reaction and forge closer technological ties with Taiwan, especially in the field of cyber security, apart from attracting investment from an island that has, thus far, poured nearly $400 billion into the PRC.
As for the US, it is a measure of the lack of desire for change of elements of the bureaucracy that even the logistics supply agreement (LEMOA) with the US has not yet been operationalised. This needs to be done within weeks, as do the signing and implementation of two other “foundation” agreements, the BECA and CISMOA variants that are being worked out between the US and India. Donald Trump has declined to go the way of the Euro-centred strategic establishment of the US and continue to point at Moscow as the main challenge to Washington, when that position belongs to Beijing. Instead, he has—to hysteria from both sides of the Atlantic—emulated Franklin D, Roosevelt by joining hands with Russia, thereby seeking to wean that major power away from overdependence on the actual threat to US global primacy, China. Unlike the obsolete Moscow fixation of wannabe Europeans in the US, Trump has made his choices on the basis of US interests alone, in the process working on wooing another capital crucial to a future conflict with China, Taipei, the shift of which to China would place the security interests of Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam in much greater jeopardy than presently. Given the China focus of Donald Trump, who has swatted away the efforts of the Europe lobby within Washington to blackmail him into falling in line and concentrating on Russia, it is clear that India will be able to negotiate a productive bargain with his administration in the matter of security, a circumstance which would make a more equal commercial interface much easier to secure. However, for this to happen, Prime Minister Modi will need to nudge his bureaucracy so as to ensure that they do not slow down or even sabotage his efforts, the way it is clear the Atlanticist cohort within Washington is gearing up to do come 20 January 2017. Whether it be in foreign or security policy, or indeed in recent experiments with monetary habits, the need is for the Prime Minister to be as firm on the bureaucracy, as the latter have been harsh against the people of India. Unless this be done, achievement in India will continue to lag far behind potential.