There has been much talk of change in the world lately. The ‘Yes, we can’ of President Barak Obama in the USA sadly gave way to Donald Trump ( how on Earth? many Americans are asking); Great Britain chose to walk out of EU (how stupid? many British are saying); Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will now permit public screening of movies and let women drive on the roads but continue to raise the ante against Iran; Afghanistan will talk to the Taliban; Turkey might yet aspire to join the EU but take a contrary position on Syria along with Russia; China will seek cooperation to combat terrorism but block any attempt to curb the vile ambitions of Hafiz Saeed; USA will break ranks with Europe and the World on Nato, Climate Change and Palestine and yet attempt to lead the free world against North Korea, et al.
One could go on and on with the depressing list. With so much confusion in the world is there much that we can expect in the New Year?
For decades, we have become accustomed in India to relative calm even as the rest of the world suffered shocks and jolts. The mid-prime crisis barely touched us; nor were we seriously impacted by the economic adversity amongst the South Asian Tigers; the Arab Spring (and its storms) left India unaffected despite our considerable dependence on the West Asian economy; turmoil in Iraq and Syria fortunately remained remote for us despite our historical connections.
But to hope that this immunity will last indefinitely is perhaps somewhat myopic given the ambition of our Prime Minister to be counted at the High Table of global politics. Where Jawahar Lal Nehru’s moral presence was once felt amongst world leaders with the persuasive backing of NAM and constant support of the Soviet Union, our incumbent Prime Minister hopes to register his voice with the help of a fickle US Administration preoccupied with its ‘America No 1’ agenda and the lure of the Indian market. The problem is that on one hand we might just be drawn into a ‘my market versus your market’ tussle given the unseemly recent trend towards renewed protectionism and expected to deliver on military coalitions that are periodically conceived by world powers.
Beyond the materialistic expectations of a world under pressure from nationalistic aspirations and depleted resources inevitably India will be watched for performance on the moral front. India’s soft power will continue to be its unique and invaluable asset despite our steady building up of military prowess. Our public speeches and impressive displays at the Republic Day parade notwithstanding, it will be a long time before we can match China’s military in size and capacity to operate away from home. But sustaining soft power will take more than hugs and handshakes! Besides we must not forget that in addition to the enormous funds that China marshals for commerce across the world they are also expanding their network of Confucius Centers.
Painting a rosy picture of our foreign policy accomplishments for domestic audiences cannot be a substitute for reliable progress on the ground. Where do we stand on Free Trade Agreements, Climate Change, Palestine, OBOR, to name but a few? Where do we stand on democracy in the Maldives or some African countries? Where do we stand on security in West Asia? But most of all what moral voice will we speak with, if our performance at home leaves many questions? Our words and deeds have had very little in common if the record of recent years is examined dispassionately. Whilst the Supreme Court has delivered a historic judgment on right to privacy it continues to grapple with the implications of the judgment even in the matter of Aadhaar that provided the occasion to rule definitely on the right. Elsewhere in matters of incarceration of real estate developers due to contractual failure or the distastefully described ‘love jehads,’ the Supreme Court has failed to fortify the high expectations of liberal jurisprudence.
Meanwhile under its watch the mob has taken over to dictate what food citizens can eat, what clothes they can wear, what visual art they can enjoy, what human relationships they can aspire to, and now what words are permissible to them to express their revulsion for an idea or strongly felt dislike for a leader. Lynching for love and cow are here; one wonders what might be next. Hate is the monopoly of some and all is fair in Hate. The State seems more willingly to allow hate than to promote love and harmony.
Much of the unwholesome ambience of contemporary politics is cussedly and arrogantly considered vindicated by continuing electoral successes although the ground seems restless with a sense of betrayal and frustration. The house of cards can come tumbling down with one critically placed card slipping out of place. How quickly invincible power disappears is a common lesson that history gives us. Change from change is what the country will want to see in 2018, but how painful that is going to be only time will tell. India is not happy as we part with 2017. It may well still be confused about the price happiness demands. But it will not be long before people discover what happiness means: that it is more about what we have and not about what others do not have. Great countries are not nurtured on the bedrock of envy and ill will; great civilizations do not thrive on course discourse. Maybe we need Gandhiji to return in a modern avatar. Maybe 2018 will be the Second Coming.