The Quad is real even as it evolves more and more into a military alliance. It is no longer shy of its intent to check China. Not only is Joe Biden’s America staying the course set by predecessor Donald Trump but, in addition to the four already on board, Britain and France also want to do their bit in the Indian Ocean and beyond. Russia is standing alone in partial neutrality in the waters of the Asia-Pacific, but clearly not willing to throw in its entire lot with the Chinese either. Member Australia used its Quad linkage most recently to push back against Facebook and Google by calling on India for solidarity. India’s own face-off with Twitter a few days prior met with signal success. If internet merchant warriors who claim to be global — and yet of no fixed address for billing and taxation purposes — are en route to being tamed, can a puffed-up (on hubris) communist China be far behind? Extensive Covid vaccine diplomacy, plus the way India has handled the pandemic despite being a populous 1.35 billion has impressed. This changed India is on its way to becoming the premier pharmacy to the world.
China could not get the better of India in Eastern Ladakh despite its mad muscle-flexing over half a year. Its iron-clad ally’s aggression and its terrorism, is now more or less old hat, despite the attrition and expense involved.
Aware of the relentless threat on its borders and on the seas, India is now seriously getting on with the building of guns, tanks, howitzers, aircraft, ships, submarines, ammunition and drones on home turf. This even as it is buying armaments furiously from France, Israel, the US and Russia to address the immediate situation. The real battle is for pre-eminence. India is determined to acquit itself seriously as the No. 3 global power as soon as possible, China notwithstanding.
India has come a long way in its economic thinking as well. In a post Covid world with shattered economies everywhere, bold strategies were called for. It is now declared public policy to dismantle the public sector except in a few core areas. Ditto the plethora of public sector banks which will be reduced to just four or so. The Indian Railways and their stations are being transformed. Expectation of double-digit GDP growth have resurfaced.
The government has emphasised the role of the private sector as essential partners to progress. It has explicitly commented against the limitations of big government and a stultifying permanent bureaucracy not inclined to disturb the status quo.
This is the new template set for the third decade of the 21st century. It is a firm departure from the shibboleths of the past. Nothing, except misadventure, can prevent India from making stellar progress now. In addition, there is a strong emphasis on infrastructure modernisation, bold reform of land, labour, industry and agriculture, and a new kind of atmanirbhar that is both pragmatic and liberating.
All this is also backed by strong FDI inflows and nearly $ 600 billion in foreign currency reserves. This is heading towards $ 1 trillion and more in the next decade.
Today’s BJP is fusing together the threads of a scattered identity, even as it decisively sheds ideas that were never conducive to India’s future. Contrast these new realities with the sheet anchors from the 1940s and onwards.
A khadi-clad Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who drank a lot of milk provided by his pet goat, wrote that India lives in its villages. He advocated a quaint village economy and cottage industry as the great desirable after independence. His ideas were, of course, roundly ignored by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, beyond some reverential tokenism. But the reverence and affection his name invoked amongst the masses, is still used extensively by the political classes to this day.
Nehru, a fifties style Laskian socialist, set about establishing a smoke-stack heavy industry. He placed it firmly in the state-owned public sector and governed via Soviet-style five-year plans. Plans, like in the USSR, that were rarely met in the execution.
Yoked to Nehru, but for a brief two years after 1947, was Sardar Patel. He was a conservative politically, and may have guided India to a more pragmatic future. But alas, after stitching together the princely states into a country, Patel had neither the time left, nor did he enjoy the unstinted support of MK Gandhi.
That both Gandhi and Patel sprang free of the mortal coil so soon after independence was to Nehru’s singular advantage. He could proceed over the next decade and a half to leave his imprint on all that was to follow.
Jack-booted Subhas Bose, whose time upon the great stage of events preceded the nation’s formal emergence into independence, thought differently. He saw a great, inclusive, and dynamic nation in the making, fit and able to take on the colonial overlords. But his was a muscular vision of courage, military action in alliance with the Axis Powers, and discipline. Even earlier formative ideas saw Bose pushed out of the Congress Party. If Bose had an ideological predecessor, it was probably Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Both were not working for a Hindu Rashtra, but neither did they contemplate the Nehruvian brand of secularism to come.
Then there was the much vilified and persecuted Veer Savarkar, who not only wanted the British gone, but India to adopt a clear-cut Hindu identity. Alongside, there was Syama Prasad Mookerjee, a kindred spirit from the Hindu Mahasabha, whose heroic actions saved West Bengal from going to Pakistan. Mookerjee chalked out the way ahead for an undivided Jammu & Kashmir as an integral part of India. Despite walking the earth for a mere 53 years, Mookerjee not only served in and quit Nehru’s cabinet, he established the Jan Sangh, that later morphed into the BJP.
Cut to the present day and the most profound difference in changed India is in the thinking of its vast majority. It has seen Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity rarely dipping below 70%, and the BJP/NDA winning a clear majority in the parliament in every national poll commissioned periodically by private TV news channels. This, even after six years of continuous governance through challenging times.
Nehruvian secularism seems to have run its course in the popular psyche except in the minds of those who have lost power and position. It is seen to have given rise to a stridency amongst the largest minority, at over 14% now. This community is now openly demanding cleansing of their majority enclaves of all others and the imposition of exclusive sharia practices. This kind of behaviour, seen as rank ingratitude, has annoyed and polarised the majority, hard-pressed to keep their identity and beliefs intact. That the minorities have been supported wrong-or-right not only by the Congress Party, but others with similar views such as the TMC, has further aggravated the schism. It has distanced the majority from all those who profess to uphold the Nehruvian ‘Idea of India’.
Prime Minister Modi’s call for ‘A New India’, essentially a call for modernisation of the country’s facilities, practices, and infrastructure, and economic uplift for all, is seen as a powerful and necessary alternative. It does not carry the baggage of the Nehruvian notions.
This, even as the BJP is remarkably ambivalent on abandoning the minorities to the sections of the opposition that depend almost exclusively on their votes. Prime Minister Modi, flying in the face of unchanged voting patterns in successive elections, seems to believe in his ‘Sabka Vikas’ plank.
However, the INC and AITC paint the BJP as a communal, Hindu nationalist party. This is more commonly accepted by communists, the left-liberals, elements opposed to the BJP, at home and abroad.
However, none of this cauldron bubbling and name-calling is turning the rulers towards abject apologia. The BJP election machinery is forging ahead collecting states that have long been opposed to it. West Bengal may well be the next big prize to fall in.
The government and the voting Indian public are no longer interested in the dubious benefits of moral victories. Even our international cricket, wrestling, badminton, hockey, shooting and sometimes tennis, has changed in attitude. We play to win.
Today, it is the heroism and derring-do of the IAF at Balakot. And the bravery and effectiveness of the Indian Army at Galwan. And on the Chushul heights overlooking China’s Moldo garrison. These are much more potent symbols of who we are, and where we are going.