A must read piece by the renowned Indian analyst Sumit Ganguly in Foreign Policy takes on, point by point, the conventional wisdom on India and subjects it to scrutiny. The article raises exactly the kinds of questions that Americans and Indians need to be thinking through, from whether India’s stellar growth is a fait accompli, to the chances that India will end up as America’s “most useful ally.”Ganguly lays out some problems with the current “India rising” narrative:
[T]he fascination with India’s growing economic clout and foreign-policy overtures has glossed over its institutional limits, the many quirks of its political culture, and the significant economic and social challenges it faces. To cite but one example, at least 30 percent of Indian agricultural produce spoils because the country has failed to develop a viable supply chain. Foreign investors could alleviate, if not solve, that problem. But thanks to the intransigence of a small number of political parties and organized interest groups, India has refused to open its markets to outsiders. Until India can meet basic challenges like this, its greatness will remain a matter of rhetoric, not fact.
All of this matters for America: If India fails, Asia becomes a much more dangerous place, and the chances for destructive great power competition and even war in the region increase. As in many large democracies, including the US, policy discussion inside India is often very politically driven, inward-looking and short term focused. But a great power has to develop the capacity to integrate a global perspective into its internal debates.Ganguly also reminds readers that many senior Indians remain deeply skeptical about the continuity of American foreign policy, where every four years political change can send the ship of state off in an unpredictable direction:
Indian policymakers fear that U.S. policy will change with every election. The United States may be pivoting to Asia now, but if it changes its mind in the future and tries to accommodate Beijing, it will leave India in the lurch, subject to Chinese intimidation. So, for now, India is hedging its bets.
This is an important point and one not widely enough understood inside the US. Foreigners look at our record and at our capacity for quick 180 turns, and have a hard time figuring out when we mean what we say and when we are just playing games. From where I sit, and I do my best to talk to people in both parties about these things, America is serious about India. Via Meadia has underlined the bipartisan support in the U.S. for a tight relationship with India, not least because the nation will be key player in a more active policy in Asia. Serious efforts to develop ties with India began with the Bush administration, and in 2008 a Democratic Congress passed the Indo-American nuclear cooperation agreement. The Obama administration has stuck with the program, and there is little doubt that a Romney administration would inherit this policy toward India as well. But Indians can’t simply rely on the assurances of American politicians and analysts to make up their minds on a point of this importance; both sides are going to have to develop better communications skills and listening abilities as the rise of Asia brings us into closer contact.As Ganguly points out, another debate is raging in India about whether to join the US in an alliance against China. Here in particular the gap in the perceptions and the discourses of the two countries needs to be addressed. At least as we see it here at VM, and we think we grasp Foggy Bottom’s — to use the old nickname for the State Department — approach to this as well, the U.S. is not trying to get India into some kind of grand anti-China alliance. The U.S. goal in Asia isn’t so much to contain China, but to avoid a need for containment altogether. Instead what we want is a peaceful and secure Asian system in which the interests, rights, security and prosperity of every state are safeguarded. We’d achieve this with the help of many, not just one, Asian countries—including, we very much hope, China. Rather than trying to drag India into a permanent alignment with the US, the goal is to promote an Asia in which nobody has to align, and the question of alignment and alliance would only really come up if this policy fails.The discussions inside India about where the country is headed, what its relationship with the US and China should be, what kind of economic development policy works best: for better are worse, these are now discussions of world-political importance. The rest of us need to start paying attention — and Americans need to start engaging with our Indian counterparts even as more Indian voices are heard in the United States.The editors of Foreign Policy deserve congratulations for running the piece; it deserves wide attention and close reading.