“India has no interest in destabilising any of her neighbours, or even in seeing any of them in difficulty,” said the silver-haired gentleman in a thin-striped suit and with piercing eyes. It was a small talk, before a small gathering of Pakistani journalists here in Delhi, at the invitation of the Indian government. But the message was large.
It went something like this. India is nurturing its economy to sustain growth rates in the 9-10 per cent per annum range. At this rate, the size of India’s economy doubles in less than a decade, not bad for an economy which clocked in a GDP of a little more than four trillion dollars in 2010, placing it as the world’s fifth largest economy and still rising.
India has set for itself the target of becoming a middle-income country by the year 2025. That means it cannot afford to run volatile cycles of boom and bust, nor can it afford to fall behind in the race to innovate. Even as the silver-haired gentlemen was gently laying out the facts for us, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) was preparing to present its third quarterly review of monetary policy, an announcement that lays out the state of the economy as seen by the central bank.
“[G]rowth has moved close to its pre-crisis trajectory even in the face of an uncertain global recovery,” noted the RBI. The “pre-crisis trajectory” the RBI is referring to is a growth rate of 8.5 per cent. That puts India in close competition with China, the world’s fastest growing economy. Note the last words of the observation above: “even in the face of an uncertain global recovery.” Meaning, as the economies of the US and the EU battle the prospect of a second recession, and a possible sovereign credit crisis, the economy of India is part of a growing set of economies in Asia, led by China.
In order to nurture and sustain these growth rates, India needs to overcome all instability in its neighborhood. The distinguished gentleman, as well as others we have met here thus far, have all been clear to point out that there is a great deal of concern with internal stability in India. “But at least in the case of the Naxals, for instance” quipped one senior journalist, “I’m glad the instability is borne of hunger and not religion. You see, you can feed a hungry human who has picked up arms against you, but what do you do with those who pick up arms in the name of religion?”
But religion has crept into the Indian political vocabulary and landscape. And curiously enough, it has entered through the back door of the secular, democratic nationalism that has been the hallmark of Indian politics ever since the Nehru years. Just a few days earlier, for instance, a train carrying BJP student activists to Srinagar had been surreptitiously turned around and taken back to the station from whence it had originated. And on January 24, senior leaders of the BJP were arrested trying to enter Srinagar with the intention of raising the Indian flag there on Republic Day.
This is irony at its best. Here is a country that values its economic rivalry with China over everything else. A country that treasures and takes supreme pride in its six-decade long experiment with democracy. A country that is deeply religious, yet sees its own salvation in making sure the state is aligned with no particular faith. And in this very country, a political party that seeks to hold the highest elected offices of state, runs in the name of the supremacy of one religion over others, and which seeks to plant the flag of the secular republic in Srinagar, is physically prevented from doing so by the government of the day.
If India’s growth rates can persist in spite of the “uncertain global recovery,” if India’s democracy can thrive in spite of the BJP’s attempts to transform it into an illiberal republic, then we in Pakistan need to understand how irrelevant we are becoming in the 21st century world. And perhaps we need to see the irony in that: irrelevant in spite of being the epicentre of a superpower’s destiny.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 27th, 2011.