Saturday, September 29, 2007

DEMOCRACY, MORALITY AND NATIONAL INTEREST

The recent crackdown by the military junta of Myanmar against popular unrest led by Buddhist monks has once again brought to fore the foreign policy paradigm that India has remained rooted to since the time of Nehru. Words like ‘democracy’ and ‘morality’ are being bandied about to guide India’s response to this development in our immediate neighborhood.

National interest, it appears, is a bad word, if it does not measure up to the yardsticks of democracy and morality. Some juvenile analysts even believe that democracy elevates us above the grandiose power of China! Others think that winning the ‘respect’ of a besieged country and the world at large is ‘national interest’!

This fanciful and, in my view, utterly ridiculous positing of foreign policy and national interest against the airy-fairy planks of democracy and morals is a legacy inherited form Nehru. He kept singing ‘Hindi Chini bhai bhai’ even as China annexed Aksai Chin, Tibet and large parts of India territory, placed Chinese troops right on our heads, and exploded a nuclear bomb, taking China into a totally different international orbit, while India not only missed that bus but also faced a humiliating military rout. If only Nehru had heard Mao shouting at the top of his voice:’ Power grows through the barrel of a gun’. Earlier, Nehru had stopped Indian troops from reclaiming the rest of J&K occupied by Pakistan in 1948 and had rushed to the UN, offering a plebiscite in Kashmir. This claiming of a high moral ground by him while losing real ground has cost the country so heavily that it is amazing that the right lessons in hard, practical international relations have yet not been learnt.

Unfortunately, protecting the legacy of Nehru has taken precedence over protecting national interest. This does not permit this huge country to look at itself as a strong, confident nation which matters at the global stage. Even a small country like Bangladesh, which we helped create, shows us a big thumb and blatantly permits anti India activities on its soil. Will any other large country allow such nonsense in its backyard? Morality is more important to our armchair political commentators, no matter what price the nation has to pay.

And what is this silly talk of ‘democracy’? Our entire neighborhood has hardly ever had democracy, particularly of the sort that we ‘enjoy’. Why suddenly this outrage about Myanmar, which has not seen democracy since the times of Nehru, when we meekly surrendered our right to keep Burma within our sphere of influence created by the British, and watched helplessly as thousands of Indians were thrown out of that country? Democracy is nothing more than a system of governance, a means to take a nation and its people forward. It is not an end in itself, as many romantically believe, to be placed above national interest, which they don’t understand. It can, and should be, discarded for a better system, if it does not remain responsive to the ever changing internal and external dynamics that nations have to deal with.

In India, democracy means many different things to different people. To an illustrated analyst and owner of a TV channel, the stock exchange is a symbol of democracy! It does not strike him that by that yardstick, China and Pakistan are much better democracies, since their stocks have outperformed Indian stocks in the last five years! To some others it means saying, writing and showing what they feel like, without any restraint whatsoever. To others, it means turning the Parliament into a joke, nay, a national shame, telecast live to the world. To some more it means total freedom to loot this country by forming a fearless and shameless politician-bureaucrat-criminal-police-media nexus that can thrive only in our brand of democracy. What is the ’high ground’, even relevance of this democracy in relation to international policies and engagement?

Nehru’s talk of morality was because of his fatal blindness to national strategy and even history, despite the Second World War which happened before his very eyes, and the global cold war, and the war of ideology, which began immediately thereafter. Morality is the talk of the weak and the meek. And of those who lack the historical perspective and future vision of the practical world that man has lived in since time immemorial.

A nation which bases its policies and responses primarily on such irrelevant considerations is not likely to survive for long. In any case it cannot claim its rightful place based on its size, resources and population, for which power is a prerequisite. I do not see any other nation being stymied by such juvenile talk and debate. The meek shall not inherit the earth, if past and present experience is anything to go by. The sooner we understand it, the better.