February 4, 2020 | By Sikh Siyasat Bureau
A write-up penned by Arif Rafiq, Non-resident fellow at Middle East Institute in Washington has appeared in The National Interest. Sikh Siyasat has taken out some excerpts from this write-up that are being shared below, along with some sub-headings, for readers. Readers may also find a source link at the end of this article.
EXCERPTS FROM ARIF RAFIQ’s ARTICLE:-
America is dangerously emboldening India’s Hindu nationalist government as it nears the point of no return. Modi, whose term ends in 2024, could be succeeded by someone far more extreme.
India — from Presumed Strategic Bulwark to Suspected Liability for US:
The cultivation of India as a strategic bulwark against a rising China has been a core feature of the Asia policy of successive U.S. administrations. India was seen as not only matching China’s key strengths but also sharing American values. That image of India, on all fronts, was undeserved and is now unraveling. India today is not only on a path toward becoming an authoritarian, Hindu majoritarian state, but its economic engine is also sputtering, and its military will remain ill-equipped to balance China. Rather than serving as an ally or vital strategic partner, India may end up becoming a liability for the United States. As India chooses the path of diversification, or “multi-alignment,” in Asia, so too must the United States—especially in South Asia.
On Modi’s Image:
Modi had been a pariah figure for a decade after presiding over an anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002 as chief minister of the Gujarat state. Modi never backtracked from his Hindu nationalist agenda in Gujarat, which he ruled from 2001 to 2014. Modi has targeted—and, indeed, continues to target—those who implicated him in the violence, including policemen and a human-rights lawyer, and rewarded figures who played an active role in the pogroms. Now, in his second term as prime minister, with a commanding majority in the lower house of parliament and a feckless opposition, Modi is unsurprisingly going all-out to implement the RSS’s long standing demands.
On What Lines Indian Politics Would Move:
India’s democratic institutions are unable to reverse the country’s authoritarian Hindu majoritarian trajectory. Modi has neutered the judiciary and corporate media. Civil society protests have dented Modi’s aura of invincibility, but they are unlikely to have an impact on the national electoral map. Regardless of who succeeds Modi, stoking anti-Muslim sentiment will remain key to the BJP’s electoral strategy. Violence, or what political scientist Paul Brass calls India’s “institutionalised riot systems,” is essential for the BJP to polarize the electorate along religious lines. The BJP’s grassroots machinery, including thugs, incite and engage in anti-Muslim violence, often colluding with local police and civil administration.
On the Question of India As A Global Power:
The BJP’s reliance on Islamophobia will only grow amid India’s economic downturn. The party that rules India today is a cabal of pseudo-intellectuals and ruffians with laughable views on history and science and a dangerous vision for the future. Rather than make India into a superpower, they will ensure that India’s demographic boom becomes a liability. Indeed, India’s future is not as a great power but as a demographically enormous, middle-income country beset by social inequality and tumult. Its middle class, military power, and diplomatic stature will certainly grow—but not at a pace that is commensurate with that of neighboring China. India will continue to be outpaced by an already superior China on course to becoming an industrial and technology superpower.
On US–India Relationship:
Now, as India’s structural challenges and pivot toward authoritarian majoritarianism become more obvious, advocates of the U.S.-India relationship are likely to move the goalposts, arguing that even despite India’s clear illiberal trajectory, the strategic logic of the relationship—containing China—is there. Strategic altruism makes little sense as India continues to hedge and play the role of a geostrategic free-rider, pursuing a form of non-alignment it has rebranded as “multi-alignment. “Furthermore, India’s value in blunting China’s path toward becoming Asia’s hegemon is diminished by its sclerotic bureaucracy, patronage politics, and bloated military.
The net effect of our strategic altruism toward India is that it will embolden India’s hegemonic aspirations in its immediate neighborhood and force smaller South Asian countries to tighten their embrace of China to balance India. By propping up India as an Asian power, America is unwittingly hastening China’s rise in South Asia. Washington’s amplification of New Delhi’s influence is causing anxiety among smaller South Asian states.
On the Question of US Reliance on India for South-Asia:
American strategic altruism toward India will have costs. And these costs will be multiplied by the negative externalities of a laissez-faire approach to human rights in India.
The United States needs a non-India-centric way of competing with China in Asia. Instead of treating India as our default copartner in South Asia and outsourcing much of our foreign policy to it, we should bolster bilateral relations with individual states in the region and position America as an alternative economic and security partner to both China and India.
By promoting India as a “net security provider” in South Asia and the nucleus of regional trade, successive U.S. administrations have been pushing the region toward a bipolar order with the United States and India on one side and China and Pakistan on the other. Given India’s growing economic and military disparity vis-à-vis China, bipolarity in South Asia is to America’s disadvantage.
America can retain an edge over China by cultivating meaningful economic and security partnerships with both India and Pakistan, as well as select regional states. In the immediate term, the United States must stop emboldening Modi in his push to make India a Hindu majoritarian state and regional hegemon. American diplomats should publicly engage Indian activists, intellectuals, and journalists who have been arrested and attacked by New Delhi and elements of the ruling party.
America’s effective silence on India’s Hindu majoritarian shift will be seen as an endorsement by the country’s religious minorities and smaller neighbors. Indeed, countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka are likely to turn even more toward China as a balancing force, eroding American influence in a region home to a quarter of the world’s population.
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