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India attracted the world once. But it wasn’t because of its ambition to be a Hindu Rashtra

The Indian example has always been a sense of wonder: a post-colonial country that was able to sustain democracy, avoid military rule, and protect its territory with little social strife.

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India’s image has taken a battering in the last few months, not only in the United States and elsewhere in the West, but even in its own neighbourhood. Many friends and admirers of India are worried that the idea of India they have supported since the country’s Independence is changing and, in their view, not for the better.

At a time when New Delhi would like the world to root for a rising India, the country is in the news for things like attacks on students at various universities, including in the heart of Delhi. These images do not purport well for any country, let alone one that is recognised for its democratic credentials.

Modern India’s international prestige and standing have rested on it being viewed as an open, pluralist democracy, one that supports a multicultural, secular society. For most Indophiles around the world, India was the land of Mahatma Gandhi, whose non-violent struggle inspired millions, including South African leader Nelson Mandela and American civil rights activist and leader Martin Luther King Jr. Images of violence disrupts that visualisation of India for outsiders.

Also read: The one taboo word that Amit Shah and Narendra Modi supporters hate today

A model example for long

Around the world, there has always been a sense of wonder about the Indian example: a post-colonial country that was able to sustain democracy, avoid military rule, educate and feed its citizens, and protect its territory with little social strife. The model of citizens speaking different languages and professing many faiths but still being Indians has been a source of envy for developing nations.

India’s moral stature and image as a democracy are also the reason why most countries around the world have welcomed India playing a larger role not only in its region but in the global arena. Unlike the fears tied to the rise of Communist China, India’s economic success and potential for military power have been encouraged by countries around the world, including in Asia and the West.

India’s soft image built the perception that India would be a benign international power. That perception is now under threat as the reality of India is changing. A Hindu Rashtra, its appeal to India’s majority notwithstanding, is unlikely to attract the kind of universal awe that a non-communal, secular India has done over the last 70-plus years.

Also read: Not Savarkar-Golwalkar, roots of CAA lie in RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat’s brand new Hindutva

Religion in Constitution

The recent protests and demonstrations in various parts of India are tied to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which was passed by the Indian Parliament in December 2019. The Act purportedly seeks to offer expedited citizenship to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian minorities from three of India’s neighbours, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

While offering citizenship to persecuted minorities is a laudable act, there is widespread criticism of the fact that the CAA gratuitously lists every religion except Islam. The argument that the minorities fleeing India’s three neighbouring Muslim-majority countries belong to the listed religions remains unimpressive. A law that defined religious persecution and those seeking refuge on its account could easily have been adopted without naming all religions, except one.

Moreover, India’s citizenship is based on jus soli (citizenship by land of birth) and is religion-neutral. During the drafting of the Indian Constitution, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, his deputy and Home Minister, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and the draftsman of the Constitution, B.R. Ambedkar, had argued vehemently against the use of religion in defining citizenship. The CAA’s major flaw is that it introduces religion in that religion-neutral legal edifice.

Also read: Dear pro-CAA Indian-origin protesters, you feed off US secularism but support Hindu Rashtra

Benefitting from democratic image

Unlike many developing countries that went through domestic turmoil and autocratic or military rule, India consistently remained a democracy. India’s first democratic election took place in 1952, just five years after Independence, with suffrage provided to all Indians. Since then, elections have been held at regular intervals and by all accounts, are deemed free and fair.

It was India’s democracy that brought the Narendra Modi government to power. But democracy is as much about the rights of minorities as it is about the authority of the majority. The impression that India is somehow trying to diminish the role and significance of its minorities does not sit well with admirers of Indian democracy abroad.

In the international arena, India’s image has been of a status quo power, a country that sought better ties with its neighbours, and aimed to be a responsible global player. India’s rivalry with China and its conflicts with Pakistan notwithstanding, the world has been unwilling to view India through the Chinese or Pakistani prism and the country has not been identified as having hegemonic ambitions.

In a world that looks askance at countries obtaining nuclear weapons, India is the rare example of a state that has been able to convince the international community, especially the United States, to recognise its nuclear status. The 2005 India-US civilian nuclear deal and India’s acceptance in the global nuclear regimes have been possible because India is viewed as a responsible global actor.

Also read: Biggest hope of stopping Modi govt’s sinister NRC project in 2020 rests on India’s youth

Save economy, foreign ties

Another attractive feature of India in recent years has been its economic potential. But now that the focus on economic growth has been replaced by the desire to socially redefine India, that attraction is fading. India’s growth rate has fallen to around 5 per cent from a high of 8-8.5 per cent in 2014.

Slower economic growth also means that the government lacks the resources to spend on military expansion and modernisation. At a time when China is expanding its military capabilities, and India’s friends would like New Delhi to play a bigger role internationally, India does not have the capacity or bandwidth to do so.

Domestic policy affects foreign relations whether one likes it or not and it is not enough to say that the currently contentious issues are India’s internal matters. The citizenship legislation, for example, has hurt relations with Bangladesh, which has had exceptionally good ties with India over the years.

Similarly, the protests in Assam around the citizenship issue led to the cancellation of a visit to India by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Japan is one of India’s closest friends, largest bilateral donor, as well as one of the top foreign investors in India. As protests continue, and the negative international press endures, there might be other external repercussions of India’s internal makeover.

Instead of allowing communal passion to interrupt India’s entry into the global major league, Indian leaders should reconsider their priorities. Instead of addressing real or perceived historical injustices, the focus of India’s government should be on boosting economic growth, building human capital, and strengthening military capability.

While trying to put minorities and neighbours in their place, the Modi government is preventing India from achieving its own place in the global order.

The author is a Research Fellow and Director, India Initiative at the Washington DC-based Hudson Institute. Her books include ‘Escaping India: Explaining Pakistan’s Foreign Policy’ (Routledge, 2011) and ‘From Chanakya to Modi: The Evolution of India’s Foreign Policy’ (Harper Collins, 2017). Views are personal.

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  1. Lol why are u looking for WEST’s approval. Are u still slave of west.
    The more powerful India becomes the more hatred we will get from WEST. after all it was the west only which colonised Asia and destroyed India’s economy. So why is print looking for appreciation from WEST?? Still having a colonial hangover.
    Can’t u see how west is threatening china realising china is moving ahed of them
    News dalal media outlets like u who have sold their soul to WEST is the reason India is a poor country

  2. I was born and grew up in the UK. A Punjabi Sikh who grew up in what became a indian ghetto within the UK ( Yes these existed and still do in some areas). The author has staked the entire article on the premise that not long ago India was a viewed as a wonder and respected for the struggles that it went through. This assertion is little more then a fantasy, I vividly remember the news reporting and general views expressed throughout Britain in the 80s, 90s and 2000’s (ditto for Canada were I have spent several extended periods) and the only ‘wonder’ I recall was entirely focused on the gift of the railways (ignoring the fact each km of rail laid cost 4 times as much as UK equivalent) and the English language (conveniently forgetting that during the days of the so called Raj literacy levels in India alongside life expectancy collapsed). I would suggest the author consider the negative impact that a character called Apu in the Simpsons had for most people of indian heritage in the USA. Apu would in fact be a more appropriate metaphor for how the west viewed India and Indians. The remainder of the article is little more then a puff piece designed to provide funding and grants and in my view is no different to the propaganda in the 1900 – 1940 period produced by many ‘loyal’ Indians to explain why the Raj was good for us and that my grandparent should just shut up and die – I have no intention of shutting up BTW.

  3. The CAA and NRC do not go against Islam . Who are protesting against , they are Zihadis. For this kind of activity , the Rohingyas thrown away from Myanmar. If the western countries are kind enough to Zihadis, please take all Muslims from India and Myanmar. Let live India and Myanmar with peace.

    • Let entire earth become without religion. We have no problem with that. But will you be able to convince Abrahamic jiv?

  4. Indeed, not just developing countries but also others look-up to India for a host of achievements – during my travels I met a Lithuanian chemist who said our independent pharma is watched withe envy in his country, in a conference in Tunisia our truck and car manufacture was held-up as an example to follow, in France a software engineer was complaining that soon he will have to join Infosis since that company was soaking-up all the jobs. The trouble with Bhakts is that they need to have a narrative where no progress was made in India in the last 70 years. That would mean that India was better under the British than it is now!

    • Had you read history not written by liberals and leftists, you world have not written this stupid comment. At least view your Shashi Tharoors video. Some of it should make sense to you.

      • I refered to no history – just my personal experience and one bit of logical inference. Open your eyes, if you are a bhakt. And don’t forget to ask for minimum wage if you are a paid-IT-cell .

  5. What a disingenuous and misleading article. I mean there should be laws to punish such misinformation and political hack jobs like this. Only in India, apparently, that too from someone attached to venerable Hudson Institute can someone like Aparna Pande mis-characterize and invent incendiary labels like “Hindu” Rashtra on a law which is actually to provide a new life to religious minorities being persecuted in India’s neighborhood. My mind is blown, I mean really, wow, such sleazy opinion piece is unacceptable! No wonder Trump hates the “establishment” and it’s about time Indian nationalists took note of such vitriol and took a leaf from Trump’s strategy to ignore and label such garbage as “Fake News.”

    • no double you believe that the PM and HM speak nothing but the truth even when they contradict each other? Get real and look up the definitions of “truth”, “falsehood” and “opinion”.

        • jago bhakt! just go back and read all that Shah said about CAB/CAA/NRC , then hear Modi’s speach in Delhi – one or the other must be telling lies. In any case, one can wake someone who is sleeping but one can not wake someone who is pretending to be asleep!

  6. Let’s leave it back for another day. When was the last time Russia, China, UK, France, Switzerland, Germany, US asked the whole world if a policy decision that they took was right or wrong ? When did US ask the world whether the decision on H1B was right or wrong or when did UK ask everyone when they changed the HSMP rules. Interestingly do we know if politicians in UK consulted with other EU leaders before deciding on bringing the Brexit bill

  7. The writer needs to get real. India stopped being a great example and a sense of wonder long ago and this has nothing to do with the present ruling dispensation. No country which has failed to even sort out it’s citizens basic necessities can be an example of any sort. India is at the bottom in any measure of human development with most countries, who were behind it, having overtaken it long ago. India remains nothing more than a poor, over-populated, indisciplined country with abysmal living standards. It’s famed philosophy and spiritual values exist only in textbooks. If India was ever so good and great the author herself would never have migrated to the US.

  8. Mahatma Gandhi, the constitutional idol BabaSaheb Ambedkar & all the members of the constitutional body ,who decided & dedicated their lives for the Secular Indian nation,are now at the lowest ever.No doubt India once attracted the world for its rich heritage.But with the Problems of CAA & NRC & slowly & gradually heading towards Hindutva,no doubt losing it’s world wide fame .Its philosophy has become monotonous. The subject of the article & the thoughts it put forward are very apt

  9. Senior journalist Kanak Mani Dixit of Nepal conveys a somewhat similar assessment. The world wants India to succeed.

  10. India is not appease West, we are here to do things which are beneficial for us not for West. If West is not able help us we may look to Japan or China.

    • Absolutely. But, I’m really surprised by the political hack job that Hudson Institute is now propagating. Hudson Institute lost a lost of credibility and respect from me.

  11. Predictable. All such articles come from so-called scholars stationed comfortably abroad, usually the US. Armchair philosophizing is easily done. Unlike during Indira Gandhi’s times, I am yet to see NDA government violate any provision or principle of India’s Constitution.

    • Exactly, this people sometimes work more for West than India. We need to learn from Chinese more than West.

      • China is 1/4 like Tokyo ans other major cities. The other three fourths are like India. This was their choice.

    • Agree. Having said that, such low quality opinion piece from Hudson Institute is unacceptable. I mean if these ultra-liberal Think-Tank keep producing such garbage 2020 might be the year when traditionally Democratic American-Indians switch to Republicans and for good. This may be one of those inflection points in political landscape. Indian government should not relent, actually, it needs to double-down on it’s progressive initiatives. I agree with Rajvir, India needs to model on Japan/ China hybrid model. I mean lets take a leaf out of Japan’s MITI ( Ministry of International Trade and Industry) That was a great concept and China is doing some innovative things as well.

  12. India’s image has takena battering because of the news media like you who support the left no matter what, who twist the facts to get your TRP going and give a shit about the country

  13. Problem is in India priority of ruling party politicians is to divide and get votes. After winning election priority is to divide further and get more votes or retain the votes. Building economy, human capital , military capability may wait.

    • American Indian author writing on political scene of the country but wants to stay miles away, doesn’t know ground reality, doesn’t move with the public, does not speak to them, doesn’t listen to their views. Maybe authors research is only based on what is televised by leftist channels, written by liberals who misuse the word secularism because they are free loaders and depend on left government grants, congress grants. Come to India speak to the common man on streets. You will get your answer. Speak to those migrants who have faced atrocities in neighbouring countries, you will get your answer. Write about China and then try visiting China of your really dare or care, you will get the answer. You can visit India any number of times mind well.

      • I don’t understand why the author, Indian at least by origin, should speak-up for all sorts of problems but not for India or Indians! Bhakts do not understnad that the most legitimate protest is agaist one’s own – government or society. they only know absolute obedience and tu-tu/main-main level politics.

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