India should not fear isolation, for it frees us from having to follow policies that go against our own interests.
We can do our own deals.
There is a lovely and popular Bengali song by Rabindranath Tagore which all Indians, especially Hindus, should internalise. It begins like this:
Jodi Tor Dak Shune Keu Na Ashe , Tobe Ekla Cholo Re.
Translated, it means if no one responds to your call, walk alone. (You can listen to Shreya Ghosal singing it here)
It is India’s unique destiny that for long periods of time, especially as it awakens itself from deracination and cultural stupor, it will have to walk alone. We must thus be prepared to do our own thing, with Ekla Cholo Re on our lips.
Whether it is our decision on Article 370, our proposed entry into the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), our opposition to aggressive proselytisation (which is the Abrahamic way), our partnership with Israel or our decision to become a nuclear power, the world has often frowned on us. And so did our own ruling elite, who feared global opprobrium and isolation.
What no one has ever talked about is why this is so. India is a Hindu homeland with almost all the Hindus of the world concentrated here. Thus, while there are scores of Christian and Muslim majority countries, there is only one Hindu country. If Hindu interests have to be protected, there can be only one voice supporting it (India’s). On the other hand, if there are issues concerning Muslims or Christians, there will be scores of countries who can raise their voices. It is India’s tragedy that our sick secularism prevented us from even defending Hindu interests in our own neighbourhood. Fearing isolation is not the right way to defend dharma and the truth.
The Hindu/Indic religious geography implies that India is more likely to be isolated on issues than almost any other country barring Israel and China. We have to thus learn our lessons from them on how to walk alone. It is by building our own strengths, and not entering into deals or alliances that are not in our interest, driven purely by fears of isolation.
Yesterday (10 October), Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal expressed the usual fears of isolation with reference to negotiations on India’s bid to join the RCEP: “If India remains out of RCEP, we will be left isolated from this large trading bloc. The trade among RCEP countries is about $2.8 trillion. If India sits outside RCEP, whether it is in our interest or against our interest, it is also the responsibility of the government to see. You will want us to engage to find solutions which is in national interest.”
The problem is Goyal’s first line. If you fear isolation then you will accept a bad deal as better than no deal. The reality is that India has a massive trade deficit of $105 billion with RCEP countries, half of it due to China, and if a bad RCEP deal means this will constrain our options further, we are better out of it than in it. India should not enter any deal with any bloc that does not include liberal rules for software services export, which is our area of strength. Otherwise, we should do smaller deals with those who are willing to enter fairer deals with us. The world will one day realise that skewed trade deals will not lead us to collective prosperity and peace.
The old world order is breaking down, and most countries are, in fact, isolating themselves in defence of their specific interests. The US has been pulling its troops out from areas around the world where it was previously trying to play ‘Globocop’. It is fighting a trade war with China, and alienating its allies in Europe and Japan over trade and military disagreements. China’s money allows it to buy support, but it would be difficult to find one true friend it has in the world. It has vassal states, no friendly states. It is as isolated as India, but its wealth allows it to buy friends.
Japan, which has always lived in splendid cultural isolation even while being part of the global trading system, is now trying to rebuild its national identity and culture, not to speak of its own offensive defence capability, thanks to a belligerent North Korea and the rise of inimical China.
Russia has tied itself to China’s apron strings in order to make up for its loss of economic power after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It will break free when Chinese power is challenged by the rise of a third power, possibly India, or if the US realises that the Cold War is over, and Russia isn’t a major threat to it. Britain has already decoupled itself from Europe after Brexit. Within the European Union, eastern Europe follows different policies on immigration and liberalism than western Europe, but even in western Europe, right-wing forces are seeking refuge in old national identities. The post-war efforts to evolve a common European identity are slowing.
The Islamic world is breaking up into separate nodes, led by Saudi Arabia, Iran, and now possibly Turkey. Pakistan is an international pariah, but is now China’s prime tributary, hanging on to its money and political clout for dear life. It needs one sharp blow from economic reality or India to break into its component pieces.
The multilateral global trading system is breaking down, and the world is opting for smaller regional trading blocs, apart from bilateral trade arrangements.
If this is the disordered state of the world, isolation will become the norm. The mantras to live by are the following:
#1: Each country has to depend on its own strength for growth, internal and external security. This can be complemented by bilateral and regional trade and security agreements, but the dominating principle in all such arrangement should be Nation First. India has much to learn from Israel here.
#2: A world characterised by disorder rather than order will be a more dangerous place, but this world also lends itself to deeper ties with those whose interests align with ours. Apart from Israel, our natural allies are Japan, Australia, Vietnam, parts of Africa, Iran, and the US (upto a point). Maybe even post-Brexit Britain, once its leaders realise that the British Raj is over, and it is now only an ordinary nation looking for friends. For a Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn seems to be the last imperialist left standing when it comes to India. He made unwarranted statements on Article 370, and for this alone India needs to read the riot act to Britain if Labour comes to power.
India also needs to build closer ties to Turkey’s natural enemies, Greece, Armenia and Cyprus. Under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey is trying to reclaim its old influence in the Muslim world, when the Ottomans provided the Caliphs. One wonders what possessed Mahatma Gandhi to try and win Indian Muslim loyalties by backing the Khilafat movement nearly a century ago. The Narendra Modi government has clearly learnt not to woo Muslims by backing ideas inimical to Indian interests, and the latest condemnation of the Turkish invasion of Syria is the correct one. Turkey criticised our Article 370 action, and thus freed us from restraint on this score.
#3: Isolation can be a source of strength, for you can identify your own interests clearly, and work with whoever can help you with it. For centuries, Britain was isolated as an island and became the balancing power in Europe. It could align with any weaker power whenever a stronger power looked like emerging on the continent. China remained in splendid isolation for nearly a quarter century after the communists captured power in the late 1940s. It was only in the early 1970s that they opted to break their self-imposed isolation by doing a deal with Richard Nixon’s America, and it took them another 30 years to become part of the global trading system – a system that they gamed to derive all the benefits without the costs.
India should not fear isolation, for it frees us from having to follow policies that go against our own interests. We can do our own deals.
No country hoping to be a Vishwa Guru can do so by trying to be a part of the crowd. It is our destiny to teach the world a new path to harmony and peace, and that path is not the Abrahamic one. Till the world realises this, we must be prepared to sing the song of independent isolation. Ekla Cholo Re.