India and a 21st Century Anglosphere
By M.D. Nalapat
October 21, 2010
By M.D. Nalapat
October 21, 2010
When President Barack Obama travels to India in early November, he will be visiting a country much more conscious of skin color than his own. Because of his mixed Euro-African ancestry, Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States is seen in India as a transformational event. The fact that millions of American voters of European extraction preferred him to John McCain affirmed a truth widely believed in India about the United States, that America is culturally “quadricontinental” and not “unicontinental.” The American melting pot has given the world not just a vibrant people (of multiple hues) but also a composite culture that is a fusion of strands from Africa, Europe, Asia and South America. Unfortunately, change even in the Obama administration seems to be only skin-deep. The contemporary Washington “establishment” obsessively considers itself and America to be, in effect, an extension of Europe, in much the same way as the ruling structures in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
All three of these latter countries may be termed as belonging to the classical “Anglosphere,” the geopolitical construct ascribed to Winston Churchill in which ethnicity trumped almost all other qualities. It was Churchill, the wartime prime minister of Great Britain, who insisted over President Roosevelt’s objections that the freedoms promised in the Atlantic Charter were to apply only to the peoples of Europe and not to those in Asia or Africa who were denied their liberty for years after the Allied victory in the “war for democracy.” A war in which, let it be noted, more than two million Indian soldiers served (and a further six million auxiliaries worked in defense industries and logistics). This is a figure far in excess than the numbers mustered by France yet Winston Churchill rewarded France with a seat at the post-war High Table in preference to India. Had Churchill continued to get his way, even China would not have gained admission to the Big Five in the United Nations Security Council, as the country was not European or neo-European. While Churchill deserves the admiration of the world for the manner in which he confronted Germany’s Nazi dictatorship, his attitude in matters of ethnicity marked him as belonging firmly to the 19th century.
With Barack Obama’s 2009 entry into the Oval Office, it was expected that the United States would lead the way to what may be termed a “21st Century Anglosphere,” the grouping of countries with common linguistic, cultural and, let it be admitted, colonial ties to the former British Empire. While this concept has been around for some time, especially since Churchill emphasized the unity of the “English-speaking countries” in the period since German aggression launched World War II, what may be termed the “Classical (or Churchillian) Anglosphere” had ethnicity in addition to the English language as its foundation. Churchill rejected Roosevelt’s view that those of the English-speaking world but not of European ancestry had the same claim to cultural and other traditions of that world.
An Entrenched Establishment Retards India’s Political and Economic Development
Along with the United States and, of course, the United Kingdom, India would be the major player in a 21st century partnership of the English-speaking countries. Given that India is still a “work in progress,” a closer association with the Anglosphere should help to nudge the country’s ruling elites towards the legal and institutional reforms needed for a deepening of its democracy. An obvious candidate for change would be the prevailing political party structure in India, each of which is dominated by either a single family or an equally self-perpetuating clique of individuals.
Until the Election Commission of India is mandated to enforce transparent and free elections for party posts, there are zero prospects for a smooth power transfer within political parties such as the world recently witnessed in other Anglosphere countries. In the UK, Labour’s Ed Milliband succeeded Gordon Brown and in the United States, Barack Obama inherited Bill Clinton’s Democratic Party base. Until such a dynamic comes into play in India, the political system there will continue to be skewed in favor of family rather than societal interests, with negative consequences for probity and policy.
The corollary to democracy within political parties would be transparency in political expenditures. Given the absurdly low levels of spending legally permitted in Indian elections, the overwhelming bulk of the money spent by candidates comes from undeclared sources. By refusing to implement electoral reforms, the political class in India is strengthening the influence of unsavory elements over the body politic. Nearly half a billion dollars was raised by the Obama presidential campaign, but this figure was known to the public, unlike in India where campaign monies are not recorded. A healthy system of laws would allow a candidate in India to spend as much as she or he could collect, except that each rupee spent should be publicly declared. Further, those found guilty of using undeclared money should be disqualified from the election, or removed from office once found out. Money power is not evil in a democracy, provided it is transparent.
Another set of reforms that would bring India closer to the rest of the Anglosphere would be reforms to its legal system. In India today, the balance of power between government and the people approximates that of the system first introduced two hundred and fifty years ago by British colonial authorities. Today, however, the current Indian governing and legal structures have replaced the British.
While British law for the British people has much to commend it, the same cannot be said for British law for colonial subjects. While well-known Indian liberals such as the economist and philosopher Amartya Sen and the writer Sunil Khilnani have joined mainstream Indian historians in crediting Jawaharlal Nehru with having forcefully championed democracy to an indifferent populace, the reality is that independent India’s first prime minister chose to preserve colonial law as well as the colonial mode of administration.
The Nehru Dynasty Places Personal Power Over Societal Empowerment
By valuing the consolidation of power over societal empowerment, Nehru and his political (and familial) descendants have ensured that India today is much poorer than South Korea and China, both of which were more impoverished than India six decades ago. Nehru cut away at freedoms for India’s citizens, putting in place a vast system of state ownership and privilege that to a very substantial degree exists to this day. Next, Nehru ensured, through the promotion of his daughter Indira Priyadarshini, that the Congress Party would evolve into a Nehru family political dynasty headed, since 1991, by his grandson Rajiv Gandhi’s widow Sonia. Sonia’s son, and Nehru’s great grandson, Rahul Gandhi who is currently a member of parliament, is being prepped as a future leader of the Congress Party.
Although current Congress Party Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has often expressed admiration for British values and traditions and Congress Party President Sonia Gandhi cannot be accused of hostility to the Anglosphere, neither has done much to ensure that the common Indian citizen be given more autonomy vis a vis state agencies. In fact, since 2004, the pendulum has been swinging in the opposite direction, with partial reforms introduced by a Congress government from 1992-1994 having been rolled back in recent years.
Greater contact with the rest of the Anglosphere would help to align Indian institutions and regulations to be closer to those of mature democracies rather than resembling those of Haiti under the despotic reign of the Duvaliers. The magnitude of the failure of the political class in “free” India can be seen from the fact that there are 300 million Indian citizens whose living standards are worse than that of the average Haitian citizen and a further 500 million whose lives are well below internationally acceptable standards of adequacy.
The effect of this failure to entrench individual liberty over official discretion in India has been the perpetuation of poverty and ignorance. The political elite in India understands that only an unlettered and undernourished electorate would continue to apathetically vote them back into office. They therefore seek to ensure that the marginalized and the disadvantaged are frozen in their existing lifestyles, all in the name of “protecting culture and heritage.”
Too Little Being Done in India to Promote English Language Proficiency
There are many in India who are dismissive of their country’s Anglospheric links and want to dilute them despite the fact that Jawaharlal Nehru was culturally far more British than he was Indian (or perhaps because of this), very little was done during his time to expand English-language education in India. Indeed, Nehru’s government seemed to be preparing the way for the abandonment of English, a step that his successor, Lal Bahadur Shastri, wisely refused to take. If India is a success story of unity as well of economic progress, the credit goes to Prime Minister Shastri for having ensured the continuation of the English language and, subsequently to Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao for having introduced the first shoots of comprehensive economic liberalization in the economy. Subsequently, apart from 1998-2000 (the first two years of Prime Minister Vajpayee’s Bharatiya Janata Party government), very little has been done to move forward the process of economic liberalization. Indeed, the current United Progressive Alliance government (dominated by the Congress Party) in particular has seen a return to the regulatory mindset of the Nehru era, with immense additional discretion being given to state authorities and zero efforts at reform of the administrative structure to remove graft and enhance efficiency.
In India, such politicians oppose the spread of the English language, as they fear that this may result in a less docile population, one that votes in terms of direct interests. Increased contact with the Anglosphere would strengthen those elements within civil society that are working towards greater modernization. If there are 200 million Indian citizens who can get by in English, there are at least 400 million more eager to learn but have been deprived of the opportunity by deliberate state policy. By depriving all except those with above average incomes access to English-language skills, India’s political class has put in place a modern variant of the caste system, where (as in certain epochs) advanced education is a privilege open only to the few.
Balancing the Anglosphere with India’s Relations with Russia and China
Forming a trinity with the United States and the UK would, of course, not mean the abandonment of India’s prospects for better relations with China, Russia and Iran. All three are important to India, the first two very much so. While increasing its pool of English-language speakers and reforming its institutions to reflect the values and practices of a free rather than a colonized society, India would energetically pursue its unique geopolitical interests even if they are unpopular in London or Washington.
It must be remembered that the attitudes and policies of what may again be termed the Classical Anglosphere continue to infect much of the policy of countries in this now obsolete grouping. Hence, if India were today to engage in joint activities with China or Russia especially in locations such as Africa or Asia, would possibly harm the country’s interests because of the Euro-centrism that still drives much of American policy. In such regions, India must continue to go its own way in fashioning alliances distinct from those crafted by the countries of the Classical Anglosphere.
Countries that would be natural claimants to membership in a 21st century Anglosphere would be Israel and Singapore followed later by South Africa and, in time, Kuwait and Oman. Apart from the common misfortune of having once been ruled from London, each of these countries has a vibrant, English-speaking middle class and a moderate social and religious ethos.
When President Barack Obama comes to India, he does so not merely as the head of state of the country that is India’s top geopolitical priority (followed by China and the European Union) but also as the leader of the world’s most powerful English-speaking country. It is this essential difference that distinguishes his visit to India from his visit to China irrespective of the fact that the Chinese political system is vastly different from that of India.
Obama Admin. Less Open to India Than Predecessor
India had expected that President Obama, who has been a quick learner on the campaign trail but has been less nimble once in office, would understand the difference between India and China and seek to build on the Anglospheric commonalities between the United States and India. Thus far, however, the omens from his Administration are not promising. More than the liberalism of Franklin D. Roosevelt, what is most visible is President Obama’s use of a patronizing tone reminiscent of that used by President Bill Clinton who saw India as needing to belong, in perpetuity, to a lower order of nations than the United States and its primary allies in Europe.
While such views were certainly present within President George W. Bush’s team, they were, on more than one occasion, overcome by the recognition by both he and his key foreign policy advisor Condoleezza Rice that India merited a status and rights at least the equal of Japan and Germany, if still not that of Britain and France.
Will a 21st Century Anglosphere evolve? Looking at the approach of the new British government, they are good. The significance (of India being the second-largest English-speaking country after the United States) has not been lost on David Cameron. When the new prime minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland visited India recently, he made his acceptance of this new reality transparent. Unlike many of his predecessors, Cameron did not talk down to his Indian interlocutors but instead openly recognized them not just as equals but as representatives of a power that international geopolitics, with its matrix of threats and opportunities, has made a mandatory ally of the United States and the UK.
If He Bucks His Advisers, President Obama Could Lead a Powerful New Alliance
Should he follow George W. Bush and David Cameron’s lead and accept that India is an essential component in the alliance architecture of the English-speaking world, President Obama could yet transform U.S.-India relations and act as the prime mover behind a new alliance of English-speaking democracies. If, on the other hand, he comes to India as a follower of President Bill Clinton’s paternalistic legacies he would stand in the way of fashioning an alliance of significant importance to the Anglosphere, the Eurosphere and indeed all democratic countries.
If he chose to free himself of the toxic legacy of the Clinton-Gore administration, President Obama would have to fend off efforts by his bureaucracy to restrict the avenues of cooperation with India. In short, President Obama would need to follow George W. Bush’s example of seeing India as a country kindred to his own and who would then battle his own Euro-centric bureaucracy to remove some of the restrictions that had been placed on technological and other exchanges with India. This, despite the fact that President Bush’s first Secretary of State, Colin Powell, held a stronger Euro-centric views than the natives of that continent, seeing India as a lesser power than much smaller European countries. Incidentally, Powell was the author, together with Vice President Cheney, of the disastrous American lurch towards the Pakistan army after 9/11.
Both President Bush and now Prime Minister Cameron have shown that despite being conservatives, they have moved beyond the mindset of the “Churchill School” and have accepted that the only way for the Anglosphere and, indeed, the entire European continent can retain its global primacy is through a close alliance with India. In short, rather than becoming nostalgic for the 19th century Anglosphere, they have accepted and indeed embraced its 21st Century evolution in a way that the Obama administration seems unable or unwilling to.
Thus far, President Obama has shown little indication that he understands the immense potential in the Anglosphere connection between India and the United States. Unfortunately, a significant section of the “Thought Leaders” within America’s Democratic Party are wedded to the Eurosphere, seeing the United States as an extension of the European Union. For such individuals, it would be difficult to factor in the chemistry that is evolving in the rest of the world which is probably why they continue to use the faded, and failed, nostrums of the past in fashioning policies for the present.
Understanding India’s Significance
India must go a long way before its people enjoy the freedoms – and, of course, the lifestyle – of their partners in the United States or the UK. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has less than four years to ensure that the shackles of colonial law and administrative methods are removed from a country whose people can raise the rate of economic growth to 15 percent if only their own government did not perpetuate both private and public monopolies and impede necessary education for modernization.
The next month will show if President Obama understands the significance of India as the holder of the second largest economy in the English-speaking world (and perhaps to one day become the largest, provided present constraints on modern education are diluted). If he does, it would greatly assist India’s own honest and far-seeing Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, in his efforts at launching a second wave of the reforms needed to ensure that India takes its place among the Big Four (along with the United States, the EU and China) at the international High Table.
India is not just an abstraction but also a civilization that has close links to that which has nourished President Obama’s experience. Avoiding a clash of civilizations may not always be possible but what is needed to prevail in such eventualities is a “confluence of civilizations,” led by the United States and India, the two largest English-speaking countries on Earth.
The opinions expressed in JINSA Global Briefings are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA).