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Being Indian

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A tiny country like Israel, which is surrounded on all sides by sworn enemies and others whom it has forced to sign peace pacts, manages to a large extent to prevent large-scale terrorist attacks. Even the frequent attacks by lone-wolf terrorists and cross-border firing of rockets are answered with what is often described as ‘disproportionate’ ferocity. At the same time, despite the ‘bullying’ behaviour claimed by its opponents, it manages international public opinion with finesse. In fact, many countries that had an anti-Israel stand have been seduced into open and, in some cases, out of sight relationships. Its relations with India have improved by leaps and bounds, largely because it proved to be a good friend in times of need.
If such a small country can negotiate the difficult path of power relations with little more than its resolve and the backing of a few good friends, what has kept India from actualising its power potential, instead of getting bogged down by the manipulations of a small neighbour like Pakistan? The problems have been all in the minds of the leadership, created by various lobbies with international connections. India’s self-interest has not been sufficiently understood simply because the understanding of being Indian has been lacking. In the early Nehru years, the obsession was with projecting the Gandhian image, without being rooted in the Mahatma’s sync with India’s civilisational values, and his pragmatism. So, a number of decisions were taken with the best of intentions, but resulted in a poor set of cards.
Later, despite successes like the 1971 war, leadership painted itself into an ideological corner that was hard to escape. Along with a failure to boost the economy, India became burdened with its own problems and was left behind even by countries that it had aided in the fifties. Despite the freeing of the economy to an extent after the Narasimha Rao-AB Vajpayee years, the entrenched elite have retained the fascination with the licence-permit raj and crony capitalism. The creative destruction indulged in by Narendra Modi has cracked open many of the restrained sectors of the economy but, as can be seen in the prescription being offered by the Congress, the promise is to go back into the horror of the past.
Indians must develop a sense of national self-interest similar to Israel. Although it has far greater natural resources and strategic depth, the focus should be, like Israel, on developing its human resource. If people can understand what is good for them and the country in material terms, they will act concertedly in that direction in numerous innovative ways. Even in the short term, this freeing of the spirit would have mind-boggling results.