By Deepak Sinha
In what has come to be termed as the “Asian Century”, it was just a matter of time before the world’s oldest democracy, the United States of America, began to follow in the footsteps of the largest, India. Events there show how fragile democratic systems of checks and balances are in front of concerted efforts to subvert or bypass them. One could easily be forgiven for thinking that there is very little that separates the oldest and the largest democracies when it comes to the functioning of the political class, though off course the shenanigans in the Tamil Nadu Assembly have certainly set the bar very high. It is also difficult to comprehend a democratic system in which an individual can go on to become the President despite losing the popular mandate by a huge margin of over two million votes. Obviously the Electoral College system has some major drawbacks and does not reflect the will of the people, which all democracies tend to so loudly proclaim.
The alleged involvement of Russia in the US’s elections is indeed ironic. For one, the Central Intelligence Agency as well as the KGB were, over the years, accused of fixing elections in various parts of the World, in order to further what the United States and the erstwhile Soviet Union perceived as in their own interests. They were, however, sensible enough to stay away from interfering in the internal politics of each other till Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State bitterly condemned the Parliamentary elections held in Russia in 2011 as fraudulent and fixed. To suddenly find itself at the receiving end of the same bitter medicine tells us a lot about the manner in which the world has become a global village following the digital revolution. Probably, there could be nothing more galling for the average American than to have President Putin, who was probably not unfairly blamed for tweaking the democratic process in his own country, offer to provide observers to ensure smooth and fair conduct of polls. In hindsight, the United States may have done well to accept his offer, as the elections appear to have been rigged, if one were to take President Trump’s word for it, though he is yet to provide an iota of proof to support his allegations.
There appears to be a bemused sense of wonderment and shock, both among the American public and the outside world at large, at the manner in which President Trump has proceeded about his business. The earlierExecutive Order issued in an attempt to block immigrants and visitors from seven Islamic majority countries, with all the confusion that it wrought, being the perfect example of his handiwork, his abortive attempt to repeal ‘Obamacare’ being another. This should have come as no surprise really because this was exactly what he promised to do during his election campaign and, unlike most professional politicians anywhere, decided to keep his word. Part of the prevailing shock must be attributed to the fact that he is actually attempting to implement what he had promised and people are now comprehending what the likely consequences would be if he continues in the same vein.
While few analysts are willing to put their neck on the line predicting how he will proceed in his dealings with the rest of the world, one can be fairly certain that he appears to get his kicks, to put it mildly, when he is able to throwthe opposition, be it domestic or from the International Community, into confusion and distress, using shock and awe tactics to intimidate and antagonize. His injudicious and sudden termination of his telephonic conversation with the Australian Prime Minister is one such example, and his meetings or conversation with some other Heads of State have been just as contentious. While he may get away with such behaviour with America’s close allies, one can be quite certain that such tactics will not work on the leadership of Iran, North Korea, Russia or China. While he may hope to keep other global leaders off- balance with his outrageous demands, he is likely to find out, sooner than later, that diplomacy unlike business is not a zero sum game and involves the art of compromise and mutual respect to succeed.
America being the world’s sole super power and economic leader certainly gives him a loaded dice in his favour when negotiating with the other members of the global community, but it certainly is not open season as he appears to believe it to be. The digital age has intertwined every nation in an economic embrace that can only be broken at great cost to each other, asthe British are slowly realizing with their Brexit fiasco. If he does go about causing economic turbulence in Asia and Europe as he has promised, he may find that the impact of his actions will be less than favourable for the United States itself. If that were to happen he would then find that all his attention and energies would be focused on domestic issues, such as tax reforms, employment and the economy, with little time for global issues.
It is in this context that India needs to tread carefully. Uncompromising and abrasive behaviour with either Pakistan or China can only lead to confrontation, which would hardly be in our national interest. Moreover, we would have to tackle these twin challenges on our own with a military which is hardly in any position to do so, given the existing deficiencies in manpower, weapons, equipment, poor state of morale and a completely dysfunctional civil- military relationship. That the PMO has not yet been able to resolve the anomalies left over from various Pay Commissions, including the 7th CPC, and implement its recommendations for the military despite over six months having passed since the rest of the Central Government staff have started receiving it, tells us exactly where things stand. It is all very well for the Government to use “surgical strikes” as brownie points to win domestic elections, it is wholly another matter to emerge victorious in any future conflict if the military is not to be given the attention and status that is its due. While Mr. Modi deserves kudos for pushing the National War Memorial project on the fast track, he would be better served if he also took personal interest in matters military or he may just find himself out of a job, if the external situation were permitted to deteriorate any further.
This article originally appeared in Indian Defence Review.