by Rabia Javed 20 August 2021
Ever since independence from Britain in 1947, India assumed itself as a major power, a rightful successor to imperial India. This aura of great power is the basis of India’s strategic thinking, not only as of the true and rightful South Asian hegemon but also as a world power. However, when one shuffles the pages of history, it becomes amply clear that India’s strategic thought is the product of its strategic fear.
Outsiders, the ancient Mughals, and more recently, the British, conquered the former Sub-continent and ruled for many years. After partition, the sub-continent was divided into India and Pakistan. This all left the Hindu majority of India with an inherent fear. Owing to Modi’s policies of Hindu supremacy, this fear has further permeated deep into the Indian thought, where Hindus now consider non-Hindus living in India as outsiders. With the far-right BJP in power, Hindu supremacists now officially spew hate and violence against fellow non-Hindu Indians.
It does not require a genius to extrapolate that the so-called modern Indian strategic thought is deeply influenced by fear from outsiders. Subsequently, its approach towards other regional countries is hawkish and coercive rather than being accommodative to lessen its fears. Despite its aggressive ambitions, it suffered many setbacks in the process. A series of cataclysmic events have scuttled India’s ambition and balked India’s world-power inspiration.
The 1960s were a bad time, perhaps the worst ever, in Indian history. India faced disastrous defeat at the hands of China in 1962 which buried down the Indian aspirations to be a regional leader. The brief, brutal war of 1962 was a debacle in which India lost 14,500 square miles of its territory. Similarly, India faced hard blows at the hands of Pakistan Army in 1965. This slew down India’s inner demons (like the memory of the 1962 debacle) to some extent.
Again in 1967, Indian troops suddenly found themselves toe-to-toe with Chinese troops in the eastern Himalayas. They quarrelled over the question of a fence at Nathu La, the strategic pass in Sikkim that demarcates one of the most tensely contested borders in Asia. The Indians wanted to construct an iron fence but had to face disastrous consequences again from an army that had beaten them comprehensively just five years earlier.
Engrossed with great-power ambitions, Indian policies with regard to the liberation movement in Bangladesh in 1971, the ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka in 1987, and the attempted military coup in the Maldives in 1988 are cited as few illustrations of India’s hegemonic intention in the region. India’s relations with her South Asian neighbours are characterised with numerous bilateral contentions. The mismanagement of power variables and complexity of perceptual constructs has resulted in a situation where India fears to exercise its leadership and neighbours strive to counter its hegemony.
Crises after crises, India’s strategic fear of having been ruled by Muslims for some 200 years has now aligned with its religious nationalism. Since the late 1990s, India’s electoral milieu has seen a surge of religious content with the electoral success of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This is evident from the Hindutva ideology that has transformed into the dominant discourse of anti-Muslim platitudes in Indian society. Therefore, the existing language of local stereotypes in India has been reinforced with modern offensive terms of intolerance especially against minorities. The aim of Hindutva is to create Hindu political dominance over non-Hindus through violent means while reducing demographic aspects of minorities to second-class citizens. Signature activities of militant Hindutva include violence such as deliberate anarchy; the closure of 100 churches in 2018; the bomb blast in Samjhauta express; the anti-Muslim genocide in Gujarat 2002; thousands of deaths during anti-Sikh pogrom in 1984; frequent assaults on lower caste Dalits and the brutal death of India’s revolutionary leader Gandhi.
The strategic fears of the past have led PM Narendra Modi to impose tyranny and fan religious hate. Under the guidance of PM Modi, Indian policies are producing a toxic Hindu extremist environment. BJP government has appointed most heads of the major universities and cultural institutions from factions of extremist Hindu nationalist. The official policy is skewed against Indian Muslims including Dalits minorities and the whole society is at the crossroads. Mob violence against minorities, especially Muslims, by extremist Hindu groups affiliated with the ruling BJP still continues. Dalits, formerly “Untouchables,” faced violent attacks and discrimination. Nearly 2 million people from tribal communities and forest-dwellers remained at risk of forced displacement.
Such a violent mindset has also embedded itself into the nuclear thinking of India. Prime Minister Modi has been using the threat of use of nuclear weapons against Pakistan as a go to line for winning elections, as well as, feeding the Hindutva extremist mindset in India. PM Modi ramped up the nuclear war threat following the failed Balakot strike in Azad Jammu and Kashmir by Indian fighter jets. While some commentators saw it as a ploy to attract votes, such crass remarks like “Qatal Ki Raat” by the PM while addressing to an election rally in Rajasthan, stated that India had not kept its nuclear weapons for Diwali fireworks. This was not the first time he had threatened Pakistan with nuclear weapons who is also the head of the Political Council of the National Command Authority, the sole body that can authorise the nuclear attack, which is reflective of the dominant but unpredictable mindset of the Indian nuclear establishment. Hindu extremists have a myopic understanding of nuclear weapons and the misguided rhetoric that powers the impulse to use them for warfighting.
Given India’s growing bellicosity and military misadventures in the region by its forces, it is indeed a grave situation and one that needs to be handled more seriously. As India expects to be dealt with by the global community as a rising power that even poorly handled the COVID-19 pandemic, the world must be mindful of the transformation of India from a democratic and thriving society into a suffocating repressive religious ideology.