It is not without significance that the outreach of globalisation is now beginning to set off a balancing trend of nations returning to a policy of prioritisation of domestic needs and well being. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for “nation first” even as he pushed India on to the global stage, was an early acknowledgement of the challenge India faced internally by way of poor delivery, rising inequalities and lack of order. He focused on the need for development at home and pursued international relations for serving the cause of economic growth, national security and defence. Modi sought equilibrium between the national and the international domains at the policy level and thus shielded India from the kind of conflict between the two that is now showing up in both US and UK.
The victory of Brexit was preceded by the ringing slogan of “America First” raised by Donald Trump—the presumptive Republican candidate for US Presidency. In both these countries, a visible large base of popular sentiment seems to be behind the nation-centric call. The vote margin in the UK referendum is thin, which also is the reading of the situation in the contest for Presidency in the US at present. However, what is significant is the fact that public mood in the two democracies across the Atlantic has converged on three distinct strands of thought rooted in perceptions of sovereignty, domestic economy and national security.
What is happening in the world around is to be seen against the powerful geo-political transformation that came about with the end of the Cold War on the one hand and the emergence of the Age of Information consequent on the success of the IT revolution on the other. Globalisation became the new mantra as instant connectivity, borderless markets and disappearance of the hostile division of the world between the two superpowers, created a situation where political sovereignty could yield to cooperation for mutual economic gain. With the passage of time, however, economic progress at home came under sharp public scrutiny everywhere. What proved to be a major add on to the concerns of the people was the perceived threat to national security emanating from the rise of the new global terror associated with ISIS and Al Qaeda. As this threat originating from faith-based militancy spread across national boundaries, an inward- looking approach became more and more pronounced in the countries that were at its receiving end. This is broadly what explains the current politico-economic trends in both Europe and America.
India is in a distinctive position of enjoying bipartisan friendships with US and the countries of Europe on issues of development and world security.
Informed strategic analysts have attributed the Brexit vote to the widespread apprehension among the people in England that EU had caused a lowering of the economic standards at home, that the sovereign decision-making had, to an extent, been seconded to the “Brussels bureaucracy” behind European Parliament and that the country was running into avoidable risks to national security because of the exodus of refugees and illegal immigration caused by ISIS. This ran parallel to the course of the American Presidential campaign in which Donald Trump had spoken strongly against the entry of Muslims from the affected regions into the US and warned against any trade agreements that did not give advantage to the Americans. It is not surprising that Trump has praised the British for “getting back their country” and quickly assured them of a flourishing relationship between UK and the US in his charge. Hillary Clinton’s campaign has to handle the pressure of conservative nationalism triggered by Brexit.
The impact of these goings-on in Europe and America on the economic and geopolitical interests of India has to be carefully analysed. There should be no fear really of any significant fallout of the events there for India. There are, however, three aspects of the atmospherics set off by Brexit that are relevant to India and these need elaboration.
First, while the merits of globalisation will remain intact, there would be renewed emphasis on bilateral and multilateral pacts for economic progress and mutual security, in line with the importance of sovereignty and nationhood. A nation, after all, is a collective of people who value their geographical boundaries and feel bonded by their shared perceptions of who their friends and adversaries were. This is already the philosophy that guides India’s national and international policy and therefore a certain continuity of strategy presumably will work for us.
Secondly, India is in a distinctive position of enjoying bipartisan friendships with US and the countries of Europe on issues of development and world security. The turbulence created by the rise of the threat of Islamic radicals in recent times keeps India and the Western world on the same side of the fence. The US tilt in favour of Pakistan—at the cost of India—during the decade-long first “war on terror” did detract from an optimal India-US relationship, but the revival of radicals under ISIS seems to have led to the American policymakers seeing the merit of the Indian argument that no distinction could be made between “good terrorists” and “bad terrorists” any more. The complexity of the issue of immigration getting linked to the threat of terrorism is affecting the US and Europe in a manner that does not cast any shadow on their dealings with India.
And lastly, in the post-Cold War era, India, having come out of the policy inhibitions of the past, has met up with all major powers of the world upfront and acquired a new relevance in global affairs. Prime Minister Modi has, on his visits abroad, talked of the global commons on which India is committed to play an active role for the larger good of the world. India’s trained manpower would be made available to the world outside for mutual benefit, which alone can keep India on a pedestal of friendship for all right- thinking leaders elsewhere. This country provides one of the biggest markets and one of the best investment destinations for all entrepreneurs, big and small, and the currents of instability caused by Brexit therefore may not make much difference to India.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau