We are just weeks beyond the fifteenth anniversary of the 1998 nuclear tests, and less than a year from the fortieth anniversary of India’s 1974 “peaceful nuclear experiment.” India is justly proud of what its nuclear scientists have accomplished. In the face of an international regime to slow their progress, Indian scientists, engineers, and even bureaucrats and politicians collaborated to find a way to build an increasingly diverse nuclear energy infrastructure and the ability to produce nuclear weapons. To overcome these obstacles, India built a closed, close-knit nuclear enclave.
Identity politics is the workhorse of most analysis of human interaction in India. For decades, the cleavages of caste and community have been viewed as the most important forces shaping social, political, and economic dynamics. The extent to which individuals participate in violence, act collectively, succeed in delivering public goods, or make decisions on Election Day – all of these are perceived to hinge on issues of ethnic identity.
In 1992, in a much cited essay, George Tanham unleashed an enduring, even if incorrect, geopolitical meme – that Indians uniquely lacked a strategic culture. Tanham’s dismissal of all of modern India’s statecraft infuriated some of his Indian counterparts, while others quickly embraced this argument. In a recent cover story, The Economist undid an otherwise good analysis of the myriad challenges in India’s quest to be a great power when it inexplicably settled upon an intellectually lazy explanation of strategic culture.
If the historic trend line in Sino-Indian relations holds, the recent India-China military stand-off in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir will soon be followed by predictable hype in Delhi about the impending transformation of bilateral relations and how it might change the world. The three week intrusion by the Chinese security forces into territory claimed by India came to an end in early May after India persuaded Beijing that a failure to restore the status quo ante could severely set back the bilateral relationship.
In India today, matters of public interest seem to get their due only when the Supreme Court has added its two cents. Interest groups, representing both general and special interests, petition the judiciary actively. Debate on any topic often leads to the importance and activism of the Indian Judiciary. In an era where virtually all institutions in India have been vulnerable to political capture, the judiciary seems like the last hope for citizens to receive a fair hearing.
Despite favorable geopolitical conditions such as concern over the nature of China’s rise, the relationship between India and Japan remains one of unfulfilled potential. The persistence of a “perception gap” between the two is preventing deeper engagement.
On December 31, 2012, India completed its seventh two-year term as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC), the world’s foremost multilateral institution for the maintenance of international peace and security. At the beginning, many analysts had described this period as an “audition” for a potential permanent seat, much desired by Delhi. By the end, many of the same analysts concluded that India had failed to impress.
Women in Independent India have evolved with the flow of history, but it has only been over the last thirty-five years that they have experienced the post-industrial revolution and subsequent positives of globalization. These developments have radically transformed their gender relations at home, the workplace, with peers, and possibly in society at large, quite similar to the kind of social transformations women in the United States experienced in the 1960s.
On the eve of India’s founding, no one could have imagined how successfully it would come to navigate the international system. At that time, there were legions of skeptics who believed that the half-life of this new country would be measured in years, perhaps decades at most. The question of when India would split apart was one of the staples of public discussion going back to Churchill’s celebrated remark, “India is a geographical term. It is no more a united nation than the Equator.” Since then, legions of commentators believed that it would be a miracle if India survived.
As the United States and India grow ever closer as partners, they cannot escape the challenges posed by Pakistan, which has been a complication in the bilateral relationship between Washington and New Delhi since 1947. The next American President and his Indian counterpart will find it impossible to ignore the dangers and opportunities posed by Pakistan today. Cooperation between Washington and New Delhi on how to deal with these challenges is crucial and fortunately seems to be improving especially as we prepare for the 2014 transition in Afghanistan.