India is an important actor in South Asia and it has been extending its role regionally and globally. However, in spite of participating actively India is not regarded as an ‘Asian Power’. Sandy Gordon’s book juxtaposes the changes which are necessary in the Indian domestic and neighbourhood policies for India to become an ‘Asian Power’. It also provides recommendations and actions which the Indian government should undertake to achieve the goal. However, with the change in the Central Government in India in May 2014, some of the arguments and suggestions appear to have already been adopted. The most important suggestion by Gordon is to counter the high levels of corruption, which adversely affect the domestic as well as the regional rise of India. The ‘demonetization’ drive adopted by the Modi government is an attempt to counter this menace. Other recommendations include the strengthening of the policing system and the judiciary. These two sectors have been in discussion and debate and various governments have been attempting to undertake the necessary actions. The author rightly argues that these weaknesses directly affect the Indian aspirations of becoming a prominent global power.
The major tests of India’s diplomatic qualities are in its immediate neighbourhood. As argued by Gordon, most of the Indian neighbours share an adversarial and antagonistic relationship with India. ‘India thus tends to be on the receiving end of individual and collective feelings of insecurity on the part of other South Asian countries’ (p. 47). Countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal have had major issues with India. The situation is further complicated with the presence of China. China has been making consistent inroads in South Asia. The ‘all weather friendship’ between China and Pakistan is of concern for India. China has been investing in major infrastructure and other projects in South Asia. This has provided the smaller South Asian countries with leverage against India.
India China relations are also complicated because the two share a disputed land border. The border negotiations have not been able to achieve any major solution and thus the India-China relations are mired in distrust. This distrust is extended to the oceans as well. India has a very strong and active navy and also has a very strong influence in the Indian Ocean Region. This natural influence is regarded with suspicion by China who is dependent on the sea lanes of communication for fuels. Beijing fears that in case of a conflict, New Delhi will use its presence in the Indian Ocean to block the flow of vessels. As a result, China has been working towards building major ports around India, like the Hambantota, Chittagong and Gwadar. These developments further feed into the mistrust and negative perceptions.
In this backdrop the suggestion made by Gordon that India should use the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) coming from China to build its economy does not hold ground. India has real security issues with regard to Chinese presence. Gordon argues, ‘…India should consider garnering higher levels of FDI from Asia, including from its perceived competitor, China, just as China used capital and technology from the West in its program of modernization’ (p. 208). The situation is not the same. The unsolved border issue and the closeness which Beijing shares with Islamabad prevents India from accepting any such investments.
Another important argument which the author makes is the strength of the Indian soft power and how India should be focusing on exploiting this factor. While Indian soft power plays a very crucial role in extending its global reach one cannot deny that it is widely acknowledged that soft power does not work in isolation and needs to be backed with sound hard power capability. The most prominent example in this case is the United States of America. India’s Look East Policy is also discussed at great length and the author makes various suggestions for making this policy more relevant. The Modi government has also paid a great deal of attention to this aspect and has renamed the policy as the ‘Act East Policy’ thus assigning the required attention and importance to India’s eastern neighbours.
The author rightly concludes that the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has not achieved its potential because of the mistrust amongst the South Asian countries. However, there is need to discuss ways by which this organization can be made functional as there is a need to make the South Asian countries economically more robust and active. Increasing trade relations among the countries can help in ironing a number of differences and thus help in making South Asia a more peaceful region.
Gordon does not give full attention to the India-US relationship. It should not be only viewed from the point of balancing China. India and the US share good diplomatic relations. While discussing the international rise of India the author constantly pitches India against China and Pakistan. There is no discussion of India’s positive bilateral relations with countries like the United States, Japan and Australia, Vietnam and South Korea. The author also does not dwell on the question of India joining the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). An UNSC seat is regarded by the global community as an essential measure of global influence and power. BRICS which forms an essential part of the rise of India should have also been discussed.
Gunjan Singh, a researcher at the Indian Pugwash Society, New Delhi is Assistant Editor of the CBW Magazine, published by the IDSA and co-editor of Space Security and Global Cooperation. She has published in Harvard Asia Quarterly, International Affairs Review, Asian Affairs, Strategic Analysis, World Affairs: A Journal of International Issues and The Book Review.