A shrewd way of flattering someone is to suggest that he or she has it in them to write a book. However, smartness lies in seeing through the flattery and in knowing that writing a book is a tough call. Hillary Clinton did the easiest thing under the sun by issuing a stirring call from Chennai that India should lead Asia. Our smartness lies in knowing that India first needs to lead itself.
Clinton could have been specific. Where does India begin leading? In South Asia? Has anyone asked Mahinda Rajapaska or Sheikh Hasina or Prachanda or Asif Zardari whether they are willing to be ‘led’ by India? They don’t even seem to want to be led by the United States. And, as for south-east Asia, do the countries of the ASEAN regard India as a role model? Ask the tiniest of them - Singapore. They will respond disdainfully that India is a decrepit country that can’t even get its act together. They worship only Mammon. Does the biggest of them - Indonesia - concede India’s leadership role? Clinton singled out Afghanistan as an ideal area for India to play a leadership role. Perhaps, she has a point insofar as India has abundant manpower to spare for dispatch to the killing fields in the Hindu Kush to fight futile wars. But, again, did she ask Hamid Karzai whether he wants Indian troops to be deployed in his country? Karzai would have said he’d ask Pakistan first. Anyway, Karzai would know by now how difficult it is to get a foreign army to vacate its occupation of his country.
Clinton is dead wrong. What India does need to do is to look within for the foreseeable future. The debris that is lying around will take at least a generation or two to clear up. No, ma’am. India has miles to go before it even thinks of flexing its muscles in West, Central or South Asia. Besides, it is a dangerous thought to presume you have leadership qualities. The US should know from its own experience in Latin America.
By all means the US can sell weapons to India and India is after all willing to buy them. What is the need to give an overarching rhetorical justification for the sales pitch? India would rather follow Barack Obama’s sensible prescription. “America, it is time to focus on nation building here at home!” Wasn’t that what Obama declared a month ago in his historic White House speech regarding Afghanistan?