Modi’s binding constraints

Extracting some relevant portions from two of Raja Mohan’s recent articles from the Indian Express:

His big problem has been the unresponsiveness of India’s domestic governance to the opportunities and challenges that the world presents India.

Just as it found it difficult to implement various initiatives of the PM — from Swachh Bharat to Startup India — Delhi’s lumbering bureaucracy has found it hard to follow through on the developmental opportunities that Modi’s vigorous diplomacy created. If the economic and security ministries have been unable to capitalise on the opportunities that came India’s way in the last few years, they might find it rather hard to cope with the more complex international and regional environment that is emerging.

What India needs most is to change the way the government does its routine business and how different parts of it relate to each other and the world. Urgent administrative reforms to generate greater efficiency and synergy hold the key to the construction of a New India that can fully tap into the nation’s internal and external potential. [Link]

In his next column the following week on Beijing’s growing military, commercial and strategic ties in India’s neighbourhood, he wrote the following:

Delhi has been utterly unprepared for Beijing’s widening strategic influence in its neighbourhood. Delhi has long been complacent in its assumptions about India’s natural strengths in the Subcontinent.

Delhi gains little by whining about Beijing’s “encirclement of India”. China is doing what comes naturally to great powers. Beijing is projecting military power and limiting the strategic influence of other nations in its neighbourhood. India, instead, must raise its own regional game by overcoming multiple limitations on its defence cooperation.

Two problems stand out. One is the lack of a defence industrial base. Delhi may not like Sri Lanka or Bangladesh buying Chinese military systems, but it has little to offer as alternatives. While PM Modi has talked up indigenous arms production and exports, he has not been able to get the Ministry of Defence to shed its indolent ways.

Nor has he been able to make the MoD receptive to the idea of defence diplomacy. Despite repeated entreaties from the armed services and the foreign office, the MoD has been unwilling to facilitate vigorous defence exchanges with the neighbours. Without changing the MoD’s current approach to defence diplomacy, Beijing will have little difficulty in chipping away at Delhi’s much vaunted claims on “India’s regional primacy” and the “strategic unity of the Subcontinent”. [Link]

Oh, well. At one level, it should not be surprising. If India’s governance handicap has pegged its domestic economy back, it is but natural that it would peg India’s foreign policy objectives back too.

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