“Nationalism Is One Thing In Which People Don’t Calculate Economic Gain And Loss" Meghnad Desai

Lord Meghnad Desai in his new book Politic Shock writes on how the election of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in India and Donald Trump in the United States challenged the “liberal order” that has been the dominant political thought for over 50 years. Excerpts:

Aug. 29, 2017, 2:26 p.m.

I will start from the last chapter of your book where you have talked about the possibility of a war, with the US and India on one side and China and Pakistan on the other. With the military standoff between India and China on at Doklam now, what are the chances of a war between these two nations?

I think there’s a huge possibility. The timing is very hard to predict. What is happening right now, in a slow way, is that small skirmishes are happening on different fronts, not just Doklam but in Ladakh and other areas. I have believed it for a long time that there is got to be some sort of major confrontation between China and India because the problem of the border is much more serious for China and Chinese nationalism than it is for India. The Chinese national view is a deep wound which they believe when China was weak and the British were powerful, they took a lot of territory in the Tibet region and incorporated it into British India. And they thought that the Congress would be sympathetic because of the anti-imperialistic background, but when Independence came, Nehru took a view that our borders are our borders, get lost... They very strongly believe that China won’t be full until their territories are back. You know how nationalism works. They seem very sore about Arunachal Pradesh, which was incorporated into Indian territory in 1937, so they feel it was a very late addition and they want it back. But this is not how the Indian public sees it. They see it is our territory, and that the Chinese are coming in, like they did it in 1962. In 1962, the Chinese did not have preparedness to stay (in Indian territories). In 1962, China was having one of its biggest famines, which we did not know at that time, in which 40 million people died. Compared to 1962, China today is much stronger, richer, more influential and powerful internationally. The Indian government knows there is a serious possibility of (an escalation) ... that is why the Chief went to Ladakh. We are all talking about Doklam and it suddenly happened in Ladakh. It is a long border.

China is trying to become an economic superpower and India is also one of the fastest growing economies. Will it be in the interest of both nations to go for war in the current circumstances?

Nationalism is one thing in which people don’t calculate economic gain and loss. They say this is my country and my country has to win, and I will take any loss. We have not gone to that point yet, but we have to understand what China’s thinking is. A few days back, on the Doklam issue, China said that India is behaving like a colonist. It will happen partly, I suppose, if Trump gets cross with North Korea and North Korea fires a missile and the US bombs North Korea... All I am saying is that this has all the ingredients of a confrontation, but whether a confrontation will happen... If I was an astrologer I would tell you, but I am not an astrologer.

You have written about the “liberal order” being challenged by the election of Narendra Modi and Donald Trump...

It is being challenged because one of the things it has long depended on was some sort of centralist politics. The major political parties didn’t disagree with the fundamentals. Everything had converged at the centre — be it Republicans, Conservatives and so on. And suddenly you have outsiders come in, who do not accept the consensus, specially Mr Trump. Here too, when Mr Modi got elected, though he is not as much of an outsider as Mr Trump is, the usual reaction was — Oh my God, how can he become Prime Minister of India, he is terrible, and so on... Even his party did not believe this man can bring a majority, and he got majority ... and that was the great surprise to the liberal order because it was not meant to happen. People said he can’t be Prime Minister. What’s happening is the usual assumptions that India is like this, India is secular... are being challenged. These are being challenged as the liberal order failed to understand that there is dissatisfaction among people who feel they are not being served by the dominant order and that they were neglected.

What are the other reasons for the liberal order which prevailed for so long being challenged?

The real reason was the financial crisis of 2008. We are in the ninth year of recession... (and) people say we have recovered, but it still doesn’t feel like the old days. Prosperity has sort of still not returned to any economy. There is a feeling that the current younger generation is never going to have as good a life as their parents had. This is a big challenge to an order which was dependent on saying that we will give you democracy and we will give you prosperity. And it had defeated the Communist system, which had said forget democracy, we will give you prosperity. The challenge is how the liberal order responds to people who feel deprived so that they continue with their commitment to it and not drift to the extreme right-wing or left-wing parties.Meghnad Desai Book.jpg

You have compared Mr Modi with Mr Trump. But Mr Modi had huge experience as chief minister of Gujarat, whereas Mr Trump seems somewhat unpredictable.

They are outsiders in different senses. Mr Modi has a lot of executive experience, but he is an outsider in the sense that for the elite, which was occupying all the top posts, for them he was an intruder. Even in his own party, when he was made chief campaigner, he was not liked because they were upper caste and Mr Modi was something low down. So he broke a barrier, but as he is a right-winger, no one gives him credit.  People who don’t like him don’t hear what Mr Modi says. So he is an outsider in that culture, even though he has got a lot of political experience. Mr Trump did not have any. Mr Trump was an insider in a way that he was a lot on TV and people knew about him. Mr Trump was a public figure in American life for a long time. Mr Modi was popular in the rank and file of the party, but not in the leadership.

There was a lot of expectation from Mr Modi that he would unleash big-bang reforms.

A lot of commentators who wanted to come to terms with Mr Modi — we projected onto him our expectations that he would be really a radical reformer, a market type of reformer. He himself said little about it.

But his image, which he developed as Gujarat CM...

There is still a possibility that he will do big-bang reforms in his second term. This is what Margaret Thatcher did. People forget that Margaret Thatcher did no reforms in her first term. He does not control the Rajya Sabha, and you can’t reform if you don’t control the Rajya Sabha. But a lot of reforms have happened, which people say are not big-bang reforms, such as Jan Dhan Yojana, LPG gas, GST. Quite a lot of things have been done; the most important of which, I think, is the building of toilets. He changed the political conversation and things are moving in his favour as the Opposition is totally crippled. Until something really goes wrong, he can more or less count on a second term. The other thing that is going in his favour is the Supreme Court decision on triple talaq. However, as far as economic philosophy is considered, there is no difference between the BJP and the Congress and other parties. They all believe in the State, in subsidies, they cowed down before the unions, no labour reforms law. Mr  Modi has not shown courage to reform labour laws and even land laws. There is this idea that big businesses are not good, the State is good. It may be that Mr Modi has big reforms up his sleeve, but he will not do it until he is secure in his second term with a majority in the Rajya Sabha and a single-party majority in the Lok Sabha.

Courtesy: The Asian Age


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