To the Editor in response to “Is India an Ally?” by Sadanand Dhume:
Sadanand Dhume is right to ask whether Washington’s new love affair with New Delhi is premature, given India’s history of “non-alignment,” its lingering post-colonial sensibilities, and its inability (to date) to take advantage of the Bush administration’s generous civilian nuclear deal. Should Manmohan Singh’s government ultimately fail to deliver its end of the nuclear bargain, the next occupant of the White House will think twice before investing much new political capital in the U.S.-India relationship.
Mr. Dhume should also be commended for dispensing with the notion that India is immune to Islamist extremism because of the quality of its democratic institutions. If the smallest fraction of India’s Muslim minority views terrorism as a legitimate political tool, India will face a heightened security threat from trans-national Islamist groups. But even though India’s Muslim community is in fact more prone to radicalization than boosters like Thomas Friedman are willing to admit, Mr. Dhume overstates its political power, particularly in the realm of foreign policy. It is hard to discern the “enormous influence” of Muslim voters in New Delhi’s policies toward Israel and the United States, or even, for that matter, toward Iran. In each instance, perceived national interests—military, political, and economic—weigh more heavily.
Nor are India’s socialists quite the menace Mr. Dhume identifies them as. The leftism of intellectuals like Arundhati Roy and the Left Front parties that have temporarily stalled the U.S.-India nuclear deal is actually losing its popular appeal and its ideological coherence in the face of India’s growing economy. Just as in neighboring China, the ruling “Communists” in Indian states like West Bengal have essentially dumped the economic policies of the past in order to court foreign investment and pursue rapid growth.
It is true—and unfortunate—that New Delhi’s more ideologically driven leftists have stymied Prime Minister Singh’s latest efforts at economic reform. But this fact says more about the weakness of his Congress party than about the Communists’ strength. Today the defining dynamic of Indian politics is the decay of Congress and the emergence of regional parties. In this devolution of electoral power, the leftists have maximized their limited leverage by playing between the seams of the governing coalition and the opposition led by the Bhara-tiya Janata Party (BJP). But the Left Front’s tactical maneuvers, however successful in the near term, are unlikely to translate into lasting gains.
In sum, the roadblocks to India’s continued ascent (and the ascent of the U.S.-India partnership) are less likely to be ideological or religious, as Mr. Dhume argues, than structural. Weak local and national institutions have compromised India’s capacity to move ahead with economic reforms and ambitious foreign-policy undertakings. For an aspiring global power, India has thus far underinvested in the tools required to support world-class policymaking, such as higher education in the social sciences, research centers, and a robust, highly trained foreign service.
Council on Foreign Relations
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