India is Shackled by its Neighborhood

Self-inflicted wounds – whether in the form of poor domestic governance, decrepit infrastructure, a hostile business climate, and the absence of a unified national market – continue to hobble India’s ambitions in Asia and on the larger world stage.  Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s forthcoming budget offers a good chance to make some progress here.  But New Delhi is also held back by its tumultuous neighborhood and, as recent events demonstrate, the prospects for headway on this front are far less promising.  This, in turn, creates a striking paradox: India yearns for a place in the first ranks of world power – Mr. Modi proclaims that he wants “to make the 21st century India’s century” – and yet it remains unable to purposefully shape events in its immediate environs. Continue reading


Memo to Modi: Focus on India’s Near Abroad

The invitation by Narendra Modi, India’s new prime minister, bringing other South Asian leaders to his elaborate swearing-in ceremony was a brilliant piece of regional diplomacy.  Breaking with tradition, the event was akin to an American-style inauguration held in the forecourt of the Presidential Palace, a majestic red sandstone edifice that formerly housed the viceroy of the British Raj.  At once, the ceremony showcased the vigor of India’s democratic institutions – the centerpiece of the country’s soft power – as well as its natural primary in subcontinental affairs.  It also dampened concerns that the incoming government would be driven by hyperbolic nationalism.

But Mr. Modi will require creative initiatives and sustained endeavors in order to capitalize on this initial gesture. Continue reading

To Be Taken Seriously By Others, India Needs to First Look Inside

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.”

Several developments related to India call to mind William Shakespeare’s famous line in Julius Caesar.  The first are the tours of the United States undertaken last week by Finance Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram and Commerce & Industry Minister Anand Sharma, aimed at drumming up foreign investment.  The second is the continuing hue and cry in New Delhi over Beijing’s energetic efforts to create a sphere of influence in the strategically-important (here and here) Indian Ocean basin.  In both cases, Indian leaders would be well advised to spend more of their energy getting their country’s act together before looking abroad. Continue reading