(I had written this is January, but forgot to post it)
When Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal
coined the phrase "soft state" in the early 1960s, he did have
countries such as India in mind.
What he was speaking of was states that had low expectations from its citizens.
the phrase is used to refer to countries like India in a different way -
as states which, despite their size and power, are unable to exercise
the influence that should by right be theirs.
India is larger than all the other
South Asian nations combined, but despite its size and economy, it looks
like a pitiable giant in the neighbourhood.
Whether it is Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Nepal - leave alone Pakistan - cocking a snook at India is par for the course.
Take Sri Lanka, a country for whose
security more than 1,000 soldiers and officers of the Indian
Peacekeeping Forces (IPKF) laid down their lives.
today, Colombo keeps New Delhi at an arm's length and ignores the
politically sensitive Indian concern over the rehabilitation of its
is despite a highly favourable free trade agreement that has increased
commerce between the two countries manifold and promoted Indian
investment in the island.
As for Nepal, not even the US and
Canada have the kind of open border that India has with its northern
neighbour, one that is of enormous benefit to the Nepalese.
Yet, every government that takes office in Nepal thinks nothing of playing the Chinese card against India.
With the Maoists having become an important force in the country,
China's influence is likely to grow, though India has been
diplomatically quite effective in checking this trend as of now.
India is not a small country - on a European map it would stretch from
Minsk to Madrid. It has the world's largest standing army, and one of
the larger air forces and navies.
economy is already eight times as large that of the next biggest
country, Pakistan, and slated to get even bigger in the coming decade.
India's advantages are accentuated by geography and culture.
former makes India the natural centre of the subcontinent - Bangladesh
is virtually "India locked" as is Nepal because of the high Himalayas,
and Pakistan is cut off from West Asia by turbulent Afghanistan and the
deserts of Balochistan.
important reason for India's inability to exercise its clout is that
the smaller countries have, at various times, brought in effective
"offshore balancers" to counter India.
The US played this role for a considerable period of time and this position now has been taken up by China.
its export prowess, full coffers and a burgeoning arms industry,
Beijing has the combination of "hard power" assets that effectively, and
often, stymie India.
India, the quintessential soft state,
is also a great soft power. With its movies, dress styles, cuisine,
popular and high culture, free India is the cultural centre for a vast
region extending from Jakarta to Cairo.
translating soft power into purposeful policy is never easy. The bottom
line for India is its inability to compete with China's hard power.
soft power advantages count for nought when Beijing has the ability to
mount massive economic aid programmes, investments in infrastructure,
and supply armaments without any concern for human rights and other such
what Beijing uses in the region. It has sharply stepped up its aid to
Sri Lanka, investing heavily in building its infrastructure, as well as
its armed forces.
Located where it is on the Indian Ocean, China clearly views Sri Lanka as an important component of its Indian Ocean strategy.
Economic ties between Bangladesh and China are substantive. But even more impressive are the military ties.
Bangladesh Army is equipped with Chinese tanks, its Navy has Chinese
missile boats and frigates, and its air force flies Chinese fighters.
perhaps of greater significance is the fact that India's lumbering
government is unable to provide the kind of inter-departmental
coordination and sense of purpose that would result in effective policy
service is pitifully small and there is a constant battle between the
IAS-dominated Commerce Ministry and the Ministry of External Affairs.
for arms exports, they are a non-starter, for the dysfunctional Indian
defence industry can't even provide for our own armed forces.
sad fact is that we have a governance system which finds it hard to
exercise power within India, so where is the question of applying it