by- Chaitanya Kalbag
Early this week I attended a talk on Nation Branding by David Reibstein, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School. Nation branding is the perception people have of a country, whether they visit it, buy from it, or invest in it.
For their 2016 Best Countries report, Reibstein and his associates surveyed 16,200 business experts and ‘informed elites’ around the world and divided their findings into nine sub-rankings like adventure, quality of life, open for business, heritage, and cultural influence.
India came in at No. 22 among 60 nations. It did worst (No.39) on citizenship, which was broken down into attributes like respect for property rights, progressive, trustworthy, well-distributed political power, religious freedom. Its lowest scores were for gender equality (58), cares about the environment (58) and cares about human rights (57).
We ranked No.14 on Power, broken down into strong military (17), strong international alliance (24), and came in at No.12 on economically influential and politically influential.
We scored less well on quality of life (26) and especially on safety (48) and a good public health care system (57).
Now comes the most interesting bit. Which countries were at the top in self-evaluation, i.e. the difference between how the world sees them and how they see themselves? India and Israel. In other words, the world may see us at No.22 among 60 major nations, but we see ourselves among the top ten. We are self-confident and pumped up.
It only seemed logical, therefore, that the very next day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi should compare India’s army favourably with Israel’s. “Our army’s valour is being discussed across the country these days. We used to hear earlier that Israel has done this. The nation has seen that the Indian Army is no less than anybody,” Modi said in a speech in Himachal Pradesh.
Modi was obviously referring to India’s raids across the Line of Control in Kashmir on Sept 29. The comparison with Israel is not so obvious. India has been steadily building military ties with Israel over the past decade and more. About $3 billion in defence deals are in the works. At least three successful test firings have taken place this year of the Barak-8 surface to air missile jointly developed by the two countries and capable of nuclear payloads. Although Indian officials are coy about details of the relationship, it is deepening. President Pranab Mukherjee visited Israel a year ago, the first by an Indian head of state to that country, and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will most likely visit New Delhi later this year. Talk of a Modi visit to Tel Aviv has faded, but not died out.
India needs all the friends it has. Over the past week, Modi has hammered away at bad neighbour Pakistan. At the weekend BRICS summit in Goa, he described Pakistan as the “mother-ship of terrorism”, and at Sunday’s meeting between BRICS leaders and those from BIMSTEC — the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation – he described Pakistan as “this country in India’s neighbourhood (which) embraces and radiates the darkness of terrorism” and said terrorism had become Pakistan’s “favourite child”. BIMSTEC, which clubs India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Thailand, is being vigorously promoted by New Delhi to by-pass SAARC, the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation, which is rapidly crumbling with its November summit in Islamabad scuttled by an India-led boycott.
However, Modi’s strenuous campaign did not yield the direct denunciation of Pakistan that Indian policymakers had hoped for. The BRICS Goa declaration spoke in general terms (“We call upon all nations to adopt a comprehensive approach in combating terrorism, which should include countering violent extremism as and when conducive to terrorism, radicalisation, recruitment, movement of terrorists including Foreign Terrorist Fighters, blocking sources of financing terrorism..”) but specifically named only the Islamic State and not any of the terrorist groups that have staged attacks in the Kashmir Valley. The BIMSTEC declaration went a little further, again without naming Pakistan, condemning those who “provide sanctuary to terrorists and terror groups, and falsely extol their virtues.”
Neither Chinese President Xi Jinping nor Russian President Vladimir Putin, who joined Modi and the leaders of Brazil and South Africa at the Goa summit, publicly echoed India’s anger. Moscow and Beijing are both worried that the Islamic State, which is under siege both in Syria and Iraq, will expand its influence in Afghanistan, closer to their borders. In fact, the day after the BRICS summit ended, the Chinese foreign ministry made very clear it was not going to jettison its all-weather friend Pakistan. “Everyone knows that India and Pakistan are victims of terrorism. Pakistan has made huge efforts and great sacrifices in fighting terrorism. I think the international community should respect this,” a Chinese spokeswoman said in Beijing.
So where does this leave India?
Although Modi was reported to have counselled his ministers as well as Bharatiya Janata Party leaders against chest-thumping over the army’s cross-Line of Control raid, a lot of it has been taking place. (Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said Modi’s chest had swelled to 100 inches from 56 inches after the raid).
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar set out the Modi doctrine in an extraordinarily candid interaction with an audience in Mumbai on Oct 12 organised by the Forum for Integrated National Security. Peace and a dislike for war should not be equated with weakness, he said. “Unluckily over (the) last 70 years…the country has never thought that strength itself can be the defining force for peace”.
Parrikar described in great detail how he has speeded up armaments purchases. He said a country that does not make itself capable of waging a war is a country “which suffers the very thing it does not want…And therefore we should strengthen ourselves to a level where no one dares challenge us for conventional or non-conventional war. I think that should be the basic concept or doctrine for which we have to prepare ourselves.”
He described how the deal to buy French-made Rafale fighter planes had been clogged up for 16 years, and an indigenous Light Combat Aircraft, the Tejas, which had been 33 years in the making, was finally inducted into the Air Force during his tenure.
Parrikar clearly seems eager to talk up the surgical strikes, saying they had never been staged before – a claim that the previous government as well as senior military officials and diplomats contest. The question is: why try so hard to establish the historicity of India’s retaliation?
And further: how will India react to the next Pakistani provocation?
“If I create a pattern, (it) will be recognised and countered,” Parrikar said in Mumbai. “We did surgical strikes. The next response may not necessarily be surgical strikes…Unpredictability in your response is the biggest weapon.”
At least here India has set up a tough bar to cross the next time, much as Israel has in the Middle East. Score one for self-evaluation.