By Rahul Dixit :
AS INDIA continues to rise in the new global order on the strength of its traditional stability and spiritual thrust to decision-making for the benefit of the larger society, a dangerous dungeon is getting created around it. The cookie is crumbling at a brisk pace in the neighbourhood where Sri Lanka and Pakistan are wallowing in a meltdown of their own making. Driven by myopic policies and reckless economic dependence on a deceitful partner in China, both the Indian neighbours have weakened to a degree where resurgence is a far-flung dream. Erratic behaviour by political class is further wrecking their future path.
The contrast playing out in the Asian sub-continent is staggering, again proving the inherent quality of the ancient Indian wisdom where social welfare is at the core of good governance. The sobering lessons from Sri Lanka and Pakistan provide a glimpse into how populism and hackneyed political thinking can bring doom on an unsuspecting society. One thing that is common in the ruins of both Sri Lanka and Pakistan is the overwhelming presence of China and its ruinous debt traps. The muddle in Lanka is not going to end anytime soon. It is a tragedy of its own making. The ruling Rajapaksa clan was overly ambitious in ushering in a false dawn on the Lankans but they kept hurtling towards destruction with ill-timed policies and untenable economic jigs. Coronavirus pandemic apart, the government exacerbated the economic crisis through its own omissions and commissions. Heavily dependent upon foreign exchange through tourism, Lanka was thrown into an abyss when the virus shut down the world for over two years.
The pandemic-induced lockdown dried up foreign exchanges and remittances -- two major sources of income for Lanka. Further, all the wrong fiscal policies coupled with ill-advised decisions like sudden shift to organic farming and huge tax cuts borne out of misplaced populism have come back to bite the Island nation. Anarchy now rules the streets of Sri Lanka. The all-powerful Rajapaksas are now taking shelter in fortified bases as people are baying for their blood, especially deposed Prime Minister Mahinda whose fondness for everything Chinese is well-documented. The island nation’s economic crisis has transformed into civic unrest. Arson and plundering is the latest resort for people to tackle acute shortage of daily needs. The world, including an ever-benevolent India, is extending all possible help to tide over the crisis but given the political volatility prevailing in Sri Lanka there is little chance for return of sanity anytime soon.
While Sri Lanka swims in dire straits, the situation in Pakistan is equally grim. There is a double whammy for the Pakistani people to deal with -- of a fast-crumbling economy and the political theatre of the absurd. A new Government cobbled up by former foes has taken charge of the country. The ousted regime, led by the mercurial Imran Khan, is not ready to throw in the towel. The daily political slugfest has many actors and a strong director i.e. the Pakistan Army. Bleeding in the gamesmanship battle is the population which is witness to high devaluation of their currency and ever-rising costs of fuel and goods. Economic mismanagement is the key factor in Pakistan’s present condition. Imran Khan was clearly waylaid by populist policies while the Army dictated terms as per the Chinese playbook. Khan’s careless foreign policies also played a big hand in the economic meltdown when he rubbed the Saudi Kingdom the wrong way and took up cudgels against the United States. Saudi Arabia being the largest benefactor of Pakistan tightened screws on the loans-flow and the US pulled down shutters on defence-related aid that was indirectly benefiting the political and military bosses in Pakistan.
The perennially client State has now been left to feed on the doles from International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank. The aid, too, is not a given after the consistently ‘grey’ rating of the country by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) over terror-funding. Unlike neighbouring India or even Bangladesh, Pakistan has suffered economic mismanagement and the high inflation is a clear manifestation. Excessive dependence on debt from the IMF and China has crippled Pakistan’s economy. The ouster of Imran Khan is hardly a solution to correct the series of wrongs committed by the political class in the guise of securing democracy. The ‘Naya Pakistan’ promised by the cricket World Cup-winning captain has, in fact, become a mirror image of the country in the late 70s and early 80s when General Zia-ul-Haq ruled it with his toxic doctrine. In the middle of the two ruins stands India -- tall in international stature and handsome in its handling of the COVID-hit economy. The pandemic years have, in fact, aided the rise of India’s power through benevolent diplomacy and steadfast decision-making. It is evident in the positions India has taken in tricky situations like the Russia-Ukraine conflict. India’s position of neutrality over the Russian invasion and condemnation of violence in Ukraine gave the glimpse of the traditional stance India has practised while guarding its self-interest.
The historic bilateral equations with Russia have been accepted by the world, including the acerbic United States, as they have engaged Prime Minister Narendra Modi for a critical role in determining the new global order. India’s position of strength is based on its time-tested foreign policy template to which every successive government has contributed in a healthy way. In the last over seven decades, India has cultivated its foreign policy by keeping national interests at its nucleus. Be it the non-alignment movement to the present multi-alignment policy, Indian diplomacy has always followed a cultured and structural path. Based on the old template, the Modi Government has successfully pursued an aggressive foreign policy which the world has accepted on its true merit. On the economic front, amid global slowdown and rising inflation, the biggest difference between India vis-à-vis Pakistan, Sri Lanka is its anticipative contingency measures.
The well-crafted stimulus packages, infusion of funds, fiscal checks and policy-tweaks including Production Linked Incentives (PLI) for multiple sectors have helped the economy make a V-shaped recovery. Global tensions are bound to affect the future course but then again India’s fiscal thinking based on ancient, intrinsic values is sure to offset the setbacks. As the cookie disintegrates in the neighbourhood, its remnants overwhelmingly tell the world how spiritual and intellectual depth in the Indian thinking -- political, diplomatic, civil, and military -- has always helped India to keep catastrophes at bay. The biggest difference again is in the philosophy practiced by all the three neighbours. While self-centered policies and blind following of poisonous agenda have defined Sri Lanka and Pakistan, respectively, over the years, India has steadfastly focused on public welfare and financial strengthening matching its rising international clout. The difference is now apparent -- in the domestic situations and international standings.