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Non-Violence and Gandhian thought in Indian Strategic Thinking
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Martand Jha | Date:09 Feb , 2017 0 Comments
Martand Jha
Junior Research Fellow at Center for Russian and Central Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University

30th January has been an important day in Indian history since last 70 years as Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated this very day in 1948. One can debate about the contemporary relevance of this day, but no one can deny that Gandhi epitomizes ‘peace and ‘non-violence’ around the globe till this day.

Both these concepts are deep rooted in the mindset of Indian policy makers which is evident with the fact that India rarely displays an ‘aggressive posture’ while dealing with other states in the system, so much so that critiques argue that India always ‘punches below its weight’. Many a times in the course of history India has constrained itself when it comes to retaliation. India’s response to the 2001 Parliament attack and 26/11 attacks have been quoted time and again to showcase India’s ‘soft attitude’ when the time demands hitting back hard.

It has been pointed out that this ‘self-restraint’ is a direct outcome of the ‘political will’ of the leaders sitting at the helm of the affairs. Political class often makes mistakes while assessing a situation related to security and strategy because of the simple fact the political leaders in India often lack strategic thinking. If one goes back to history, one would find that Indian foreign policy was based more on ‘Gandhian principles’ and ‘values’ rather than principles of geo-strategy and shrewd diplomacy required for the emancipation of ‘self-interest’.

Gandhian thoughts were at the heart of Indian political scenario in the first two decades after India’s independence predominantly because Congress Party was ruling over the union as well as the states. The best example which depicts India’s fixation with Gandhian values and its intent to implement those values on every front can be seen in the India’s Panchsheel Agreement with China. No doubt, these ‘values’ are good and have their own place in Indian society and culture, but ‘offering a cheek to get slapped after getting slapped on the other’ like Gandhi did, can’t be afforded in the strategic realm.

By doing so, India has already paid a big price in 1962 war with China and later against non-state actors from across the border who got into the habit of getting away by doing terrorist activities because India’s posturing as a ‘non-aggressive’ state was understood as India being a weak state. Fortunately, India in the last 70 years has managed not only to survive and thrive as a democracy but its power has grown to an extent where it is now being referred as an ‘emerging power’ in the international system.

Other states perceive India as an important power and player in global politics but it is India’s own self-perception which casts doubts over its capabilities. The reason which can be attributed to this self-doubt is the fact till now India has fought only five wars, out of which four were with a ‘minnow’ Pakistan (minnow because Pakistan can’t be put in the same league with India in terms of its power).  While the other one was with China, (a country in the same league, atleast at that time) which India lost. This loss to a similarly matched power has created a big ‘self doubt’ over India’s capability to hit back to an equally powerful nation if and when such a time comes. To put it simply, India is yet to win a war against a ‘major power’. Any country which aspires to be or become a ‘Great Power’ must defeat the other ‘Great Power’ in the system to reach that status. Every great power in the history has gone through this process, India is yet to do so.

Had the result of 1962 war with China been different, maybe the origin of ‘self-doubt’ could have been nipped at its start itself. But, what is bygone is bygone, one can’t change the past. Ofcourse, history teaches us to not repeat the same mistakes in future and therefore it is high time for India to start punching as per its weight.

India shouldn’t remain contended with the ‘emerging power’ status when a giant China is just sitting above as a ‘rising power’ in the system. To match up with China, India needs to invest vigorously to produce indigenous arms and weaponsand aim towards becoming an exporter of arms in future. No country can become really powerful until it lacks the self-reliance of developing indigenous weapons. The tag of being one of the largest importers of arms should be shed by India, the sooner it is the better it is.

Today, India needs to make sure that China can’t widen its tentacles over South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region because it would prove detrimental to Indian interests. China is already trying to tactically do a strategic encircling of India by bolstering its economic and military ties with almost all Indian neighbors including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

To conclude, the Gandhian ideals of ‘peace’ and ‘non-violence’ are good and beneficial only to an extent where India’s national interests are not undermined.


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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

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