Former National Security Advisor (NSA) Shivshankar Menon says India is still a developing country and is far away from being called a ‘Vishwa Guru’, as has been projected by the Modi government.
Speaking at the launch of his latest book, ‘India and Asian Geopolitics’, the former diplomat said, “I don’t think we are right yet to claim to be vishwa guru. We are not a great generator of knowledge or great innovators. We are actually an importer of knowledge, of technology, of ideas. Of course, this can change but not today.”
Speaking to Indian Express, Menon criticized the present regime for using foreign policy for domestic political purposes and image projection. “All this projection of India being a great rising power, a global power and so on is essentially us. The world is much more realistic. The world measures your material power, hard power, your economy, your military strength, and your ability to run your own affairs well,” he said while answering a question on how he perceives the present government’s idea of India as a world leader against the realities that besiege the country.
When asked to explain what kind of power he thinks India is, the former NSA said that India knows very well that it is “still a developing country and has a long way to go”. “However, we have weight, we have influence and we had the brains to use other people’s political weight. In 2008, when we didn’t get clearance from the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group), we were able to work with enough friends and with the sole superpower of the day to get that,” he said.
Menon also cited the example of how India used the support of Soviet Union and Cold War situation to help Bangladesh win independence in 1971. “That was an achievement… So there is a large element of skill here which involves understanding the situation, using it to achieve Indian interests,” he said.
On China, Menon said the dragon has become more assertive since 2014. “I see much more Chinese assertive behaviour for two reasons. One is they see an opportunity… But, they might also be seeing a closing window, that this is a temporary moment of strategic opportunity,” he said.
The former diplomat, however, said the Asian economic giant faces tough challenges ahead as its population growth diminishes. “By 2040, most projections say that China will have the age structure that Japan has today,” he said. It is impossible for any country, and also China, to maintain 10% growth rate for more than 30-35 years. “For the last few years, they have been showing 6% (growth), while some outside observers think it is as low as 2%,” Menon said.
On Chinese aggression along the LAC in Ladakh last year, Menon said the government should be honest about what exactly happened. “We are talking of disengagement, not of restoring the status quo. But at the same time, the initial tendency was to say nothing has happened. If nothing has happened, what are you discussing? My advice would be, it’s best to be honest with your own people right from the start,” he said.
Menon said that India and China have serious co-ordination issues. “We do not understand each other at all, we don’t even study each other properly,” he said. The pace at which the Chinese economy has grown and the influence they have on world politics have created a “sense of envy in India”. “A lot of the reactions, like throwing Chinese TVs out of the window, how and whom does it help? You just lost a TV, that’s all. There is no rational discussion of these things and it is not even possible… That for me is tragic,” he said.