The world must be India specific
The Indian system went into another paroxysm of debate, largely uninformed, about introducing a national system of nuclear liability. The Left, opposed to nuclear power in the first place, merely sought to found ways to block the legislation. The Right, ie the Bharatiya Janata Party, was reluctant to block what is the fulfillment of the Indo-US nuclear deal (having been burnt by its supporters when the deal was being put together) but determined to leave its stamp on the legislation. So its leaders demanded that the legislation be “India specific.” I was not surprised.
When the Indian political leadership faces something that requires the country to engage and become part of an international system they rarely focus on trying to understand what the costs and benefits of doing so. They instead look for ways to make it “India specific.” In other words, whatever treaty or legislation that is being signed or put together it must have something unusual, something unique to India.
This is now so well recognized by other governments that when they try to inveigle New Delhi into signing up for something they look for some innocuous paragraph or line to sacrifice to India.
Is India just trying to be ornery? Actually this sort of thing is quite common among biggish countries. American exceptionalism, Gallic everything and the Middle Kingdom are all about the assertion of national identity in a globalised environment.
But Indian politicians are also being intelligent when it comes to the public’s pulse. Indians are particularly sensitive about the idea of sovereignty.
I always like to cite a study by Rollie Lal, called Understanding India and China, where she interviewed dozens of strategic thinkers in both countries. Strangely, more homogenous and politically centralized China was concerned the most about territorial integrity. Sovereignty was about national unity. Indians were much more concerned about being able to make independent decisions in the world’s economic and political. “India –specific” is a good way to absorb this.
Why are Indians so concerned about this sort of thing? Good question. It partly reflects the fact that Indians believe their democratic system is capable of handling any secessionist threats. It also reflects a broad scorn for the Indian state, seen as dysfunctional and incapable of not being hornswoggled by other governments. But it also reflects history. As economist Jeffrey Sachs once said, while explaining India’s suspicion of foreign investment, “This is the only emerging economy that was once colonized by a multinational.”