My remarks at the Towards an Assertive Policy on India’s External Democracy Support roundtable organised jointly by ORF and Takshashila in Bengaluru on 12th July 2019
The question posed to me was: what do you think/perceive of India’s record in strengthening and promoting democracy in its region and across other parts of the world? Do you see any connection with changing geopolitics (especially the rise of non-democracy like China and falling liberal order) and opportunities for the world’s largest democracy?
In response, I argued that India definitely has a huge opportunity of upholding the liberal rules-based order given how that vision has become out of fashion of late. Supporting democratic means of governance is a project that falls under this vision of the future world order.
However, evangelising democracy alone won’t increase support for democracy. Instead, two factors will drive other nations towards choosing democracy: one, India’s success in bringing peace and prosperity to all Indians and India’s ability to provide solutions for resolving major global problems of the day.
All such conversations should start with how we view what India’s national interest should be. In our view, India’s national interest lies in the realisation of yogakshema i.e. peaceful enjoyment of prosperity for all its citizens.
Choosing a democratic system of governance was the first step in furtherance of this citizen-centric formulation of national interest. From this very step, India’s democratic experience became a point of interest for aspiring democracies across the world. A vast and low-income India managing its diversity in a democratic manner became a rallying point for supporters of democracy in many other nation-states.
The naval strategist Alfred Mahan proposed a concept called a “fleet in being,” — a force or capability that cannot be ignored by observers and whose very existence shapes what the observers do. Taking this analogy forward, India is a “democratic fleet in being”. Its very existence shapes the discourse on democracy across the world.
But India being a robust democracy is a necessary but insufficient condition for promoting democracy elsewhere. The argument in favour of democracy needs to have both intrinsic and instrumental values. A democracy that delivers success in terms of bringing peace and prosperity to its citizens is then the instrumental condition that will attract other nation-states towards this mode of governance. As long as India keeps succeeding while being a democracy, it need not specifically bat for a particular type of regime in another state.
To illustrate why success counts, China’s example should suffice. Despite being perfectly and proudly non-democratic, many nation-states are attracted to dealing with it and becoming like it. That’s because the Chinese experiment in governance has delivered success in terms of bringing peace and prosperity to millions of its citizens.
The second way in which India can strengthen the case for a liberal democratic order is to champion Indian solutions for major global problems. India’s conduct on this count will again set an example for other aspiring democracies.
The list of major global problems is a long one; there are several opportunities for India to make a difference. In a trade regime where protectionism is the flavour of the times, India can truly champion the cause of free trade. In a world where nuclear safety is becoming even tougher, India can champion the Global Nuclear No-First Use cause. And in a future that will have to factor in climate change, India could take a lead on climate change adaptation through solutions such as Global Climate Change Relocation Insurance framework.
So, going beyond the traditional means of democratic support, success internally and solutions globally will make the argument for democracy a more convincing one.