by Manoj Ladwa
The dynamics shaping the new world order are not new. Now, as at almost any other time in history, the world is divided between those who are intent on pulling up the drawbridges – for talent, investments, capital and culture – and those who have selected paths predicated on greater cooperation and the celebration of shared values and mutual respect for cultural, ethnic, linguistic and religious diversities.
In a role reversal of epic proportions, the world’s erstwhile champion of globalisation – the United States – has just torn to shreds the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that had promised to ease trade norms among nations that cumulatively account for 40 per cent of global trade even as new US President Donald Trump is threatening to make good on his bizarre election promise of building a wall along the border with Mexico to stop the inflow of alleged aliens into the US from that country.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, British Prime Minister Theresa May is also having to play with the poor hand she was dealt by her post-Brexit elevation to the position of Her Majesty’s First Minister. As premier, she has continued the hard line she had adopted as Home Secretary. Result: It is much more difficult than before for foreign students and professionals to pursue higher studies and post-education careers in the UK.
The common “enemy” in both cases (of the US and the UK) is the foreigner, who, according to the dangerous and flawed narrative woven by cynical politicians – counting only the votes that could come their way and completely blind to the long-term damage they are causing to their own societies as well as the world at large – are stealing jobs and social security benefits from natives and other sons (and daughters) of the soil.
The epidemic is spreading and countries such as France, the Netherlands and Italy could soon join the isolationists’ corner.
Fortunately, however, even as some liberal democracies in the West are pulling up the drawbridges that link their nations and societies to the world, many other societies are moving with determination in the opposite directions.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has invested lots of political capital on integrating India with the world, is giving full play to his vision. The most recent iteration of this is the joint op-ed he has authored with HH Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, who was in India on the occasion of the country’s 68th Republic Day.
In that piece, the two leaders write: “As nations, UAE and India have grown to respect each other for our shared values of religious tolerance and the importance of building open, multicultural societies that are respectful of differences related to faith, ethnicity or language...”
This reiteration of these principles is important, especially in these times when the world’s foremost champions of liberal values seem to be turning their backs to the very credo that contributed so much to their present exalted positions in world affairs.
The world is worried. An isolationist US and an immigrant-unfriendly Europe will create a leadership vacuum in an increasingly fractious world. While it may be possible for a newly emerging global powerhouse – with some help from a resurgent former superpower – to replicate the hard power wielded by the US, no other country or coalition of nations can combine such military muscle with the moral authority that the leader of the post-War democratic order brought to bear on world affairs.
And this is where Prime Minister Modi, belying his image of a rightwing Hindu nationalist – painted by his political rivals, partisan civil society groups and an uncharacteristically pliant western media – ploughing a lonely furrow while following India’s millennia-old tradition of syncretism, can position India as another pole in the emerging multi-polar world.
Admittedly, we are still some distance from achieving that goal. But in times to come, this may well become the template India offers to the world – of a free, liberal democracy that is welcoming and ready to do business with everyone.
That will be in keeping with India’s cultural moorings and Indians can keep the flame alight – till the isolationists in the West realise the folly of their ways and return to the path of reason.