• Archit Pandey

The Spectre of a Post-COVID India

Right now, we are all under the impression that the world in which we were habitual of living has gone, perhaps forever. But ‘going’ never takes place alone; a ‘coming’ must offer a substitute. What this substitute can be is a matter of debate. This debate swamps not only the socio-political and economic dimensions of India but also her cultural and environmental proportions. Our global standing governing our foreign relations, visibly, is not aloof to this. Here, I will particularly try to deal with this dimension only. Now, a point of interrogation here – what entices me to deal with this very aspect of India. The answer to this, according to me, should be very straight forward instead.

The COVID-19 pandemic began as a global health crisis. This pandemic gave an opportunity to the intellectuals to take a pause and re-think over the entire model befitting our socio-political and economic structures. But this thinking, which has been taken up by intellectuals, cannot be done in an isolated environment. They cannot just ponder over their own country and leave the rest. They need to have a global outlook in order to reach any holistic conclusion, right or wrong. This inevitably places greater weight over the foreign element of their thinking with respect to any other factors. This, in no way, as some people may make out, means that I am trying to undermine the value of other spheres. I am just trying to convey a very direct thing – an issue which is particularly global in nature indubitably invites examination from a global perspective with all other elements (socio-political and economic), not ignored, but subsumed in it. The other aspects must be taken into consideration in such an analysis but with a global bent across them.

Firstly, in this write-up, I will try to throw some light on some of the most avid speculations that we are witnessing currently regarding the change in the world-order in the post-pandemic world in some of the renowned journals, magazines and daily-newspapers; and secondly, I will examine them one by one, refraining from criticising negatively every point unnecessarily.

Our speculations: Myth or Reality?

First thing first: why speculations? Can’t we be sure of what will happen to this fragile global order in the post-pandemic era. The answer is a clear NO. The reason is obvious. The global arena is as unpredictable and erratic as the modern-scientific paradigm underpinning it. So, we can only, at the moment, speculate and not guarantee about how this pandemic is going to re-calibrate the entire global order.

The first speculation is regarding Asia climbing and US reclining in the world order. This comparison in itself is flawed and toothless as we are evaluating the position of a continent with a country. But even if we are doing so, nonetheless, shows the calibre which US has. I must also mention at the outset that I am not a worshipper of US (I worship ONLY God and will advise you the same). Also, in what sense are we talking of US taking a back-seat in the world order. Speculators are not clear on this. There is hardly any dent in socio-political and economic superstructure of America when analysed globally from modern view-point. Myopically, we can point some cavities here and there but overall, its entire structure is intact. Writers are trying to overpower Asia by pointing out to its role in some global groupings such as G-20 and BRICS. But they at the same time are forgetting that all these groupings are majorly symbolic in nature and the primary thing of a nation which is at stake in such groupings is their national interest. They cannot part with their national interest and join such groupings simply to outline their friendly instinct. The slogan of “America First” by President Donald Trump and his intention to withdraw American army from Afghanistan in a phased manner so as to strike a peaceful chord with Taliban is compelling some intellectuals to think over such steps from America as her signs of weakness. To think like this is a mistake. It is true that America has suffered, if not overall been at loss, by relentlessly interfering in the politics of the Middle-East and mostly the Arab Sheikhdoms but we must not forget that the real intention behind her disruptive attitude in this area has been guided mostly by her plan of energy security. To put simply, America cannot sustain itself for long without meddling with the Middle-East. Are the intellectuals, then, not right in claiming the recession of America from the global order after announcing her phasal withdrawal of army from Afghanistan and getting herself out from the JCPOA deal? They may be right in claiming so but I hold a different view-point. America realised that, better late than never, her conventional strategy to intrude with the Middle-East for her energy requirements may not last longer. This may be due to emerging regional powers, like Iran and Israel, in the Middle-East which may challenge American position in the region. Thus, American recession, real or apparent – as it may be, is a kind of break away in which she will frame a new strategy which will not only enable her to pry more effectively into the politics of the Middle-East so as to fulfil her energy requirements but will also put her in a more powerful position than before to deal with the emerging regional powers. However, it will be early to say how America will remould her position once the entire Middle-East is out of its fossil-fuel reserves in the next fifty or sixty years, as many studies suggest.

There is also a speculation regarding Intra-Europe fission which has gained pace after the success of Brexit. This is a view to which I concur, however, partially. This speculation has to be looked in two ways. Intellectuals have mostly focussed on the North-South divide, the operation of which has led to deepening schism within Europe. We will have to look at it from another side as well. Identity crisis among major European countries is the major factor which is also leading to the gradual rupturing of the continent. EU, which still holds a strong position in the politics of Europe (surprisingly), is, nonetheless, being questioned about its role to regulate relations among nations while enabling each nation to maintain her identity simultaneously. The passive role played by EU in handling the pandemic has heightened the apprehensions of the Europeans.

One of the most prevalent and accurate speculation, which is in vogue, according to me is regarding the rise of China, especially in Asia. This we all are observing, more so, after intensifying her trade war with US and her Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to consolidate its position in the Central Asia and the Middle East extending upto the Eastern Europe. The two-term limit on Xi Jinping’s Presidentship has also being lifted up. However, some undesirable inlets for China are also visible. The recent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong is a sign of worry for China’s hegemony beyond her borders. After the outbreak of the pandemic, the pro-democratic protests, although, slowed down and gradually got ended but it would be very early to say that they have culminated permanently. Taiwan also passed a law to combat Chinese activities on its land, influenced directly by Hong Kong protests. There is a possibility that similar protests may erupt in Taiwan too. The path ahead of China, therefore, is not as straight and smooth as it is generally told to be so.

Another speculation is regarding dwindling international organizations in the international arena. The transnational organisations, as a matter of fact, were never as influential as they are generally conceived of. In international politics, by now it must very clear to each and every one of us, it is the realist approach which always trumps. Global organisations, on the other hand, are based on a liberal perspective and try to reconcile rival nations over mostly irreconcilable matters which are underpropped often by respective nation’s national interests. Pakistan’s recurring defeats at the ICJ and, her unchanged and obstinate position over the release of Kulbhushan Jadhav is a case in point. Sometimes, these organizations might be considered instrumental while playing some supportive role in the course of global politics but they never appear taking an upper-hand in governing the politics of the global arena. Therefore, international organizations have never been on the forefront of the global politics and their standing have faded even more after the pandemic outbreak. Their position has been undermined by most powerful countries like US. US, which has earlier paralyzed WTO's appellate body by starving its funds and stalling the selection process for filling vacancies, has now been grotesquely criticising WHO for its offhand and inconsiderate efforts in making us aware and controlling the pandemic outbreak on time.

The next thing which intellectuals are talking about is related to the compass of energy politics. There is a rising speculation that as the fossil fuel reserves of the Middle East are not going to last longer, nations must seek out for some efficient alternatives. Environmental concerns due to over-exploitation of fossil fuels and other non-renewable sources of energy is further leveraging our concerns. There are only two possibilities. One, which is unlikely, or even impossible, to take place, is reverting to the Carkhā model of economy as conceived by Gandhi; and two, which is a modern alternative, is to invest on setting up infrastructures for the generation of renewable sources of energy. This, in long term, will prove to be unsustainable by its very virtue of being modern but nothing more sustainable and efficient thinking can be expected from our leaders’ jaundiced outlook. Now, in order to set up heavy infrastructure, because our energy requirement is high, mounting investment in technology sector is a pre-requisite. We all know and must admit that the technological advancements made by the US is unmatched. Therefore, US is going to play a pivotal role in this. Hence, the balance of power in the energy sector, in the near future, may transfer to US from the Middle East.

The Absent India?

Now many of you must be conjecturing that India till now has been missing from the entire discourse. This is because, meanwhile, there has been no real accomplishments for India. Hither and thither, we can point out her accomplishments but genuinely there has been no substantial feat for India in her account. This is a moment of concern for all of us (and kindly take the pain of not considering me anti-Indian). The reason why India till now has not been able to record any significant achievement to her name is because she has constantly been trying to win the games which belong to a province which is not her cup of tea. She has always been trying to venture into a hitherto territory. Why don’t we understand that all such western-modern accomplishments, which continuously makes us anxious and restless, is not the part of our very national consciousness. Such ruthless and violent modernity is completely unknown to us. The more we will try to catch it, the more will it fly away from us. Our valuable energy, as a result, is being getting lost in acquiring something which is alien to us. This is the province of west (a part of their national consciousness) and we can never match their potential. The way out of this conundrum is to venture upon our own national consciousness which belongs to our unmatched and unparallel tradition. Only then we can carve out our own unique identity amidst this crumbling and brittle world order. This identity is not new for us but has been forgotten, thanks to our modern prejudices. We have to reinvigorate this identity which is presently underlying in its dormant form. A sense of fulfilment, then, is bound to follow.

Post-pandemic, I personally, see no change in the outlook of India. Her global position will, more or less, remain the same. This is based on the fact that the way we are trying to rebound is still inflicted with modern slants. We are not ready to accept the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic is simply a part of a bigger whole pandemic – modernity. If we are not ready to give it up totally, many such and even graver pandemics (a computer virus can be the next in line) are standing closer to us and prepared to re-telecast Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata in our homes.