The Indian moment of multipolarity
ANY serious and responsible analysis of contemporary world politics should begin with fixing a central point: we are living in the process of transition from a unipolar world order (from the 90th of the XX century after the collapse of the USSR) to a multipolar world order emerging under our eyes – but not yet fully established. This shift is of great importance. The future will be decided here – and has not yet been decided because of the persistence of the West, unwilling to yield its hegemony and accept the manifestation of new sovereign players. The unipolar world order still exists as it resists multipolarity, and is willing to win by projecting itself into the future.
This transition has created two levels of discourse in international relations: one constructed on the presumption of continuity of western-led globalization, albeit with some serious amendments (for example, recognizing the necessity of multilateral agreements with new emerging powers in non-western parts of the globe). The other discourse is built on the presumption that a multipolar world order already exists (confirmed by the self-confident politics of Russia and China, daring to openly question western hegemony) and the time of western-led globalization is over, ceding place to full-scale multipolarity.
The choice of perspective is defined by the geographical position of the observer: mainstream western analysis and above all US experts continue to believe that western dominance can be salvaged in one way or another, but a growing minority is already inclined to accept multipolarity as an irreversible fact; mainstream analysis in Russia and China confidently claim that multipolarity has won, while the pro-western (liberal) networks still defend adjusted unipolarity and believe that globalization can, in theory, overcome the present crisis. Elsewhere the analysis depends on what view dominates in society – pro-western (in that case the unipolar vision remains strong) or sovereign (in which case multipolarity is emphasized).
This theoretical remark is of importance as it clarifies the starting point in the discussion about Eurasia, China, Russia and India relations. First, the analyst, observer or expert should define his/her position on this fundamental transition. The rest will follow, making the logic and arguments valuable and sincere. We cannot rid ourselves of wishful thinking: the supporter of unipolarity would undermine multipolarity, searching for its weak points in an effort to somehow undermine it, whereas the opposing camp would be inclined to exaggerate the success of the new poles, downplaying opposite factors. Accepting this as an initial mapping of the field for discussion, we can freely proceed to express our (Eurasianist, Russian) point of view.
Eurasianists consider the shift from a unipolar world order that replaced the Cold War bipolar structure (including the non-aligned movement as a position granted by the existence of two main poles) as somehow inevitable, but at the same time recognize that it is an unfinished process and not to be taken for granted. The loss of global leadership enjoyed by the modern West for over five centuries is unlikely to be easily palatable to western ruling elites. In all likelihood they will try to save it or prolong it by resorting to a new global war or some artificial catastrophe of huge proportions. It is almost impossible to save the US (or western) domination by peaceful means, and the stakes being high, we should not exclude something terrible from happening. But on the other hand, we see the continuous growth of non-western actors – the strategic recovery of Putin’s Russia, economic achievements of China, and the demographic dynamics of Asia and Africa. In the long and middle term (maybe also in the short-term) the West is done. And on the side, multipolar players – Moscow and Beijing – have shown a strong determination to defend their sovereignty at all cost.
Under these circumstances, Eurasia is the continent where everything is being decided. Here already exist two self-conscious poles of multipolarity. It holds a large concentration of the human population. It is a natural site for the emergence of an alternative centre of global decision making. The unipolarists, naturally, will attempt to prevent that from happening. Hence, the sanctions on Russia, a trade war with China, pressures on other regional powers that are increasingly moving away from the control of the West (Iran, Pakistan, Turkey) and so on, are part of the game.
On the other hand, we observe a growing determination to forge Eurasian cooperation in the form of a Eurasian Economic Union led by Russia, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and the Russian-Iranian-Turkish alliance in Syria. There are initiatives working for consolidating Islamic countries and promoting cooperation in the Pacific zone. But the main tendency is represented by a clear multipolar strategy, summarized in the proposition of Vladimir Putin to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, to inaugurate the Greater Eurasia project where all multipolar initiatives of integration and cooperation can be included.
During the last meeting of the Vladivostok forum in 2019, Putin informally addressed an invitation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to join the club. So we come to India: Where is her place in the future world order? India is a key country, a player with history, a great civilization, with large demographic dynamics, and spectacular economic growth. At the same time, India does not feel she has been seriously harmed by globalization or threatened by western hegemony in spite of her dark memory of colonization. That could explain India’s reluctance to join multipolar initiatives – showing skepticism of the BRI, suspecting in it Chinese motives of regional hegemony, combined with the growth of the China-Pakistan strategic partnership, and perceiving a distance from the Russian Eurasian space. But after independence, India was preoccupied by the notion of sovereignty. In the last couple of decades, we observed a spectacular growth around the question of identity, with insistent claims of restoring Indian cultural, religious and geopolitical greatness. This translated into the electoral success of Narendra Modi, giving impetus to continue with its sovereign politics. But at the same time, the relations with the West and US in general, continue to be good and stable, reinforced by a growing confrontation between Washington and Islamabad.
This possibly explains India’s hesitation to join the multipolar club where two poles, Russia and China, are almost fully established, or come closer to the West and help contain the emergence of a Greater Eurasia. Both paths are feasible and can be evaluated. But there are some important considerations that work in favour of multipolarity outside of purely pragmatic calculations.
What are the arguments in favour of multipolarity? The spectacularly growing Indian identity, based on a system of values, is totally incompatible with western liberalism. Indian society by and large remains traditional and demonstrates a will to revive Indian tradition. That is not incompatible with modernization. The solution can be ‘modernization without westernization’, as proposed by D.B. Thengadi, and was thought of by Mahatma Gandhi. The process of decolonization was led under the flag of a revival of Indian identity that had nothing in common with the present post-modern set of principles, practices and rules embraced by the modern globalist liberal West. The multipolar world order, based on the principle of plurality of civilizations against the false pretentions of so-called ‘universality’ of ‘western values’ and ‘inevitability’ of the western way of progress and development, fits much better the Indian view of a rebirth of the country on the foundations of tradition.
Second, the trend towards multipolarity is on the rise with the hegemony of the West drastically in decline. Hence, there is a constant shift of power in favour of Eurasia and its new poles. This change of balance is projected outside of the Eurasian continent as well – we see it in the Middle East, Africa and Latin America. More than that, there is a growing wave of new populist movements in Europe – eastern as well as western – openly revolting against the ultraliberal globalist elites. They are fighting for a new Europe, outside of globalism, with the aim of adding an independent pole – the European one. This revolt manifests a clear trend. Stepping into the multipolar club, India has a lot to gain; it could mark a decisive move in favour of multipolarity.
Third, the strategic cooperation with Russia and China in the context of a Greater Eurasia could open to India new perspectives of integration of Southern Asia as a great space, distinguished from the Russian or China zones of influence, but in harmony with them.
Fourth, multipolarity favours the sovereignty of big countries or civilization states, India being one of the most important constituents. It would mean that in the world of civilizations, Indian sovereignty would not only be respected but also supported by the main Eurasian players. Thus, by joining the club of multipolarity, India could achieve new goals in a return to its history and traditions.
There is another aspect that could add weight to the multipolar paradigm in the case of India. According to British economist and political observer Martin Jacques,1 if the existing trends were to hold, the percentage of global GDP will resolutely shift to Asian countries, presenting the following picture.
India, in accordance to this forecast, will be the second most important economy in world by GDP next to China and ahead of the US and Europe. Together with China, it would gives us total dominance in the world economy; 53% (India China) against 28% (US EU). It would tilt the balance of the world economy to the East.
The picture does not reveal other important factors. For example, natural resources are mostly concentrated in Russia and the Middle East. The relatively small economic and demographic potential of Russia, along with the relatively low level of economic development of Islamic countries, represents the other layer in favour of the Eurasian economy. It adds to the importance of Russia and the Islamic countries in economic cooperation.
The place of high technologies in the main structure of the economy will certainly grow. In this field China has already made giant strides, investing huge amounts of money in AI research and other high-end fields. Russia has done the same though mostly in the armaments industry, which has been the Russian way of modernization. But in this realm, Indian specialists are highly appreciated worldwide. Multipolarity will thus create new opportunity to start a new age in high technologies, where the new centres too will undermine western leadership in this domain. Eurasia could turn into a primary economic mover of the world, with India representing one of the most important poles becoming an important decision maker.
Such changes will certainly affect other continents – Africa and Latin America where direct relations with Eurasia could open new opportunities as is already the case with Chinese-African and Russian-African relations and a further involvement of both Eurasian poles in Latin American countries. India can join this group too, projecting its economic ties in more coherent and effective ways.
The multipolar project and its Eurasian implementation in political practice puts in question not only western leadership but the universality of western (modern) world vision as well. That world vision was once the axis of colonial politics and continues, in some manner, to shape non-western countries. It is no more old ‘white racism’ but a new implicit hierarchy based on certain criteria: (i) developed (real human); (ii) semi-developed (weak human); and (iii) non-developed (subhuman) societies. Hence a three-world theory: civilized (fully democratic liberal) countries – first world; semi-periphery (partly democratic) countries, ‘barbarians’ – second world; periphery (archaic) countries, ‘savages’ – third world.
The first world is equated with the West. The second world includes Russia, China and other members of multipolar clubs challenging western hegemony (so demonization of Putin’s Russia and partly Xi’s China in the classical tradition of British imperialism). The third world represents other zones where the first world competes with the second one. This picture reflects the classical Eurocentric concept. The first world is considered a universal destiny; barbarians are dangerous because of their partial and incoherent acceptance of western agencies and methods, using them against the West itself; the third is a zone of the ongoing civilizing process led by the West and directed to universal standards – market economy, liberal democracy, equalitarianism, individualism, secularism, materialism, progressivism and gender politics (a new feature). We continue to deal with the same colonial attitudes based on the certainty that the western system of values remain the only progressive and acceptable one.
However, multipolarity tries to subvert this certainty and attempts to go beyond the modern western paradigm. It adds to the geopolitical fight an ideological dimension, but this time in a totally new bipolar era. It is no longer communism against capitalism but instead universalists (West) against pluralists. It marks a new turn of decolonization – but this time around the direction is a decolonization of minds. The idea is not only to compete with the West by using the same methods, tools and similar strategies like the West itself, but against it in order to increase their sovereignty. It is a tactical and spontaneous phase. Eurasia must think deeply about the identity of its multiple civilizations – Chinese, Russian, Islamic, Buddhist and so on. So deep decolonization is possible only if we look beyond the ‘colonial mentality’ that silently agrees with western ‘universality’. The West is a part, not the whole, and its values, ideas and concepts reflect the historical experience of one part of humanity pretending to replace the totality.
Multipolarity thus advocates a return to the civilizational foundations of each non-western civilization. The fight for Eurasia therefore obtains a new anti-colonial and anti-racist dimension. When the West tries to judge non-western societies on the basis of western criteria – the level of development, human rights (as the West itself interprets them), quantitative indexes and so on – it commits the intellectual crime of projecting its own ego on others and measuring it with something partial that pretends to be universal. All post-modernist relativism, self-critiques and remorse concerning colonial practices did not quite teach the West to respect the other, because it is liberal democracy and human rights ideology (of purely western origins) that are considered to be inclusive ways to ‘understand’ the other – paying no attention to whether the other agrees with it or not. So western ‘multiculturalism’ cannot hide the fact that the West still thinks of civilization as something singular, refusing to accept the concept in plural – as civilizations. According to the West, there is only one civilization – the modern western that will be imposed on the world in the process of globalization; the rest is underdeveloped, uncivilized. In this way, direct imperialism is replaced by indirect domination.
In that context, India is now faced with making a choice about the very nature of modern society: whether India will be just one of many developing countries (that means going exactly the same way as the West, but with some delay) or it will be somewhat different – a civilization going its own way having overcome the colonial trauma and its consequences – represented by accepted western standards – in politics, in economy, in law, in culture, in technology. The same problem confronts Russia and China, and the Islamic world. Are they mere countries or civilizations? If they are countries they can accept (or reject, if they posses enough sovereignty) the western criteria and try to catch up with the West or else compete with it. If they are civilizations they can choose their destiny based on identities, roots, and value systems. Multipolarity means exactly that: recognition of a deep civilization identity, and the construction of the society on it, despite colonialist pretentions of globalists, western elites and pro-western liberals in non-western societies.
India is a great civilization with an original ontology, anthropology and sacredness. There are different religions and ethnic groups that represent the richness of Indian spiritual traditions. We can observe a growing demand for the resurrection of the spirit of India awaking in the dark age of kali yuga. We see this across the social spectrum, among the BJP ruling party, but also among some circles orientated to Congress and following Gandhi ideas of swaraj. The concept of swaraj was not only a call for expulsion of the colonial administration, but also suggested the rule of Indians by Indians, based on Indian traditional values. The raj is swa (own) only when it is rooted in the spiritual autochthonous tradition. When one borrows the manner of rule from the ex-colonizer, it is not yet ones own (swa) rule – it is still the rule of the other in indirect form. So joining the Eurasian perspective of multipolarity would be fully consistent with the reaffirmation of a deep Indian identity. It would not be a purely tactical and arbitrary step, but much more important.
Amultipolar order is inconceivable without India as a fully independent pole. More than that, a multipolar order can be established and made irreversible only with India. The very fact of India joining Eurasia, and reaffirming herself as a civilization state, can convince the West that the game of hegemony is over, and enhance the possibilities of a peaceful transition. With three greats joining efforts on the side of a Greater Eurasia, where India can be at the centre of the Southern Asian region, multipolarity will become effective. The choice India will make is crucial, and the invitation from Putin is important. This is the right moment.
1. Martin Jacques, When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order. Penguin Press, New York, 2009.