Heading the list of New Delhi’s woes is a leadership deficit. Italy-born, 64-year-old Mme. Sonia Gandhi, widow of a former prime minister and backseat driver to the ruling Congress Party, has been secreted away to New York for cancer surgery [if by a noted Indian émigré physician]. She leaves behind a power vacuum, not only in her ruling Party but in government. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, a technocrat, increasingly is drowning in massive corruption, growing inflation and a flight of capital escaping crippling bureaucracy.
Rahul Gandhi, Mme. Sonia’s 41-year-old son, has yet to prove he has the charisma of three generations of independence leader Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s family who imperiously have dominated politics – if, arguably, preserving national unity. Caught in India’s worship of priestly figures, a traditional hunger strike by an anti-corruption hero, Anna Hazare, was mishandled. [Mr. Singh has had to backtrack from Mr. Hazare’s arrest.] The government, correctly, is terrified Mr. Hazare’s high-minded tactics could be appropriated by mushrooming anti-government, anti-business campaigns, further paralyzing governance and the economy.
India’s international role, too, is in jeopardy. Naïve Washington hopes for a U.S.-India alliance against Beijing’s growing aggressiveness have been dashed. American forgive and forget efforts have dawdled in extending nuclear and other advanced technologies after New Delhi defied the world to build atomic weapons – matched by Pakistan with Chinese and North Korean assistance. American vendors recently were shockingly left off the short list for a $10 billion fighter plane bid. There’s suspicion stricter American anti-bribery laws than notorious European “incentives” played a role. A 25-year-old case against Mme. Sonia’s deceased husband, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, for a Swedish purchase was recently shelved, more or less indecisively.
Meanwhile, decades of addiction to a Moscow alliance continues among India’s diplomats, illogical as it might be what with growing Russian arms delivery failures and Moscow’s massive military sales to China. Furthermore, India’s proposed huge overseas defense purchases may not meet its security requirements. Mr. Singh has called India’s greatest threat “Maoist” insurgencies in a dozen Indian states. New Delhi and state governments have passed responsibility for their suppression back and forth with little success. These social conflicts grew out of pro-Chinese proclivities of Bengal’s Communists whose 30-year hold on Calcutta, India’s second city, was recently broken, probably only temporarily.
After three and a half wars, negotiations continue fitfully to reach a compromise with Pakistan, the twin regime bloodily carved out of British India over half a century ago. With its own Muslim population as large as Pakistan’s, Indian leaders increasingly appreciate an implosion there would threaten its own breakup. But terrorists with tentacles leading from Pakistani military through the perennial dispute over Indian occupation of Kashmir are torturous, made even more dangerous by occasional clashes of regular forces such as took place in early September. Washington, after fitful attempts, has failed to mediate the feud, caught between aiding a bankrupt Islamabad and attempting to warm post-Soviet Cold War relations with India.
This picture is clouded further by New Delhi’s fishing in troubled ethnic waters in Afghanistan, and Pakistan itself. The Pushtoon terrorist hotbed on the Afghan border is where Pakistani, Indian and Chinese interests conflict. China, meanwhile, continues a campaign of seduction of Pakistan, a massive Tibet buildup, including missiles and probably nuclear weapons, as well as infiltration in the Himalayan border states of Nepal and Bhutan and at both eastern and western ends of the 1500-mile frontier.