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October 9, 2018
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No farewell to arms

Opinion

October 9, 2018

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The recent agreement between Russia and India to purchase a Russian S-400 air defence missile system seems to have created a ripple of excitement among Hindu chauvinist groups and warmongers in the power corridors of New Delhi. But it has dampened the hopes of those who want to see the elimination of poverty and starvation in a region with more than a billion poor people.

The agreement is likely to raise the spectre of a senseless arms race in the region that will have catastrophic consequences for not only India and Pakistan but also other parts of the region.

The decision to purchase this costly defence system reflects the gargantuan appetite of the Indian ruling elite for amassing modern tools of death and destruction. A whopping $5.43 billion is being pumped into this defence system that might go some way towards alleviating the fears of the Indian ruling elite regarding their security. However, the demise of the Soviet Union, which was equipped with over 10,000 nuclear arsenals at one point in history, shows that no amount of modern arms can protect states from the internal turmoil caused by falling living standards, abject poverty, inflation, and the lack of basic amenities.

This is not the first time that India has indulged in an expensive arms-buying spree. The country has been raising its defense budget for years. It overtook the UK last year as the fifth-largest defence-spender in the world, with a military budget of $52.5 billion that rose from $51.1 billion in 2016. In August 2016, New Delhi outlined ambitious modernisation plans, expressing a willingness to spend over $223 billion over the next 10 years to procure a multitude of weapons. A country where pacifists like Gandhi were born now plans to buy 500 helicopters, 12 submarines, nearly 100 single-engine fighter jets, and over 120 twin-engine fighter aircrafts and aircraft carrier by 2027.

Such extravagant spending on arms is trebling the woes of India’s people – 680 million of whom earn 75 cents a day. The showering of arms deals on Western and Russian companies may have helped the corrupt Indian ruling elite gain kickbacks and commissions, but such agreements offer no solace to citizens who are bereft of pure drinking water and certainly don’t provide shelter to 1.77 million homeless people in the secular state. These deals add to the miseries of millions of people who expect their government to alleviate their hardships by investing money in social sectors that have been ignored by almost all Indian governments.

We often wonder why India hasn’t witnessed a phenomenal rise in its budget for the social sector. Around 732 million people don’t have access to toilets in India. Only $30 billion is needed to build 111.1 million toilets that can benefit a large number of people and help prevent many diseases. Only 48.4 percent of households in India have improved sanitation facilities and the prevalence of diarrhoea in the country stands at 9.2 percent. Around 53.10 percent of non-pregnant women are anaemic while 50.30 percent of pregnant women suffer from the deficiency. Around 60,700 children die of diarrheal diseases every year.

Instead of addressing these problems, New Delhi is bent on pumping the hard-earned money of Indians into purchasing arms that will not only quadruple the country’s problems, but will also affect other states in the region. Islamabad will naturally follow suit. It has already lagged behind New Delhi in terms of conventional strength. Despite being a smaller economy, Pakistan is already spending a huge amount on its defence. This is because of an existential threat from hegemonic India, which cradles dreams of policing the region.

India needs to understand that America isn’t just a major power on the basis of its nuclear arsenals and military might. Washington’s strength lies in providing quality healthcare, free education, decent housing, and other basic amenities to its citizens. The history of France and the UK isn’t different either. British fleets and French jets weren’t the only elements that turned into Britain and France, respectively, into great powers. The real strength of these countries also lies in empowering their people by offering various provisions.

Advanced capitalist countries, which India wants to emulate, eliminated extreme poverty, ensured decent housing for their citizens, addressed the energy crisis, and ended malnutrition. They also promoted pluralism and multiculturalism. Above all, European states put an end to senseless wars and conflicts that have claimed millions of lives over the centuries.

France and England, which once fought wars for over 90 years, paved the way for modern transportation that not only connect both countries, but also brought the two nations closer. Portugal and Spain, Germany and France, the US and the UK, and several other Western states put aside the bitter memories of the past to follow the path of prosperity and stability.

What they seem to have concluded is: war and prosperity aren’t national phenomenon, they are rather regional. European countries became prosperous after ending hostilities and entering into peace agreements that helped various states work for the welfare of their people. Several prosperous states of Europe have no large armies or military might. But they are still respected among the comity of nations because they are directing their resources towards the social sector. Japan and Canada didn’t seek military might to gain a prominent place in the international community. In fact, it is their human development indices that have made them great nations.

India, as the largest power of the region, needs to revisit its hegemonic policies that are prompting New Delhi to amass ultra-modern arms. If it truly wants to acquire a prominent position in the world, it must work towards uplifting its people. An India free of poverty, hunger and starvation will not only inspire its friends, but will also force its rivals to work for these goals. If the government of the right-wing BJP continues pumping the country’s precious resources into nuclear arsenals and military might, it will leave Pakistan and China with no option but to match Indian spending on defence.

It seems that New Delhi is following the policy that the US adopted during the cold war by trapping the Soviet Union into a costly arms struggle that eventually dealt a heavy blow to the socialist country’s economy. What India needs to remember is that in today’s world no crisis or social chaos arises out of an economic meltdown or any other factor that is confined to the national borders of a state. It engulfs the entire region.

If New Delhi’s goal is to weaken Pakistan by forcing Islamabad to unrealistically increase its defence budget in the hope that it will cripple our economy with catastrophic social consequences, then the Indian ruling elite should remember that such a situation will not only create problems for Pakistan but will also have grave consequences for the entire region. Therefore, it is prudent for New Delhi to put an end to this senseless arms-buying spree and work towards providing basic necessities. It will not only be a favour to Indians, but also to the entire region.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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