Is India punching below its weight? NSA Doval thinks so, what about you?

Is India punching below its weight? It’s the mother of all questions for contemporary practitioners of statecraft and diplomacy, and the country’s strategic thinking elite.

One can go on debating this proposition endlessly, and the country’s diplomatic-strategic establishment can delude itself into comforting clichés about the emergence of India as a major power in the shifting global geopolitical landscape. But National Security Adviser Ajit Doval is a staunch realist, and he has rearticulated what has been spoken often in the strategic circles – yes, India has been underperforming when it comes to leveraging its growing economy, its status as the world’s most populous democracy, and its indubitable soft power strengths.

“India has a mentality to punch below its weight. We should not punch below our weight or above our weight, but improve our weight and punch proportionately,” Mr Doval said in his address entitled ‘State Security, Statecraft, and Conflict of values’ at the 21st Lalit Doshi Memorial Lecture in Mumbai.

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India’s response: Is China shifting goalposts on boundary?

The 18th Special Representatives meeting between India’s National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and his Chinese counterpart, the influential State Councillor Yang Jiechi, in New Delhi on March 23 has a twin agenda. The main purpose of the meeting under this mechanism is to try to find a solution to the long-standing territorial dispute between the two countries, but the focus will be equally on preparing the ground for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to China in May.
Several trends recently suggest that the territorial dispute is more intractable than has been imagined in the beginning. The border transgressions at Depsang Plains in April 15-May 6, 2013 or the Chumar troop’s build-up by China in September 2014 – all in the Western Sector of the border – tested the bilateral equations. PM Modi stated, while raising the troop build-up by China, during the visit of President Xi Jinping in September last year that bilateral relations are dependent on the LAC stability.
During her visit to Beijing towards January-end this year to attend the 13th Russia-India-China foreign minister’s meeting Sushma Swaraj suggested an “out of the box” resolution to the vexed territorial dispute.
Also, China’s response to PM Modi’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh on February 20 to inaugurate a rail link was sharp and unusual. While PM Manmohan Singh’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh in 2009 was criticised by China, now the level of protest was enhanced to the vice foreign ministerial level.
The success of the 18th meeting hinges both in arriving at an early and mutually acceptable solution as well as stability in the border areas.

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