The MD Nalapat Interview

Madhav Das Nalapat (born 1950) aka M D Nalapat is India’s first Professor of Geopolitics and the UNESCO Peace Chair at Manipal University, where he is Vice-Chair of Manipal Advanced Research Group and Director of the Department of Geopolitics & International Relations. A journalist and a former Editor of The Times of India and of Mathrubhumi, he is currently the Editorial Director of ITV Network & The Sunday Guardian of India. Since 2020 he has been a member of the Executive Committee of the Editors Guild of India. Nalapat writes extensively on security, policy and international affairs. Apart from his Sunday Guardian column, his writings have been published in a very wide range of publications, including the Pakistan Observer, Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations, United Press International, China Daily, The Diplomat, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Economic and Political Weekly, Rediff, & CNN Global Public Square .

CSM: How do you perceive the new emergent relationship between India and the Anglosphere against the backdrop of Globalization? More specifically the relationship with the greater Commonwealth in the 21st century?  What specific position do you see India occupying within the Commonwealth?

A: Thank you for reminding me of my essay in the New Criterion about a 21st century Anglosphere. The earlier concept was based on the “Blood of the Body”, or in other words, ethnicity.  My argument was that the Anglosphere needed to be defined by the “Blood of the Mind”.  By a congruence of views on values such as individual rights and freedoms, including the freedom to choose your own diet, dress and lifestyle. The mind rather than the physical body is what separates human beings from other species. Mahatma Gandhi, despite his fluency in the English language, sought to banish it from India and replace it as the link language within the country with Hindi. Prime Minister Nehru did not go so far as to banish the language after India won freedom on August 15, 1947. However, in effect he made it almost impossible for citizens belonging to the more disadvantaged economic class to learn it. Accordingly, the immense advantages of the English language in India and outside were denied to poorer Indians, who could access only state schools, where the language was seldom in curricula even in a sharply reduced form.  It transpired that even the politicians who were insistent on stamping out knowledge of English in the mass of citizens sent their children to English-language schools. Those who could afford it (and it must be pointed out that politics is often the fastest path from straitened circumstances to wealth) sent their children to the US or the UK to study and often settle down. In the meantime, the hunger to learn English grew amongst hundreds of millions of voters who had been denied access to the language as they could not afford private schools. As a consequence, states such as UP and Uttarakhand have begun to introduce English in primary school itself, a wise step. Andhra Pradesh has gone even further in giving access to a language that has played a significant role in the transformation of India into a major economy over the decades.

There remain politicians such as Arvind Kejriwal and Manish Sisodia who lead the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) who continue to oppose English. Questions in that language are replied to by them in Hindi, a language that many in the West, East and South of the country do not know. Small wonder that the AAP despite its potential remains at the fringe of national politics.

Outdated approaches to language and to economic policy are increasingly being punished by the voter, especially in the Hindi belt, where the drive to learn English is strong.

CSM: In your earlier writings, lectures and expositions you have enunciated an idea of Anglosphere where the US plays a pivotal role. So any idea of the modern Anglosphere has to include the US? How do you see the US playing its role in the current milieu? What role do you envision Britain playing in the modern 21st century Anglosphere?

A: The US and India need to form a partnership as close as was the understanding between London and Washington during the 1939-45 war. During Cold War 1.0 between the USSR and the US, the Atlantic was the primary theatre of the existential contest between the two powers, the two systems. In Cold War 2.0 between China and the US, the Indo-Pacific has replaced the Atlantic as the primary theatre to be secured. Not many accept this now, especially those clinging on to the geopolitics of the past, but there is a new Cold War, with the PRC as the adversary. In Cold War 1.0, it was the Soviet Union. It was fortunate for the rest of the world that Churchill and Roosevelt were in charge during the existential war with Hitler’s hordes and horrors. Otherwise the alliance of the two with Stalin would not have taken place. This alliance is what ensured victory of the Allies even before the atomic bomb was dropped over Nagasaki and Hiroshima. In the Indo-Pacific, both France and the UK are essential partners, as is Indonesia or Vietnam. Boris Johnson understands this, and has built up a close relationship with India in a manner that Theresa May did not even attempt.

CSM: Returning to the motif of Commonwealth can you throw some light on the institution of ‘Commonwealth’ as a fundamental underpinning of the Anglosphere?

A: The Commonwealth is a bit unwieldy but within the Commonwealth there are countries such as South Africa and Kenya that are geopolitically significant. Rather than adopt a policy of dealing with it as a group, what is needed is to work intensively with many of its members, for example smaller countries in the South Pacific, in the context of Cold War 2.0, which is as existential a struggle of systems as the earlier variant was.

CSM: In a lecture in the City of London in 2013 you enunciated at length about the power of the English language as a force for bringing together nations and societies. India today boasts of the highest number of English speakers. How do you perceive this is a driving force for India’s role in the Anglosphere?

A: The English language has emerged as the international link language because of its inherent strengths and unique characteristics, among them flexibility in grammar and a huge canvas of alternative words to rely on while explaining situations. By my estimate, there are at least 300 million people in India who speak some form or the other of the language. The acceptability and incorporation of  the divergence, even between the way English is spoken in India, Australia ,the UK or the US is among the qualities that make it so unique. In the Anglosphere, every country is equal, whether small or large in geographic, demographic  or economic terms. India of course is soon going to house the largest number of those who speak the language, which is why New Delhi needs to stand together with democratic capitals such as London, Canberra and Washington, not to mention Nairobi or Pretoria. Unity of the 21st century Anglosphere against the violence of extremism and the hegemony of authoritarian states is as essential in the 21st century as Allied victory against the Axis in the 1939-45 conflict and the defeat of the Soviet system in 1992 was in the 20th.

CSM: Sports played a key role in fostering the relationship between India and the Anglosphere. Similarly in the sphere of arts, culture, media entertainment and infotainment how do you see India playing a significant role in the Anglosphere akin to Cricketing success?  How do you perceive the possibility of Cross-Cultural collaborations in areas of arts and culture between India and Britain? For instance in Netflix movies where young filmmakers from India and the UK can engage in ‘joint productions’ on themes which have wider appeal like that of Indian students studying in the UK and their experiences?

A: You have yourself answered the question as has the success of tens of thousands of Indian artists, artistes, writers and musicians in the UK or in other English-speaking countries in the world. Obviously, the UK is a natural partner for India in the 21st century, something that both Narendra Modi and Boris Johnson understand. Let me, however, point out that to the less untrammelled Anglospheric mind, it is not countries coming together as a collective as much as it is individuals coming together in various fields. In the US and India, this is what happened, and which by the close of the 1990s ensured that the tensions of the past were forgotten in order to grasp the potential of the future. And this coming together between citizens of the UK and India is why the relationship between London and Delhi is getting closer.

CSM: How do you see the global Indian diaspora as a force for enhancing the ties between India and the Anglosphere? Is this Indian diaspora spread across the Anglosphere an asset for the Indian strategic role in the Anglosphere?

A: Overall, unlike many who are from countries that it would not be polite to name (but which are well known), the Indian diaspora has been a force for good wherever it has settled. It is this that has endeared many citizens in the US or the UK to India

CSM: Dwelling on the Indian diaspora, currently most cultural interactions are limited to populist movies and music, cuisine and the proverbial Big Fat Indian Wedding. How do you see this evolving in the future leading to new discourses on the understanding and notion of being Indian and the Indian culture?

A: Don’t be such a snob! Let people do what they like doing, so long as it does not hurt others. At no stage in history were distinctions between members of our species that were based on race, faith or lifestyle valid. Any individual has the potential to be as much of a success as any other, and an Anglospheric society ought to ensure that each gets a fair chance to excel.

CSM: Finally, we can’t just ignore the horrors of pandemic reality and how it is impacting global relationships and alliances. Societies have been wreaked havoc upon. What new opportunities for partnership or cooperation do you envisage within the Anglosphere and specifically pioneered by India? For instance in fields of clinical and medical research on infectious diseases.

A: The response of the Chinese Communist Party to the SARS2 pandemic illustrates why those of us who spoke of an Asian version of NATO (as distinct from NATO) two decades ago, and who spoke about the onset of Cold War 2.0 since 2017 were right. Had the CCP come clean on the pandemic, even in the limited manner that took place during SARS1, the damage done to the rest of the world because of hiding the toxicity of the virus for several months would have been much less. Such as  permitting international flights to leave and enter Wuhan during the nearly three months when it was apparent that the disease was deadly and transmissible. The way in which the scientists and, sorry to add, media persons and politicians who pointed to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) as the origin of SARS2 were sought to be silenced not just by Chinese authorities but by the WHO and experts such as Anthony Fauci – this was appalling. The NYT, Guardian, Washington Post, BBC, CNN and others joined the WHO in spreading disinformation from China about the pandemic, as did publications such as the Lancet and Nature. The creation through “Gain of Function” experiments that converted a harmless bat virus into the deadly novel coronavirus was a crime against humanity. Those who sought to disguise the origins of SARS2 and facilitated its spread were accomplices to this. The guilty will be rewarded in China. Each day teaches us why what we are seeing is an even more consequential battle than that which took place during Cold War 1.0.

CSM: Many thanks for your time, sir. A great pleasure to interview you.