In This Review

Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition
Staggering Forward: Narendra Modi and India’s Global Ambition
By Bharat Karnad
Penguin Viking, 2018, 512 pp

Karnad, a prominent Indian conservative strategist, deflates Narendra Modi’s image as a nationalist strongman and risk-taker, at least as far as foreign policy is concerned. He diagnoses the Indian prime minister as an authoritarian who is nevertheless averse to the kind of bold change needed to move India beyond its current status of “great power lite.” To realize India’s proper role, Karnad thinks, the country must drop its misguided obsession with Pakistan and focus on China; it should, however, avoid aligning with an overweening and unreliable United States and forge links with other powers, such as Australia, Japan, and the countries of Southeast Asia. India should develop the ability to produce advanced weapons systems domestically, strengthen its influence in Bhutan and Nepal, build military bases on Indian Ocean islands, and adopt a nuclear first-use policy to deter Chinese aggression. New Delhi should even play “the Tibet and Uyghur cards,” a disruptive proposal that Karnad does not spell out in detail. India’s entrenched and uncoordinated security bureaucracy is unlikely to adopt these ideas. But Karnad makes a bracing case that if it does not, India will continue to play a “small stakes game anchored in short policy horizons.”