Dr Lawrence Prabhakar Williams,Author, Researcher & Professor of International Relations & Strategic Studies and Advisor to the CPPR Centre for Strategic Studies (CSS) delivered a talk on ‘Civilisational State, Governance and Grand Strategy of Aspirational Powers: A Perspective of India’, organised as part of CPPR Talk Series at CPPR office on February 18, 2020.

Dr Lawrence started the lecture by distinguishing between civilisational states and nation states. According to him, civilisational states had a strong cultural, social identity but were spread in a pluralistic overlay of a geographical area for long centuries with established icons of language, script, ethnicity and even faiths of a variety. Whereas the term nation state was based on the unique distinction of ‘natio’ (Latin) meaning ‘birth’. He stated that India in this context suits most appropriately to a Civilisational State with “many unequivocal identities”. Civilisational states are not nation states. Nations and ‘natio’ are ethnic constructs basically leading to a new entity. Most of the Asian, African and Latin American countries have been under colonial influence. Hence, the concept of nation state model has been superimposed.

Cultural dimensions of domestic order, governance and grand strategy of Civilisational States are in total variance in the contemporary global order as they are “aspirational powers” who would like to “assertively rise” in the present global order, defying the status quo selectively. The term rising power is a western ethnicity perspective. In the post globalisation era, India should be considered as an aspirational power rather than a “rising power” as our systems and institutions are backed by strong civilisational ethos and a strong social-cultural order which have helped us remain united in spite of the various internal politics and conflicts. Aspirational powers like China and India evolve unique paradigms of civilisation-driven narratives of ‘Culture-Commerce-Connectivity’ in the crafting of their own regional spheres of influence and public diplomacy. He added that an aspirational power can have divisions but cannot be fragmented.

He elaborated that the imperatives of the transformative contexts of governance are vital foundations and catalysts for evolving a viable Grand Strategy. The five transformative contexts include a stable social and political order that emerges from effective “Public Policy alternatives”; effective policy implementation and judicious deployment of resources—Accountability and Transparency; employing Meritocratic principle of public policy crafting and enablement; efficacy in Public Policy in resources utilisation and policy implementation and efficacy of Oversight in Bureaucracy—Ombudsman—the empowerment of scrutiny of Public Policy. He underlined the importance of good governance in outlining a Grand Strategy for a civilisational power. He noted that without the critical factors of accountability and transparency, governance suffers inevitably leading to corruption, criminalisation and ensuing social, civic and political violence which is evidenced in the very high levels of social, civic and political dissent seen in China and India, which in turn undermines the national power.

Regarding India’s aspirations to be a ‘rising power’, Dr Lawrence highlighted that India lacks a national strategy based on the articulation of national power and prefers the ‘ad hoc’ over the ‘long-term’ in all sectors of India’s strategic mosaic. India takes contradictory positions swinging between preaching morality and practising realpolitik, thus sending confusing signals that evidence inaction. He added that demonetisation was the decapitation of its own state. He also emphasised that the elites in the bureaucracy should not be resistant towards having a progressive learning curve. India with all its power trappings is yet to have a National Defence University while our neighbour Pakistan has a well-endowed system in place.

A cognitive process and a strong governance vision have to be in place. Increased educated unemployment does not translate the advantage of India’s human dividend to its favour. He concluded the talk by saying that the politicisation of the Armed Forces, communalisation of the Police Forces and the toxic interplay of communal and caste dynamics will reverse India’s chances as an aspirational power.

Professor KC Abraham, Academic Director, CPPR, presented a memento as a token of appreciation to Dr Lawrence Prabhakar. Neethu Nair, Assistant Manager, Communication & PR, CPPR, hosted the event.

Report prepared by Shana Shihab Senior Project Associate (CPPR Academy)