I was thrilled to hear Thomas Friedman's response to my question from the audience at the Tata Litfest here in Mumbai a few days ago. At the end of a conversation with Shashi Tharoor about all the things Friedman and Tharoor famously commentate on, I was lucky enough to put the evening's last question and ask something that I am surprised has seldom been mentioned: Is it or is it not in India's interest to see America remain the superpower because China is the only country that has the potential to take America's place?
At first, in jest, Friedman tried to move on to the next question. He proceeded to take a dig at China, as reported by the Daily News and Analysis, by quoting his grandmother who said, "Tommy don't ever cede the century to a country that bans Google." And in seriously answering the question, he very rightly drew parallels between America, Europe and India as three places that have diversity, multiculturalism and a democratic way of life in common. He said it pains him to see how Europe is struggling and that all three of us have a lot invested in the success and stability of Europe. His specific answer to my question was (I quote from memory) "we wish you well and it's important that you wish us well too."
That brings us to the question, shouldn't India and not China, be the one investing in American bonds? Instead, we are thinking of establishing our role as a global player by "funding" Europe out of its crisis.
China's behavior with India in the past six years has only gone from bad to worse. Be its constant endeavor to hijack India's territory, its unashamed closeness to Pakistan and its dogged determination to keep its currency devalued, which gives it a massive competitive edge.
But India hesitates to question Chinese dominance or raise its issues with China at the UN, G20, IMF, or any such forums because we don't want to officially take a hostile stance. And understandably so. All we can do is hope that the world, and more specifically America, pressurize the Chinese to open their currency to the global market forces and stop supporting Pakistan.
So while tackling corruption, inflation and the leadership crisis within the Government, India should add "preserving America's superpower status" to its to-do list. Maybe we can start by reopening the tender for our originally $10 billion (according to WSJ) to the now estimated $20 billion (according to The Indian Express and the Financial Times) fighter jet purchase and tip the scales to Boeing Co. or Lockheed Martin Corp. over France's Dassault Rafle and Eurofighter Typhoon.
That is assuming, of course, that the American jets can defend our Northeastern skies just as well as Europe's fighters can!