Towards a shared weltanschauung

German Chancellor Angela Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel  


A strong Germany in Europe, like a strong India in Asia, will facilitate a more balanced global dispersal of power and prevent the return of hegemony. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit provides the perfect moment to take the alliance between both nations to the next levelA strong Germany, in Europe, like a strong India in Asia, will facilitate a more balanced global dispersal of power and prevent the return of hegemony. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit is the perfect moment to take this alliance aheadA shared view of the world will unlock many doors. It can help breathe new life into the negotiations on an India- European Union (EU) free trade agreement (FTA)

The new warmth between Germany and India, displayed at the United Nations (UN) when the two joined hands (along with Brazil and Japan) to stake their claim for permanent membership of the >UN Security Council, offers a good backdrop for German Chancellor Angela Dorothea Merkel’s visit to India, beginning this Sunday. However, the air around the summit is likely to be polluted by Volkswagen’s admission to cheating on emission norms, especially since New Delhi has been such a booming market for VW’s many models. The success of Ms. Merkel’s visit will depend on how both countries are able to balance business, security and people-to-people issues in defining their relationship.

Visiting the country after four years, >Chancellor Merkel returns to a very different India. She also comes from a very different Germany — a nation now shaped by a prolonged economic and social crisis in its neighbourhood and the challenge of dealing with its own growing social and cultural pluralism. The latter fact was brought into greater relief recently by the Syrian refugee crisis when Germany showed more wisdom and compassion than other European nations in dealing with a human tragedy.

Sanjaya Baru
The positive media coverage Germany has been getting for its response to the refugee influx comes after months of bad press for its response to the crisis in Greece, but it has also been neutralised by the VW emissions scandal. How the Volkswagen scandal will impact the Chancellor’s India visit remains to be seen, considering the fact that the ‘largest-ever group’ of the ‘most-important German business leaders’ is reportedly accompanying Ms. Merkel.

Exploring complementarities

However, the visit will not be just about what German business can do for India. It will equally be about what Indian talent can do for Germany. This, perhaps, explains the decision to visit Bengaluru. Germany is seeking students and professionals from India and is advertising that English-speaking Indians can, in fact, get along quite easily in contemporary Germany.

By holding hands with India at the UN, Germany is also signalling its readiness to deal with India as an equal. Perhaps German strategists have come to understand that Germany and India have exactly the same problem in regional and world affairs. Both countries are too big for their respective regions, but not yet big enough for the world as a whole. This paradox of German and Indian power, and the consequent frustration that both nations must feel, offers a good basis for a meeting of minds between two equally tough-minded national leaders, dealing with a difficult global environment. After years of a weak political leadership, the German middle class has been celebrating the no-nonsense personality of its Chancellor, much like the Indian middle class’s admiration for the leadership style of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, just as the middle classes remain caught between the protestations of an angry poor section and the arrogance of a nonchalant, rich one, they are also forced to deal with the irreverence of their smaller neighbours, on the one hand, and the arrogance of bigger powers, on the other.

But that is where the similarity between Germany and India ends. How the two nations are likely to relate to each other will depend on how they deal with an important dissimilarity. Post-World War II Germany, like post-War Japan, chose to shy away from geopolitics and rose, instead, as a geo-economic power. It is only recently that both Germany and Japan have tried to leverage their >geo-economic power to recover geopolitical influence in their respective regions.

This is happening precisely at a time when India is pursuing a more aggressive developmental agenda, giving greater importance to geo-economics over geopolitics. While old-fashioned analysts bemoan India’s inability to get its neighbours to ‘behave’ — look at Maldives, Nepal and, till recently Sri Lanka — the more forward-looking thinkers take the view that for India to play a larger geopolitical role in Asia and around the world, it must first become a more competitive and productive economy.

There is a common strategic view that economic and social development on the domestic front and the provision of livelihood security to people are the only routes to national security and global influence. Therefore, India’s natural partners would be countries that, on the one hand, do not compete with it either in the marketplace or in power politics, and, on the other, have something to offer India that it lacks. By assisting India in the quest for development and geo-economic growth, Germany and Japan have the opportunity to bolster their own rise in geopolitical terms.

For all these reasons, Japan and Germany are >India’s “natural allies”. They have surplus capital, modern technology and a demographic deficit. India has a deficit of capital, lacks modern technology and has exportable human capital. Unfortunately, language has remained a barrier in both cases, as Indians have mostly preferred to deal with the English-speaking world.

Ms. Merkel’s message to India next week will be that language is no longer a barrier. Searching the Internet for information on how Indians living in Germany feel about the country, one discovers a whole new world of growing compatibility. Answering questions on what it feels like to live in Germany on the website www.quora.com, most Indians draw attention to how Germans have become more welcoming of Indians.

Some of the views exchanged on Indo-German relations on the Internet show that a new generation of Indians and Germans are, in fact, approaching each other with very little knowledge of or baggage from their past. This is not entirely for the good, since India and Germany have much to celebrate in their past. German Indologists, >Max Müller the best known among them, have been important contributors to the Western appreciation of Indian culture and history.

Vivekananda-Müller meet in 1896

Prime Minister Modi would probably know that Swami Vivekananda met Max Müller in May 1896. Recording the meeting, >Swami Vivekananda said: “It was neither the philologist nor the scholar that I saw, but a soul that is every day realising its oneness with the Brahman, a heart that is every moment expanding to reach oneness with the Universal.” 

The India-Germany relationship is, therefore, not just about business or power, but about the civilisational bonding between a great Asian nation and a great European nation. A meeting of minds between Mr. Modi and Ms. Merkel ought to become the basis of a new partnership between the two.

A shared view of the world will unlock many doors. It can help breathe new life into the negotiations on an India-European Union (EU) free trade agreement (FTA). Germany should encourage its European partners to give up their defensive and narrow approach to an FTA with India and adopt, instead, a more strategic view based on an understanding that an economically stronger India and a competitive EU can only help realise their shared agenda of creating a multi-polar global power system.

If Germany adopts such an accommodative and development-oriented approach to issues such as multilateral trade and climate change, it can help strengthen the foundations of an India-EU strategic partnership.

All this requires is that Germany continues to assert its leadership role within Europe. India should welcome it. Chancellor Merkel is the rare exception to the crisis of leadership in Europe. The lack of political self-confidence in Europe manifests itself in gestures amounting to genuflection by European leaders to China’s strongmen. Britain has been particularly weak-kneed. Lesser powers in Europe surrendered long ago. A strong Germany in Europe, like a strong India in Asia, will facilitate a more balanced global dispersal of power and prevent the return of hegemony.

Focusing their attention mainly on culture, business and issues relating to nuclear non-proliferation and climate change, German leaders have often shied away from discussing grand strategy with their Indian counterparts. However, the time is ripe for the new Germany of Chancellor Merkel to begin a new conversation with India on the changing balance of power in the 21st century.

( The writer is director for geo-economics and strategy, International Institute for Strategic Studies, and honorary senior fellow, Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi.)

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 5:24:18 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/towards-a-shared-weltanschauung/article7712682.ece

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