In 1967, when the Merger Treaty cre­ated the Euro­pean Com­mu­ni­ties—still an amor­phous idea that would later evolve into the Euro­pean Union—I wit­nessed the de­vel­op­ments as a col­lege stu­dent in Lon­don. The idea of a uni­fied Europe seemed an im­pos­si­ble dream at the time, con­sid­er­ing how most of the na­tions in­volved had fought bit­ter wars in which mil­lions had died. I was pleas­antly sur­prised when it be­came a re­al­ity, and while in­ter­nal di­vi­sions may have re­mained, it func­tioned suc­cess­fully as an eco­nomic unit that al­lowed the free move­ment of goods, cap­i­tal and peo­ple.

There have been dra­matic shifts in global pol­i­tics over the last few decades. The world went from the height of Cold War to the fall of the Ber­lin Wall in 1989, to the crum­bling of the Soviet Union in 1991, and, as a re­sult, to the United States emerg­ing as the sole su­per­power. In­dia, one of the lead­ers of the Non-Aligned Move­ment, watched these events un­fold very much like an in­no­cent by­stander. Over the last few years, the world changed again with the rise of China, an as­sertive Rus­sia, and a pow­er­ful EU herald­ing an era of rel­a­tive multi-po­lar­ity. These were events that had a huge im­pact on eco­nom­ics and trade, es­pe­cially in an age of height­ened con­nec­tiv­ity. The de­ci­sion by the United King­dom to leave the Euro­pean Union, or to choose to ‘Brexit’ in a pub­lic ref­er­en­dum, is there­fore a slap on the face of his­tory.

I al­ways con­sid­ered the EU an ex­am­ple for other tra­di­tion­ally hos­tile na­tions, such as In­dia and Pak­istan, to em­u­late. If Europe, with its long his­tory of con­flict, could cre­ate a com­mon mar­ket, why could South Asia not come to­gether to form a uni­fied mar­ket­place? It may sound far-fetched but if EU was pos­si­ble, so was this. Now it seems like an idea whose time has passed.

To­day we are wit­ness­ing the hy­dra-headed rise of coun­tries de­mand­ing ‘in­de­pen­dence’ by cit­ing na­tion­al­ism, in­stead of opt­ing for greater eco­nomic and so­cial in­te­gra­tion. One of the dilem­mas faced by modern na­tions is main­tain­ing their sovereignt­y while be­ing part of a co­op­er­a­tive world or­der. It is while bat­tling this dilemma that the UK chose un­wisely. The work­ing classes felt they were not get­ting the ben­e­fits of a com­mon mar­ket, and this anger was chan­nelised by the lead­ers of the ‘Leave’ cam­paign. Sim­i­lar trends are be­ing wit­nessed across the globe. In the US, par­tic­u­larly, the rise of the un­pre­dictable and di­vi­sive Don­ald Trump as the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee for Pres­i­dent on the slo­gan ‘Make Amer­ica Great Again’ is an­other ex­am­ple that goes against the grain of in­ter­na­tion­al­ism and global eco­nomic co­op­er­a­tion. Nat­u­rally, he wel­comed Brexit.

In these rapidly chang­ing times, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, who has been on a for­eign re­la­tions over­drive since com­ing to power two years ago, will have to nav­i­gate these choppy wa­ters. New Delhi has to be ag­ile enough to grab op­por­tu­ni­ties these up­heavals of­fer and de­ter­mined enough to get In­dia on the global high ta­ble.

In this spe­cial is­sue, an ar­ray of top an­a­lysts from In­dia and abroad make sense of what is hap­pen­ing in Europe, Amer­ica, and closer to home, with China block­ing In­dia’s en­try into the Nu­clear Sup­pli­ers Group. Nan­dan Nilekani, who in­spired the phrase “the world is flat”, writes that Brexit proves “coun­tries will have to be more strong do­mes­ti­cally and not rely on ex­ports as a ve­hi­cle for growth”.

Change is not al­ways in our con­trol but how we adapt to change is. In­dia is at a great ad­van­tage. If you think about it, we have been a Euro­pean Union with our size, our di­ver­sity, our many com­plex­i­ties, but we have one cur­rency and are gov­erned by one Con­sti­tu­tion. In ad­di­tion, we have a de­mo­graphic div­i­dend that is the envy of the world. If we play our cards right and boost our do­mes­tic econ­omy with the right eco­nomic re­forms and open­ness to the world, we can be a ma­jor force to be reck­oned with. Noth­ing car­ries more clout than money. Look at the US and China.

(Aroon Purie)

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