It may sound anti-national, but it needs to be said: India is no match to China. They have a quality of Chineseness that holds them together and propels them to significant heights. They have a consistent national view while ours is a Congress view or a Modi view, depending on the season. Zhou Enlai, Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping are very different personalities with very different ambitions. But the Chineseness of China reigned supreme, irrespective of who was in power at a given period. The Indianness of India was never in evidence. The Nehruness, the Indiraness, the Vajpayeness superseded all else. Currently, Modiness devours all of past history and hopes to devour all of the future as well.
Modiness contains a good deal of confusion. On June 17, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar said the Chinese side sought to erect a structure in the Galwan Valley on our side of the Line of Actual Control. On June 19, the Prime Minister said no one had entered our territory. Jaishankar may be part of the problem. Throwing diplomatic delicacies to the winds, he praised the American-sponsored “coalition of the willing” against China. This is an alliance of Australia, South Korea, Israel and Brazil under American leadership. How on earth can India fit into this? Jaishankar might have been a good civil servant. But as a minister appointed to promote a narrow philosophy, he seems to be struggling to find his feet.
India-China relations have always been lopsided at India’s cost. Jawaharlal Nehru went out of his way to promote China’s case at the Bandung Conference of non-aligned nations in 1955. But Zhou Enlai thought Nehru was being patronising to China. Things have not improved despite many moves made by the Modi Government to please China. In 2018, India decided to avoid events attended by Dalai Lama, a bete noire of China. Air India dropped the word Taiwan and accepted the term that China preferred: Chinese Taipei. When popular protests erupted in Hong Kong against China, India said not a word. On Tibet, always a sensitive topic for Beijing, Delhi has never said an inconvenient word.
But China seemed unimpressed by these gestures. It continued to oppose India’s membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. It has consistently backed Pakistan against India on all issues, promoting the China Pakistan Economic Corridor through Kashmir. No country has taken India’s side on any of these issues despite Jaishankar’s recent praise of the American-sponsored “coalition of the willing” against China.
It would be dumb for India to consider joining such a group. India’s issues with China have no resemblance to the relations these “coalition” countries have with China. No one understands this more keenly than China itself. The powerful motivation that drives China is the desire to prove that it is not one of “the two Asian giants” but the only Asian giant. Keeping the border tense is one way of achieving this end. For the purpose, it employs a military budget of US$178 billion as against India’s $74 billion.
India’s personality-based approach to foreign relations also helps China. In recent months, the Modi approach has seen Nepal taking unfriendly action against India. It even approved a new map attaching to Nepal bits and pieces of territory that are, to put it mildly, disputed. The Modi Government has uneasy relations with Afghanistan and Bangladesh as well as with Pakistan. The borders are alive with the sound of friction.
In the midst of it all “China is quietly winning the battle that really matters, the battle for prosperity and power,” as a professor at the Free University of Brussels put it. “In recent years, China has built at lightning speed modern infrastructure in Tibet. Last year alone, 2.000 km of road, 150 km of railway, more than 100 bridges and tunnels were completed.” On the India side, 73 new roads planned for the border have been delayed for 10 years.
I do not have the courage of my esteemed friend Aakar Patel. So I cannot express bold views boldly as he does. I, therefore, borrow his words to say what I wish to say. And his words are: “Goyal is glorified shopkeeper. Jaishankar has scholar brother and pop was strategist but himself neither. Have met Sitharaman. She dumb as a rock. Doval only partially sane. Modi A Team is reflection of him and Amit. This is without doubt the crappiest leadership in our history.”