COMMENT NATION POLITICS DIPLOMACY
By Prem Chandran
PRIME MINISTER Narendra Modi must be a sad man today. The chickens of his avoidable diplomatic indulgences are coming home to roost. Questions will naturally arise about his leadership qualities after China targeted India in Galwan Valley in the snowy Ladakh region and killed 20 soldiers – this, if the government count is to be believed; or more of them.
It might be true, or false, that Indian soldiers went back and killed double this number of Chinese soldiers. There is no official word on this other than a vague assertion by the PM that we gave the Chinese a “befitting” reply. In any military engagement, truth is the first casualty. More so, when deceitful China behind an iron curtain or Pakistan the habitual liar is involved; as has been the case in the past too. The fact of the matter is, China is on the offensive. It lays claim to Galwan region in Ladakh though this area is firmly in Indian hands. China has territorial problems with all nations in its neighbourhood, and beyond in the waters too. The ‘two steps forward and one step backward’ salami slicing strategy involves nibbling away neighbours’ land in secret operations. This is a mean act, but an integral part of the Chinese culture.
China’s military might is much higher, also in terms of army strength, which is less important in wars in the new age led by missiles fired from air, as was seen in the Iraq war. Iraq went into US hands in a matter of days. Stunned Iraqi soldiers threw their guns away and took to their heels. Hence, firepower in the air is what matters now. Mindful of this, China is downsizing its soldier-strength. We have much less of what China has in terms of fighter aircraft and nuclear warheads. We stress our soldiers are made of superior stuff. Should be; and we stand by our soldiers and trust them. Their resolve to fight the enemy is our main strength. Our soldiers have their killer instinct. Hats off to them.
Questions are raised on PM Modi’s foreign policy initiatives – something he did with great flurry since he took power in 2014. Those knowledgeable about the nuances of diplomacy had their doubts as to what benefit Modi, through his frequent foreign jaunts, would bring for the nation; the Madison Moment being simply a show that meant little, even granted that it enthused the American leadership. Or, what he did earlier this year in his native Gujarat, bringing millions to greet President Donald Trump. It boosted Modi’s ego, but whether Trump was enthused is a debatable point. Trump should have the sense to understand that this was a captive crowd, most of the masses sitting and blinking as the President emerged. These famished Gujartis knew no word of what Trump said and they failed to clap.
This was a situation similar to what Modi faces in the South as he addresses gatherings in Hindi. The ordinary people do not understand what he says and do not get energized by the simultaneous translation. Reason why Modi is not able to get his BJP win elections in the South. BJP has sleepy, lazy lotus eaters as party functionaries in most states. They throw their weight around and wait for Modi to win the polls. Modi built a charisma for himself in the Hindi belt by his forceful speeches and dialogues lapped up by the poor from the podiums and radio talks. This built an aura around him. But, overall, Modi let down the poor too. Speeches mean little in real terms.
The PM should have been careful in dealing with Xi Jinping if he was mindful of, or had a proper understanding of, history. Nerhu went out of his way to be chummy with revolution leader Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, the first prime minister of China. Nehru often volunteered to speak up for China at UN and other world fora while the capitalist West tried to run down the Communist nation. He skipped a meet in Japan on the ground that China was not an invitee. Yet, in October 1962, the Chinese came out of the blue and annexed large swathes of Indian land in a war it waged with peace-loving India. Nehru’s explanation later, in Parliament, that the land that the Chinese took away was barren and areas where “not a grass grew” was a cruel joke that Indians had to swallow like a bitter pill.
How large was the land China has annexed from India in this war? As high as 43,000 sq kilometres. The nation was not prepared for a war; and Nehru woke up late, sent an SOS to the US for fighter aircraft on rent, though the Indian Air Force was not drawn into the war and only the land army did it. Perceptions were that had India used its air power, it could have won the war. Nehru hesitated.
Even today, 73 years past Independence, India might not be well-equipped to face China other than for the resolve of our army warriors. Military statistics say so. Strategy can win over statistics. That’s the hope. India did build its military strengths after 1962. Indian and Chinese strengths were somewhat equal around the turn of the Century. From then on, India vacillated and China, with its great leap in economic growth, began a frenzied military build-up. It said it would concentrate on economic growth and wanted to be a soft power. Indian leaderships trusted the deceitful Chinese and went slow in military ware acquisitions.
Problem with India was that it lacked leadership of a high caliber. Manmohan Singh as prime minister was good as finance minister under Narasimha Rao and deserved praise for the way he handled India’s economy. But, leadership of a nation is different. You need be smart and cunning and more. Worse, he perhaps had no mind of his own when it came to ruling the nation. Sonia Gandhi as Congress president ran the government from behind. A veiled housewife-turned politician, after all, what did she know about statecraft? India went into a slumber. In the darkness, loot of the public exchequer became the order of the day.
Rightly or wrongly, an American newspaper reported that Sonia Gandhi was the fourth richest woman in the word, possessing more wealth than Queen Elizabeth. The report was based on material researched out of global investment records. Under pressure, the daily took out the report from its web site in a day or two. The Congress was still ruling India; and its ministers and the ministers of its allies in the UPA were on a loot spree as well. Systems in India turned upside down. Its manifestation is also evident in the new penchant among businessmen; to loot banks by way of huge loans, take the money abroad and live happily thereafter. India keeps losing its old sheen.
As former judge Markandeya Katju openly stated some time ago, Indians are idiots of the first order. They vote with their feet. Else, would India have handed over the nation on a platter to Sonia Gandhi after we knew well of the scam that surrounded the Bofors guns deal, where an Italian was the principal accused – and the agent for the deal?
India’s slumber especially during the two UPA terms – from 2004 to 2014 – was the time for both Pakistan and China to build their military strengths. Worse, India suffered on other fronts in military terms too. The IK Gujral Doctrine, for example. Among the many blunders that Gujral as PM committed was to dismantle the Indian intelligence networks carefully built over the past several decades in both Pakistan and China. Gujral, the fool that he was, thought India as a peaceful nation did not need all these “bakwas”. Gujral was chummy with India’s leftists – a blend of mindless idiots and scheming men posing as intellectuals in Delhi’s power corridors for long years – who all obviously sang in praise of Gujral. Even today, they are here to meekly plead the cases of both China and Pakistan even at the cost of sacrificing Indian interests. What they get for this in return is, as far as we know, an invitation to visit such countries as state guests.
We thought Narendra Modi would apply his mind on matters from a clear perspective. He is a product of the RSS. It has its strengths and flaws. But, the Sanghis live in the past, unmindful of the changes taking place around the world. They keep chanting “Bharat, Bharat,” as a one-point programme apart from minority baiting as an art and craft. Notably, the RSS does not speak a word against corruption, which is killing India, their Bharat, inch by inch. A good thing is that they helped shape a counter (BJP) to the corrupt Congress party that is run as a family enterprise in the guise of democracy. The family is controlled by coteries based in Delhi; the Kashmiri pandits on one side, and several other vested interests in many forms, irrespective of change of leaders from Nehru to the future generations.
Nehru, cited often as the great democrat, reshaped the system of democracy as a family enterprise – first by making his daughter the president of the Congress party in the late 1950s. After Nehru’s demise and a brief spell under Lal Bahadur Shastri, India fell back into the hands of the Nehrus, with Indira Gandhi as PM. A Brahmin family ruling India was a matter of comfort for many Indians. The Sonia Gandhi era changed all that.
It was here that Modi had great relevance. He was strong, he was seen as personally incorruptible, he has no family to promote, and he has the willpower. Even today, among the lot of crooks that straddle Indian politics, he’s the best bet. But, Modi failed on many fronts. One, governance is not self-promotion, as he did by appropriating the external affairs from the minister and running it by himself. What gain has come of it? Instead, his attention should have been to reshape India within, to give it the cutting edge. Rather, he wanted to be a showman; but a valid question now being asked is, did it help India?
India’s relations with all its neighbours are undergoing strain, not necessarily because Modi did something wrong, but because Modi did not act in shrewd ways, and because China is on the prowl wooing one and all with its offer of billions in infra projects and the like. India does not have such money to offer. Even Bangladesh is now getting billions from China in infra sector. Sooner or later, this nation too could be going the way of Nepal, cocking a snook at India with Chinese backing. This is the real, dreadful scenario.
Or, take Afghanistan. There are so many players around there, including China in the context of the Belt and Road initiative, and the US is now in a deal with Taliban. Where would this leave India, is a big question. Reports are that China, set on a necklace plan owning ports and maritime activities around India, even tried to grab an Indian port project, the Vizhinjam in Kerala. When the government called for the bids, it was found that China through proxies was trying a hand at it on the sly. This was when Manmohan Singh was PM. He sensed what was going wrong, and asked the Congress government in the state to be more alert.
India should have good defence ministers. Rajnath Singh has within him the exposure and experience. But, what of the others in the past? Manohar Parrikar had openly admitted he knew nothing of the department for months after he headed it. All what he had done was of ruling a small province like Goa, the size of a district in the south. Mulayam Singh had the firepower in him; after all, he was a bandit holding the gun in his hands most of the time; and from an area where almost every landlord carries a gun in his hand. Simple AK Antony was a misfit; he understood too little of a soldier’s job; though it was during his time the salaries of soldiers were revised in a handsome manner. He was seen by many as Sonia Gandhi’s plant in the defence ministry. He was known as a clean politician; and this was his great strength. Today, there are stories taking the rounds about the wealth he or his close family owns. Or, what of Nirmala Sitharaman, posted by Modi as defence minster? Worse, the defence ministry occasionally did not even have a full-fledged minister, under the Modi raj. Arun Jaitley as finance minister co-handled defence for repeated periods.
This goes to show Modi did not accord the serious to defence that it deserved. Now, Rajnath Singh was in Russia not mainly to participate in the annual Victory Day parade, but to “expedite” delivery of Sukhois and other fighter jets, as China is knocking at our doors. And, this was the most inopportune hour for him to undertake a foreign tour. This was time China was in fighting mode on the border. This was time he was needed in New Delhi the most. That’s the urgency. We slept for long and now there’s the wake-up call from China. Curiously, Nehru and his defence minister VK Krishna Menon were on foreign jaunts in the month of October, when China attacked India in year 1962. History could repeat. There is a criminal disconnect between the interests of those who rule India and the interests of the people here.
Democracy’s problem is that governments – and rulers – could change every five years. Luckily, Modi got a second term and there’s continuity for at least 10 years, irrespective of whether or not he uses this stability for India’s benefit. We have no long-term perspective. Winning elections is the only obsession of parties and leaders. Once you form a government, you are looking for the approaching elections, as Modi too did, and then for the next big elections to return to power. Modi might bid good bye to PM post on his own after four years and go to sanyas in the Himalayas. He’s cut for that too. India’s future will then be in some crook’s hands. This is unlike China, where the party in power is planning long-term.
Full democracy is not the way forward. It will be a recipe for disaster. Limited democracy as in Singapore has its advantages. Controls on established media, run by vested interests, is a must. There must be full freedom to the social media, which is in everybody’s ownership. You can write and I can too. You can video-cast and others can too. We need look at ways for political reform. Several of these issues need be addressed. Corruption and nepotism are at its height now. Modi could not change the nation much even as he has a clean image. He wasted his time in Delhi for most part. He became part of the rotten establishment and carried on with the antiquated systems.
Finally, the big question. What is all this fight along the northern border now? The fight is about India under Modi making serious attempts to strengthen the border region with roads that will help easy transport of soldiers and equipment, airfields which will help the military, and much more. China is doing the same on their side and even in Tibet, but would not want to see India doing the same. This was not happening so far, so why now? Modi has acted where his predecessors failed to act. This is the strength of Modi, which should not go unnoticed. Modi with his RSS upbringing has a love for the nation and he takes pride in its growth. He will not pocket money from defence or other deals and sell the nation, as many other greedy politicos in spotless white outfits would do.
India’s politicians today are fashioned like highway robbers. Loot of public wealth is the main enterprise and politics today. Modi is different. Herein lies Modi’s merit as a politician. He must use this strength for the betterment of the nation. Make hay when the Sun shines. Time and tide wait for none. The coming four years should be action time for Modi and the enterprise he runs from Delhi. firstname.lastname@example.org
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