Tuesday, April 8, 2008

India is timid; and China knows it: Gautam Mukherjee


We're timid, and China knows it

Gautam Mukherjee

Things that go bump in the night
Should not really give one a fright
It's the hole in each ear
That let's in the fear,
That, and the absence of light!
--Spike Milligan

There's Tibet, the now septuagenarian Dalai Lama and his band of 180,000 restive refugees, and there's China; and let it be admitted - we are scared of China. We are afraid of China's Han temperament, its military might and economic dynamism, and the fear psychosis that has haunted us since they beat us up, without much ado, in 1962.

But for China, having spent $ 40 billion on an Olympic Games makeover, being put over an inconvenient Tibetan barrel feels like its being held to unfair ransom, and brings out the steel in its Maoist soul, along with its People's Liberation Army, the secret police, the censor board, and the light persuasion of electric-shocking cattle prods.

Even without the current Olympic Games overhang, China casts a sinister shadow. It does not accept the existing colonial borders, in either the North-East or the North-West of India. And let us also remember that it made quick work of snatching Aksai Chin from under the chimerical chhatra chhaya of Hindi-Cheeni Bhai-Bhai and Jawaharlal Nehru's naïve nose. That is how China gained land access to Tibet in the first place and we only woke up to a Chinese built road in 1957.

The Red Dragon is not willing to adhere to the Johnson or McMahon Lines, drawn quaintly, if painstakingly, with a blunt red pencil by the Empire's designated cartographer-cum-politico of the time. Instead, China asserts, with nausea inducing regularity, that modern countries cannot be bound by colonial inheritances. What counts is traditional hegemony, calling Arunachal Pradesh 'south Tibet' and Ladakh an integral part of Tibet, too. In short: Might is Right.

Yet, on our part we never seem to let Indian might or right or even potential enter the equation. Perhaps it is a Gandhian hangover, but we should not expect a World War, with its third-party decimation of our oppressors and overlords, to come to our peace-loving souls every time!

Who will explain this to Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee, speaking for the Government of India, after the 300,000 Chinese troops worth of oppression unleashed in Tibet? We have sternly cautioned the Dalai Lama and earned a pat on the back from China. So, as the French say, the more things change the more they remain the same!

But France, under its new President of Hungarian extraction, does have the guts to threaten non-participation in the Beijing Olympics. As does Germany, ruled by a woman. This even as Britain, mindful of its desire to the host the Olympic Games in 2012, and the United States, looking to cheap Chinese goods and Chinese money in American Treasury Bonds, are playing it safe. Of course, if India refuses to go to the Olympics, we cannot expect to be missed as a sporting entity.

In 1959, the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan refugees came to us. China wasted no time in asserting that Tibet was an integral part of China with no ifs and buts about autonomy, let alone the independence the younger Tibetan people still aspire to. What a far cry from our perpetual dithering over Jammu & Kashmir.

We acquiesced in that first show of strength, influenced by our Left leanings - a Fabian Socialist Prime Minister Nehru and a China admiring Defence Minister Krishna Menon - and probably the romance of playing post-colonial, non-aligned statesman on the world stage. But Mao and Chou-en-Lai were quick to spot our vulnerability and they could not, with their peasant cunning, see why China should not push its advantage in 1962.

We pandered shamelessly to China, over half-a-century ago, and we are doing it again now, little realising that we are setting ourselves up again both in the North-East and North-West. For we are displaying the same lack of resolve and tacit declaration of military inadequacy, and refusing, on ideological and obscurantist grounds, apart from hopes of trade considerations outweighing hegemonistic desires, to strengthen our hands while we can.

In 2008, as a nuclear power - never mind the fact that we have not been admitted to the P-5 Club - this refusal to even mewl a political protest in support of the Dalai Lama and the people of Tibet makes us unfit to assume our place in history. Every day we seem to make it clear that we are not ready yet.

We advertise our self-assessment as a second-rate power in Asia, and a non-power in the world. We lack 'moxy', even in comparison to a feisty, failing, Pakistan, a destroyed and civil-warring Iraq, a resolute Iran, or a rapidly re-Talibanising Afghanistan where fanatics are undaunted by having been pounded, just recently, into the 'Stone Age'.

But let us see what we, an ostensibly 'soft state', could do if we wanted to do something. Militarily, should we mean business, we can have America's help backed by NATO and the Western Alliance, and that of our traditional ally Russia's too. If we stop dithering and actually take sides, we can have access to all the nuclear know-how and uranium we want, along with the most sophisticated military equipment globally available.

Economically, though coming up from a long way behind, we are now the second biggest success story after China in the world today. If the Chinese financial market has lost 35 per cent after a more than 200 per cent rise recently; India has lost 25 per cent after a more than 100 per cent rise, too. If China has a trillion plus US dollars in financial reserves, India does have over 300 billion dollars as well, way above the $ 10 billion we had in 1991.

And, after all is said and done, India is a thriving democracy, with large helpings of political as well as economic freedom to choose the path to our destiny. Our institutions, antiquated and creaky as they are, do work after a fashion. Our checks and balances, crude and unsophisticated, subject to subversion and fraud, do nevertheless keep India more honest than many a developed economy. Our banking system, while much smaller than that of the Chinese, is stronger, better regulated, less likely to be riddled with non-performing assets under the eiderdown.

We have no need to be so pessimistic about our chances if we look China in the eye. Unfortunately, we are innately timid, and China knows it.



" The historian Parshotam Mehra in a well-researched book - "Negotiating with the Chinese ; 1846-1987" brings forward another aspect of India's China policy when he quotes J.S. Grant, the Acting British High Commissioner in New Delhi:

'A perceptive contemporary British observer of the Indian scene called New Delhi's attitude towards China as THE MOST COMPLEX PIECE IN THE PUZZLE OF INDIAN FOREIGN POLICY, was convinced that FEAR IS REALLY THEIR [ INDIANS ] BASIC MOTIVE. New Delhi, he argued, was HORRIFIED AT THE POSSIBILITY OF WAR, and was determined, AT ALL COSTS TO AVOID ANY INVOLVEMENT IN ANY CLASH WITH CHINA: in the event,it had resolved TO CULTIVATE AND RETAIN FRIENDLY RELATIONS WITH CHINA for acheiving which it was PREPARED TO PAY ALMOST ANY PRICE.'

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