Diplomacy on bended knee

Has Modi, by kowtowing to the Chinese, miscalculated? There’s no squeak about China’s intended road work near the Doklam site, which could be a strategic thorn

 Wuhan Summit

Chinese President Xi with PM Modi at Wuhan

Remember that erroneous but popular quote “Houston, we have a problem”? It was the innocuous start to the nail-biting drama of retrieving the crew of a badly malfunctioning Apollo 13 back to safety, best encapsulated in the Tom Hanks movie of the same name. In the same vein, surely, someone of importance in the high orbit of Government, must of necessity, have already made the call “Modiji, we have a problem!”

Of course, we would be unaware of such a transmission because, for one, it probably is a cry in the wilderness, and more importantly, because despite his untiring efforts and grand vision, Modiji himself may just be the problem.

Take the case of the recent Wuhan “informal summit.” There was a time when most of us would have whole-heartedly believed that this was a brilliant, non-conformist, out-of-the-box diplomatic initiative by our very own Pradhan Sevak to transform relations between the big two in Asia. But that was before demonetisation and the false narrative put out to justify it, something that the vast majority of citizens appears to have seen through over time.

There will undoubtedly be those, of optimistic bent, who will swallow the swill fed by our Foreign Ministry, but the vast thinking majority may have a sneaking suspicion that all this frenetic activity was aimed not so much at attaining strategic equilibrium, but at ensuring that this Government is not embarrassed by a Doklam 2.0, and that too, just before important State elections this year with the General Election not too far off.

A possibility not to be laughed at, given the manner in which Chairman Mao brought Pandit Nehru down to Mother Earth in short order. Of course, it could also be Mr Modi demanding his pound of flesh for having resolved Doklam, without embarrassing President Xi, prior to the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit as well as the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China held later that year.

Interestingly, there has been not a squeak from either the Government or the media about the purported road construction about 6 km of where the earlier Doklam confrontation occurred which, when completed, will enable the People’s Liberation Army to look into and interdict the strategically vulnerable Siliguri Corridor while providing depth to their communication lines within the vulnerable Chumbi Valley.

Surely, this is not a particularly difficult issue to ascertain one way or the other? If true, our inability and unwillingness to act will only de facto lead to loss of influence in Bhutan, not dissimilar to the situation we now face in our relations with Nepal.

If that were to transpire, then probably within the next decade or so, given China’s increasing heft in Bangladesh, Myanmar and the neighbourhood, there is the very real possibility that the North-East will only be Indian in name, if at all. A classic example of adherence on their part to Sun Tzu’s famous dictum “the supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

Though what fight a military that is ill-matched can actually put up is questionable, especially given the Pathankot fiasco not so long ago. This is to be expected when the

military leadership collectively abdicates its constitutional role and responsibilities.

Somebody, not necessarily more competent, will always step into the breach; even nature, as we are aware, abhors a vacuum.  Anybody reminded of that old adage “for want of a nail the kingdom was lost?”

But all this talk of gloom and doom is for the future. What seems to matter the most today, at least to the ruling elite, is that nothing should get in the way of the BJP juggernaut till a successful result is achieved at the hustings due next year. That would allow Prime Minister Modi to get his wish to continue serving us as the Pradhan Sevak for another five years, despite most of his earlier promises turning to dust.

His cause has, however, not been helped by some of those elected on the party ticket, the Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb being the latest, especially their loose talk, immature behaviour and blatant and over-bearing arrogance.

Yet, success seemingly appears to be a distinct possibility given the divided state of the Opposition. Family concerns, led by befuddled and flawed princelings bereft of a vision for a better India, other than one of divide and rule, have cost the Opposition cohesiveness.

Yet, one can only wonder at what a Jaichand, Mir Jafar or a Mir Quasim was looking to achieve when they made their pacts with their respective devils, surely not the ending that they confronted and surely not to be remembered as the greatest traitors to their cause?

Is there a possibility that Mr Modi with his kowtowing to the Chinese has majorly miscalculated and is there a possibility that it may decimate his magic? Only time, I guess, will tell.


This commentary originally appeared in The Pioneer.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

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Deepak Sinha

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