China Conundrum: Communication collapse!

As the border stalemate with China continues, communication seems to be breaking down. The whole world is gripped by COVID-19 and China, the latter’s belligerent expansionism that poses a threat to world peace. Since Chinese troops trespassed into the LAC and 20 Indian soldiers were killed on 15 June, the world is discussing India-China skirmishes. World leaders have begun to react expressing their opinion and support. The United States has initiated relocating its battle-ready troops to contain Chinese aggression on its neighbours. Yet, at home, there is hardly any serious communication among the stakeholders that include everyone in the country.

What surprises us the most is the Prime Minister choosing not to mention China at all in his address to the nation on Tuesday 30 June at 4 pm. Prime Minister Modi is known for his uncanny ability to surprise people, including his adversaries. But surprises can be sweet as they can be shocking. It was the latter the country experienced on 30 June. The explanation put forth by some BJP supporters was that it was imprudent to talk about China while negotiations are on. That is an absurd argument. No one expects the details of counter-attacks on China or the terms of negotiations. People would like and are entitled to know what is happening with China.

Without doubt, it is callous disregard for people’s sentiments and rights to timely information on such a critical occurrence involving our national security. When the Prime Minister addresses the nation, he needs to choose his content. It is said, “Communication works for you, if you work at your communication”. If anything that will prove detrimental to the prospects of the current government, it is its poor communication, in fact, lack of it.

In a democracy, communication cannot be one way. That is precisely the case with our Prime Minister. He addresses the citizens, as if a guru or priest gives a sermon. There are no questions to be asked, no supplements or additions to the information shared. The essence of democracy is a debate among the people by asking questions and counter-questions in order to benefit from the collective wisdom. There is an African saying, ‘Two minds are better than one”. Our Prime Minister may be one of his kinds, who do not address press conferences. This is an incredible practice in a democracy.

Let us recall the epithet Modi conferred on the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. He called him Man (maun) Singh meaning Mr Silent. But these days, Modi’s silence on burning issues of national importance is deafening. He is so garrulously communicative in whirlwind election campaigns. To the media or people, he hardly talks, his Mann ki baat notwithstanding which is meant essentially for school children.

What is worse, one is not expected to ask questions. Even the Opposition is lambasted for questioning the government. Ironically, it is the government which asks questions to the Opposition. Remember, the ruling party President asking 10 questions to the Congress leadership on whatever issue. We knew, in a democracy, when you are in the Opposition, you ask questions, and when you are in government, you act and deliver. We are learning a new principle of democracy under this government.

Parliament is not in session in these unusual times. So the government should be constantly dialoguing with the Opposition in all-party meetings etc. There was only one all-party meeting on China where the Prime Minister surprised again. Contradicting all previous communications from the MEA and MoD, he said, “there are no incursion into our land, no foreign troops are on our territory”. The whole country, perhaps even the world, would have been astounded with this statement. Why did our soldiers die? Who were they fighting? What are our diplomats negotiating for? All these questions began haunting us after his statement.

No amount of denials or explanations could clear the confusion created by Modi’s statement. That bespeaks the quality of communication. If the Prime Minister should not brief the country every now and then, and perhaps he should not, where is the National Security Advisor? He was seen dealing with Tablighi Jammat, and recent Delhi riots, which are the jobs of Delhi police chief. This is where he should come and explain what is happening.

Also, one is looking out for the first Chief of our Defense Staff.  This General is known for speaking up on issues that did not concern him, on nature of leadership etc. This is his domain. He has not been seen or heard. There are many leaders and generals who have built the morale of the Army and the country at the time of such hostilities. Remember Churchill, one of the heroes of the Second World War, how he mobilised his men in the face of defeat, when his Cabinet and the Generals were against carrying on the war against marauding Nazi Army. But he got support from the people, as he was communicating.

Look at the TV debates. Most of it is shouting and slanging matches, name calling and mud-slinging. In the face of a national challenge like this, the country should be one in its resolve to fight the enemy. Yes, we are one in backing our Army and the government. There is no question of division of intentions. There could certainly be diversity of opinion and strategy in dealing with the challenge. It is normal in a democracy. But the debates are made binary and adversarial. The army card is often thrown into debates to emotionalise the environment and demonise the opponent as anti-Army and anti-national etc.

The major difference between India and China is this that India is the biggest democracy, as China is the biggest autocracy in the world. This precise distinctive feature will be responsible for India’s survival and growth as well as the inevitable collapse of China. We need to preserve this national asset. It must also be remembered that the hardware of democracy is in pace, our software is weak, non-functional or in some cases non-existent. This is where we must focus while taking on the Chinese.

Despite various viewpoints, caution by conservatives, retaliation by hawks, and pro-active strategic steps by realists in the confrontation with China, one thing is crystal clear, that China has to be contained until it becomes a pluralist polity; it gives up lands it occupies from other countries. It appears now to be a long-drawn fight. In this fight, what is also clear is that the whole country will rally behind the government. But the government must restore the communication lines and make them operational. The lines lie in our country to various segments and go beyond to our potential allies. It is communication that will win us this battle.


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