In a violent clash between the Indian and Chinese soldiers last Monday at Galwan Valley in Ladakh, over 20 Indian soldiers, including a colonel were killed and more were injured. Casualties are reported from the other side, but the exact number is not known. Such violent deaths of our soldiers at the LAC have not occurred since 1945. Media is abuzz with continued interpretations of Chinese motive in crossing up to 62 kms into our side of the LAC. The politicians of ruling dispensation and ministers continue to mouth rhetoric and display ‘unwavering determination’, as the country is in a state of shock and confusion.
The sad news is that China has invaded our territory and our soldiers are martyred pushing them back. I refuse to call it skirmishes in the border; the military engagement is going beyond skirmishes. I refuse to speculate on why China is doing it. The good news is that ‘Chinese empire’ would fall; we can make this incident the beginning of that fall. We should also try to minimise the tremors of that fall impacting our country.
Pradip Bose, an author and a journalist, the founder of Association of Democratic Socialism, of which I am now the Secretary General, had predicted privately the fall of Soviet empire, the unification of Germany and the fall of the Chinese empire. He had bemoaned, “I may not be alive to see the fall of Chinese empire”. He died a few years ago. Bose was considered to be one of the best minds of Asia by his peers in international socialist networks. The basic premise of his prediction was that any government that does not allow freedom of choice to its people will inevitably collapse. Soviet communism could not pass the test of time and Chinese totalitarianism will meet the same fate.
In a communist autocracy, the unbridled power of the supreme leader at home, in this case Xi Jinping, who has elected himself to be the leader for life, makes them hunger for more control and influence abroad. No wonder, China in engaged in incendiary acts vis-à-vis a number of countries, Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Japan, Australia, USA, and India. Beijing is eager to demonstrate to the world that the economic might counts more than democracy at home than the rule-based order international affairs. Major well-off democracies having unwisely propped up China are now trying to counter it; early this month, parliaments of eight countries- US, Germany, UK, Japan, Australia, Canada, Sweden and Norway set up an Alliance to “construct appropriate and coordinated response, and craft a pro-active and strategic approach on issues related to the People’s Republic of China”.
At home, without doubting for a second the sincerity of our leaders and officers in handling the critical juncture we are in with Beijing, I must say that unless we have a long term, consistent approach, we cannot effectively deal with the current ‘limited border war’ with China. Before we adumbrate a China strategy, we must recognise and remember the mistakes we made in the past, the missteps taken by the present government. It may sound painful at this stage, but without facing the facts, and acknowledging the mistakes we cannot apply the correctives and move on. Some of us have been warning the government on these, but only power legitimises wisdom, the voice of lesser mortals can fall only on deaf ears.
Our first Prime Minister, Pt Nehru, in a sense, the architect of our foreign policy, blundered on India’s role and strength as a world power back in 1950s and 60s, and heavily on China. We have mentioned these mistakes ad nauseam; the UNSC membership, the nuclear Bomb, the ‘K’ question, the NAM, Tibet, 1956 equivocation on foreign aggression, anti-West posture. Modi began well by unloading some of these baggage of the past like reversing the anti-West posturing, decoupling our relations with Israel and Palestine, taking firm steps in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, isolating Pakistan by bypassing SAARC and creating BIMSTEC. On China, Modi fumbled between countering and accommodating it, and perhaps with the advice from MEA mandarins, tried to do both, running with the hare and hunting with the hound.
What is worse, Modi began to undo himself in his second term in our foreign policy. To start with, his choice of foreign minister, a former bureaucrat was inexplicable. Rajiv Gandhi made the mistake of appointing technocrats as ministers and to key positions. Modi did it even 3 times more than Rajiv, blurring the difference between bureaucrats who live in files and furniture, and the politicians who feel the push and pulse of the people. Then Modi called a meeting of SAARC, addressed the meeting of long-dead NAM, hugged the Chinese leaders more than anyone else, twice in agenda-less meetings while joining all the available anti-China groupings.
To be sure, Chinese incursion was waiting in the wings to happen. Only the government failed to see it coming. Nehru was lulled into complacence by the Chinese. Modi, a shrewder politician, too was led up the garden path by our bureaucrats on China. He should have realised that if chest-thumping against Pakistan can win elections, not standing up to China could strip your world image and lose elections too. When it comes to China, we invoke the advice of Vajpayee, “you can change your friends but not your neighbours”. But what good is a neighbour who becomes a threat to peace and integrity of our country.
Why was a military alliance not in place to fend off China in such an eventuality? Let us not delude ourselves that we can fight China on our own. The concept of self reliance is fallacious both in economy and foreign policy; Modi has confused us and the world by using this obsolete term, again a throwback to the past. It should be rather self-confidence. What is prudent is to make strategic alliances. We did not compete with China for a long time. China should have been the reference point for our foreign and economic policies, not Pakistan, which is just a vassal state of China. Follow the Japanese, South Korean or Israel model of defense of the country, not the NAM nonsense.
Here we are now. Let us learn the lessons from our mistakes from the distant as well as the recent past and as a country, in unity, in one voice, face off the Chinese. Let us agree that China is perfidious, not to be touched with a barge pole until it becomes a democracy with multiparty politics, unless it stops making fantastic claim on Indian territory, until it backs off to pre-5th May position in Ladakh. As a government we continue our military and diplomatic engagements, rapidly build our military alliances with countries that stand for rule based order and democracy. Let us make the potential allies realise, China is not only a threat to India, but to the entire world, like Hitler once was.
Although no one could question the courage and determination of our forces, like Sam Manekshaw said, we must fight to win and dismember China in the longer run, hasten its inevitable fall — liberate Tibet, save Taiwan from being gobbled up, save Hong Kong’s special status, demilitarise South China Sea. China might pull back to status quo ante, pre- 5th May. But that is not the end of our engagement with China. This episode should be the beginning of the end of China as it is today. Not only the army or the government, but the entire country should rise against China and take it to the logical end.