Can Modi withstand a Chinese onslaught after kowtowing to Xi Jinping? 

MK Narayanan, former National Security Adviser has confirmed what has been obvious to some of us from 2014 and has now dawned on many, even within the Indian government

Photo: Xinhua/Xie Huanchi/IANS
Photo: Xinhua/Xie Huanchi/IANS
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Ashis Ray

While imprisoned by the British in the Andaman Islands, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar of the Hindu Mahasabha, erroneously referred to as “Veer”, made two dubious contributions. The first was the reactionary coinage and definition of Hindutva. The other was a pathetic letter for pardon to British authorities, in which he said “if the government in their manifold beneficence and mercy release me, I for one cannot but be the staunchest advocate of constitutional progress and loyalty to the English government which is the foremost condition of that progress”.

Therefore, when the cowards of Hindutva right claim muscularity, it is at best a terrible joke. They are masters at inflicting mob violence on the weak, but cower before authority, as indeed they did when Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel banned the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. In fact, we are witnessing this in no uncertain manner in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s behaviour before the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

MK Narayanan, former National Security Adviser, speaking at a by-invitation-only seminar at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, confirmed what has been obvious to some of us from 2014 and has now dawned on many, even within the Indian government.

Having outlined the minor positives of the Wuhan “informal summit” between Modi and Xi in April, Narayanan remarked: “It would need more than a leap of faith, however, to think that India-China relations have been reset as a result of the Wuhan interlude. The Wuhan outcome in actual terms does not add up to much. China has made no manifest concessions to India. The Doklam issue remains unresolved. China has given no indication that it has softened its attitude vis-à-vis the disputed territories in Arunachal Pradesh and elsewhere on the Sino-Indian border. No guarantees have been provided that no further border transgressions would take place.”

Narayanan was associated with the Indian government for over 55 years, as a police officer, director of the Intelligence Bureau and then National Security Adviser (NSA), not to mention his stint as governor of West Bengal. He is not one, even in a relatively private setting, especially abroad, to make ill-considered comments. His presentation would have received insightful inputs from honest, intelligent and well-informed personnel within Delhi’s diplomatic and security establishments, not to mention experts in academic and think-tank circles and his contacts in China.

Narayanan remarked: “The Wuhan outcome in actual terms does not add up to much. China has made no manifest concessions to India. The Doklam issue remains unresolved. China has given no indication that it has softened its attitude vis-à-vis the disputed territories in Arunachal Pradesh and elsewhere on the Sino-Indian border”

Xi’s tough line was evident as early as his maiden visit to India after Modi’s election, when deliberately Chinese troops were squatting inside Indian territory in Ladakh. He was out to test Modi’s resolve after the latter’s earlier criticism of China on Japanese soil. Indeed, the RSS propagandist that Modi is, predictably failed the examination. He demeaned India by proceeding with a pre-arranged pitch for Chinese investment (very little of which has materialised till date).

Narayanan’s analysis concurred with recent conclusions of respected Sinologists. He stated President XI “has concentrated more power in his hands than any other Chinese leader since Mao”. The 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), according to him, marked a return to the Mao era. He cited Xi in his opening address to the Congress describing China as a great power 25 times. Xi announced the Chinese military would be “world class” and “one that is capable of winning wars”. China’s defence budget in 2018 rose by 8.1% as compared to the previous year to $175 billion. China aims to wipe out poverty by 2021 (to coincide with the centenary of the founding of the CPC); and turn China into a fully developed nation by 2049 (in time for the 100th anniversary of the emergence of the People’s Republic).

After the low returns and growing uncertainty from Modi’s tilt towards the United States, Indian diplomats appear to have introduced course corrections, inherent in these being the Wuhan interface. Modi thereafter painted a rosy picture of India’s ties with China at the Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore. He was careful to avoid references that could upset Beijing. No Indian prime minister has performed such an embarrassing volte-face in a matter of four years! Narayanan underlined “China is unlikely to agree to a détente” with India”. Indeed, he mentioned there are signs of “China positioning itself to wage a ‘water war’ with India” by squeezing the flow into the Brahmaputra river.

Xi’s tough line was evident as early as his maiden visit to India after Modi’s election, when deliberately Chinese troops were squatting inside Indian territory in Ladakh. He was out to test Modi’s resolve after the latter’s earlier criticism of China on Japanese soil. Indeed, the RSS propagandist that Modi is, predictably failed the examination

Xi’s aggressive anti-India policy has weaned away a number of India’s neighbours and is attempting to reduce India’s influence in East Africa and South-East Asia. The extraordinary money power at his disposal enables him to do so. It is a moot point as to whether such a hostile cultivation of countries around India would have happened under a cleverer Indian dispensation.

The goodness and generosity of Jawaharlal Nehru towards China was rudely unreciprocated by the Maoist regime. Deng Xiaoping, the father of China’s current prosperity, was magnanimous enough to realise this. His outreach to Rajiv Gandhi—who made a favourable impression on him—PV Narasimha Rao’s game-changing peace and tranquillity treaty and Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh’s skilful nurturing of the relationship not only maintained a lid on Chinese provocation, but elicited China accepting the Indian position on Sikkim and extracted a significant concession from China on the border dispute, which it has since withdrawn.

Sadly, Modi’s meanderings mean India today has to keep an even greater vigil on Chinese intentions. Narayanan asserted “India is well aware of Chinese ambitions, especially under a leader like President Xi”. But does Modi know how to combat his designs? Arguably, only a return of genuine intellectuals to political power in India can cope with this.

London-based Ashish Ray, former head of CNN in India, is the longest serving Indian foreign correspondent

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