Even critics of the Prime Minister and his party have been taken aback by his position on China’s intrusions. Of all the things that he has advertised himself, even the Modi haters had accepted that he was a nationalist, whether or not they agreed with nationalism or ultra- nationalism of the sort he promotes. But nobody, including them, expected him to run away from an invasion of Bharat Mata, as he has done.
Modi has made only one public statement on the matter of China and that was to say: "Na koi wahan hamari seema mein ghus aaya hai, na hi koi ghusa hua hai, na hi hamari koi post kisi dusre ke kabze mein hain.” This was used by China to claim control over all of Galwan Valley, where it has intruded.
Modi’s words have become such an embarrassment that they have been removed from the official PMO video. Modi has not spoken on the issue after this, and appears to be pretending that there is no intrusion. Satellite imagery confirms that the tent our men died trying to remove has now become a series of Chinese structures on our side.
Reports, which have not been denied by the government, say China has made a fourth intrusion at Depsang where it is 18 km inside India. Our response is so muted as to be shocking. Everyone in the government seems to be worried, and there has been a long statement from the foreign ministry and an interview with the Indian ambassador in Beijing asking China to respect the Line of Actual Control. But at the same time nobody is saying China has intruded, because they fear contradicting Modi.
The defence ministry has said anonymously to reporters that the army has been given a free hand. But this doesn’t mean anything. The army cannot decide whether or not we are at war with China. This is a political decision. It is Modi who must decide that India will use force to kick the Chinese out, like Nehru decided, and only after that does the military come into the picture.
Saying the forces have a free hand in this situation is abdication of duty and responsibility and passing off political accountability to the military.The government is treating this as a localised policing issue, though clearly the intent of the Chinese is strategic. India is facing danger but the government is not prepared or willing to acknowledge it.
Because we are speaking in so many different voices, we have lost the opportunity to mobilise international support on China’s aggression. If we had been transparent about the aggression, we could have put Xi Jinping on the backfoot. Instead what has happened is that China has publicly used Modi’s statement about no intrusion and not only blamed India for the stand-off but expanded its claim over our land.
Modi’s very vocal backers have gone silent over this because even they have been taken aback by the incompetence with which this is being handled. And, to go back to where we started, on an issue on which nobody thought Modi would be soft. After all the brave words from him when the UPA was in power with respect to China’s temporary intrusions, to have him waffle and dissemble when they are making the intrusion permanent is unexpected.
What does that say about his nationalism? We can call it pseudo nationalism. It is fake. The dictionary defines nationalism as a patriotic feeling, and extreme devotion to one’s nation. It is an ideology that promotes sovereignty and resists foreign influence.
What we are seeing unfolding in Ladakh is the opposite of that. It is pseudo nationalism of the sort that only talks big and attacks its own citizens while cowering in the presence of the foreign bully. It is surprising to me that being as political smart as he is, Modi does not grasp the value of resistance here.
It does not matter if we are a poorer, smaller and less powerful nation than China. We cannot be pushed around without resistance as is now happening. The bully wants the victim to not look him in the eye. It makes pushing them around easier.
Modi must realise the value of our unity at this time. Even those who do not like him (‘Modi haters’) will rally to his call if he says that the country’s sovereignty is being threatened by China’s aggressive intrusions. The other political fights in our democracy will be put aside and can wait till we see off this immediate and external threat.
Rallying and bringing us together is the responsibility of the government and of the prime minister. He has chosen instead to side with the opponent and agree that there is no aggression. Whatever else we can call his behaviour at this crucial time, it cannot be called nationalism.
(Views expressed are the author’s own)