Who stands to gain from war hysteria?

National Security Advisor M.K. Narayanan with China's State Councilor Dai Bingguo during a delegation level talks in New Delhi. File Photo: AP   | Photo Credit: Saurabh Das

In a famous essay published in the Pravda newspaper in 1913 titled Who Stands to Gain?, Vladimir Lenin wrote: “When it is not immediately apparent which political or social groups, forces or alignments advocate certain proposals, measures, etc., one should always ask: “Who stands to gain?”? It is not important who directly advocates particular views. What is important is who stands to gain from these views, proposals, measures.”

What is abundantly clear is that neither India nor China stands to gain from the war hysteria and xenophobia that have been whipped up through the recent months over the relations between the two countries. So much is evidently at stake at this historic juncture for the two Asian powers as they pursue their respective trajectories of growth and development in a highly volatile international environment. Neither India nor China can afford to be distracted from its chosen path that places primacy on development in the national policies. A war for either of them is highly detrimental to core interests. Yet, on any single day, sections of our corporate media -- print as well as electronic -- are replete with stories that resonate with the sound of distant war drums.

True, the media cannot be held solely culpable for such irresponsible conduct. In a way, their panache for atavistic themes and Manichean doctrines is quite understandable. Alas, they live in an ephemeral world and their repertoire of survival techniques includes various sorts of gimmickry to attract viewership. However, organisations funded by the government and headed by ex-bureaucrats who held sensitive positions in the government have also joined the fray in building up the present hysteria. One government-owned think-tank even featured in its journal an article recently by Arun Shourie as the lead contributor, who of course duly cast China in an “enemy” image. Again, retired officers of the Indian armed forces who are associated with “think-tanks” funded by the services are visible too in the media enthusiastically piloting the current campaign. Therefore, it is necessary to go beyond what the National Security Adviser has done by way of putting the blame solely on the doors of our media for all the things that have gone wrong. The government needs to set its house in order, too.

Broadly speaking, three categories of Indian opinion-makers are raising the war hysteria over India’s relations with China. First, it isn’t difficult at all to spot old familiar faces in the foreign and security policy circuit who push the case with great sophistication and aplomb that a growing Chinese menace leaves India with no alternative but to calibrate its foreign policy and edge ever closer to the United States. They are intelligent people, suave and articulate, who held important positions in the government in various capacities in India and abroad. Naturally, their assertion that India should play the “Tibet card” against China carries weight. They will insist they are hardened “realists” but it must be extreme naivety on their part -- or plain dissimulation -- to say China can be pressured over Tibet. They are far too experienced to know that if China reciprocates by playing various sundry “cards,” the game can turn quite rowdyish. See the amount of dust created by just one Chinese article recently about “balkanising” India, written in response to dozens penned in the past two-year period since unrest broke out in Tibet by our fundamentalists fancying a break-up of China into nice little pieces.

Second, an easily identifiable ebullient crowd of retired defence officers presents a one-dimensional case that the civilian leadership is underestimating the Chinese threat and the armed forces should be provided far greater financial and material resources to meet the threat. All militaries have corporate interests and a case needs to be built for earmarking 7 per cent of India’s GDP for the defence budget. The tussle for resources between butter and guns is an ancient one. But, on the other hand, the Indian public opinion has never questioned the country’s defence budget as excessive. The only disquieting aspect is the manifest passion on the part of a growing lot within the military to canvass for weaponry sourced from America. But then, American arms manufacturers have a way of charming their potential clients.

Third, of course, there are the ubiquitous right-wing Hindu nationalists, the self-appointed custodians of national security, for whom China is the hurdle to India’s emergence as a superpower. They genuinely lack the intellectual wherewithal to comprehend that the time for “superpower-dom” is gone with the wind in world politics. But their doublespeak puzzles. China concluded a memorandum of understanding with the RSS last year and senior RSS figures were hosted by Beijing. It must, therefore, be concluded that they are grandstanding to score a point or two against the ruling party.

These cliques coordinate in their untiring campaign on China’s evil intentions. Indeed, they would have us believe that a war is round the corner and there isn’t much time for preparing Indian defence capabilities. The government should quickly decide on pending arms procurements such as the 126 advanced multi-role fighter aircraft.

Against this tragicomic backdrop, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has stepped in and poured cold water on the war hysteria. Army Chief Deepak Kapoor trooped in with the calming assurance that the border with China remains tranquil. These interventions have not come a day too soon. Dr. Singh has assured us that there will be greater information flow to the Indian public so that it does not become a captive audience of our China experts. That will help. But war hysteria can only be countered on a “war footing.” Therefore, it will help if the Army Chief could also enforce better discipline in his ranks, which leak like a sieve. True, it is habitual for American commanders to fight turf wars through aggressive media leaks. But we Indians don’t have such Martian culture, nor do we need to cultivate one.

Indeed, the India-China relationship has been steadily expanding and maturing in the recent years. The regular high-level political exchanges, burgeoning trade ties, nascent strategic dialogue, cooperation in regional and international issues of common concern, military-to-military cooperation and so on can only lead to greater trust and confidence, enabling the two countries to address the border dispute. This was also the pattern of Russian-Chinese normalisation. There is no better way of steering India’s complex relationship with China through the present sensitive corridor of time than what the UPA government adopted. Most important, India’s China policy is being conducted today in the policy establishment in highly professional terms. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao is an outstanding diplomat and China expert in the Indian Foreign Service and the political leadership couldn’t have summoned a better person to lead the team in South Block.

So, where lies the problem? Who indeed stands to gain by vitiating the climate of India-China relations? Suffice to say, China is the second largest economy in the world and India is poised to become the third largest in an intermediate future. In strategic terms, as the two countries probe ways and means of cooperating on a range of issues of vital interest -- climate change, Doha Round, religious extremism and terrorism -- their collective impact on the Asian security paradigm can be phenomenal and it is beginning to be felt in some significant measure already. A sense of uneasiness is appearing in the West about the locus of world politics inexorably shifting eastward.

The objective reality is that China has not only nothing to gain by invading India, but has a great deal to lose. In fact, the entire edifice of Chinese policies, which focusses on the country’s economic transformation, will come tumbling down. China’s international standing as a responsible power and stakeholder in world stability will suffer a serious setback. The suspicions regarding the “Middle Kingdom” will resurface among China’s neighbours. As the current developments in Myanmar show, China’s friendly ties with many of its neighbours are delicately balanced -- though the common thesis propounded by a junior American analyst in the Pentagon in her late twenties and parroted by our seasoned strategic thinkers is that China is constructing a “string of pearls” around the Indian neck. Last but not the least, China is a cautious power. The disturbed conditions in Xinjiang and Tibet and the extended supply lines to the border make a protracted conflict with India quite a problematic proposition for Beijing.

Curiously, the war hysteria has deflected attention from the U.S. regional policies aimed at perpetuating a military presence in our region by co-opting Pakistan as its key ally. It also generates uncertainties in the regional environment just as India, Russia and China explore the potentials of cooperation on issues such as Afghanistan and terrorism. If the xenophobia is to be stretched to its logical conclusion, India should unhesitatingly expand its military cooperation with the U.S. to counter the Chinese menace. Lenin was right.

(The writer is a former diplomat.)

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Printable version | Dec 1, 2021 9:43:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/Who-stands-to-gain-from-war-hysteria/article16882577.ece

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