Passing Bite Society

Xi doesn’t need to be in Modi’s vicinity to smell the fear coming off the Indian leadership

Narendra Modi (right) with Xi Jinping at Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, 2014.

Narendra Modi (right) with Xi Jinping at Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, 2014.   | Photo Credit: PTI

In Galwan, we’ve seen the result of Xi making a businesslike assessment of Modi after their several meetings

Business communities in India have their own ways of gauging potential partners and rivals, just as they have phrases for describing people and interactions such as monetary negotiations, deal-making, pulling the wool over competitors’ eyes and so on.

For instance, when a young businessman starts to taste success, one could say, “Ah, now he’s got strength in his legs,” literally meaning that the novice has found his feet, or to use an American Mafia term, “made his bones”.

Or, in the past, when trying to figure out how some business concern might behave, a businessman would ask an associate, “Who’s sitting in the gaddi?” — the gaddi being the back office — literally the command centre — from where key decisions were made.

Depending on who was seen to be in charge, the questioner might have reacted with a snort of derision, the widening of a wolf smile or a nod of respect, perhaps not dissimilar to the way a 17th century Japanese warlord might have responded after seeing who his counterpart was, sitting on the general’s chair behind the ranks of opposing soldiers.

Checking the pulse

Of late, we’ve been reading a lot about how Chanakya and Machiavelli both tell us that in diplomacy there are no friends, just potential allies and enemies, both usually temporary. Obviously, all sorts of factors come into play when the representatives of any modern state try to calibrate how to behave (overtly and covertly) with another country.

There is, of course, the history between the two nations; there would be the awareness of the shifting landscape of international relations in which the two countries find themselves; there would be political, economic and often military considerations; there would be the long-standing areas where goals are common or where conflicts range from mild to intractable.

With most countries led by teams of ministers and bureaucrats, the meetings between the top leaders are important but the flanking personnel usually act as shock-absorbers.

With countries that are led by Strong Men (or Strong Women), the personal interactions between the ‘Boss’ figures of each country take on extra weight. In many ways, these face-to-face exchanges assume the characteristics of an exploratory, probing meeting between two seths who might choose to go into partnership or into deadly competition or change course in some way following their interaction.

One phrase used by Indian businesspeople is “he checked out his pulse”, meaning one seth (or sheyth in Gujarati) assessed the strengths and weaknesses of his opposite number’s character during a meeting.

Recently, in Galwan, we’ve seen the result of Xi making a businesslike assessment of Modi after their several meetings. It would seem that Xi “took the pulse” of Modi and decided that his overtures of friendship with Pakistan and China were insincere and his martial posturing was macho bluster. He also appears to think that Modi’s ability to block or counter Chinese manoeuvres is hobbled by many things, not least his obsessive one-point agenda of turning India into a Hindutva Patal Lok.

Reading the signs

The Chinese are not given to brash, impulsive moves. Xi’s assessment, according to some reports, is that his Indian counterpart has committed skulduggery in Jammu & Kashmir, with a gambit that has forced him to keep the region under lockdown for nearly a year, with no end in sight — a sure sign of the Centre’s fear and the absence of popular support in the area. Xi is also calculating the additional stress this puts on the Indian army as it is forced, more than ever, to look in two opposing directions, ahead and behind.

He would also have factored in the huge countrywide protests against the CAA/NRC. Just because the Chinese government doesn’t like democratic protests doesn’t mean its leaders don’t recognise their potential to destabilise a government.

Finally, helping Xi make up his mind would have been the massive botch-up of the Modi government’s response to COVID-19, the (second) self-torpedoing of the economy, and the huge crisis this has let loose upon the people.

Alongside this, the Xi regime would also have seen that India has no viable allies to speak of: Putin, China’s new, warm associate, is nobody’s friend; Trump is busy sinking his country as he tries to save his own skin; Johnson is in the position to scupper Britain without currently having to worry about his own survival; the Europeans are all caught up in their own micro-dramas; the Australians and the Japanese don’t matter much.

Xi doesn’t need to be in Modi’s vicinity to smell the fear coming off the Indian leadership. A canny businessman sensing the opportunity of a monopoly can put moves in place and bide his time.

The writer is a filmmaker and columnist.

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Printable version | Aug 5, 2020 2:49:47 PM |

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