Lest we repeat mistakes !

Mao’s popular dictum used to be: “Signal Right, Turn Left.” With his unstated ambition to emerge a Mao –probably larger than him–, President Xi Jinping is toeing the helmsman dictum in conducting Chinese affairs, especially with India.

Just recall the euphoria built up in the country around a full-throated slogan of “Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai” in the fifties . Jawaharlal Nehru then was at the helm of India’s destiny. He was taken for ride on the “bhai-bhai” path by the Mao-Chou duo. He signed the Panchsheel agreement, hoping that Communist China would take to the peaceful co-existence path and honour the promised autonomy for Tibet. What happened subsequently is part of the tragic happenings in Tibet and the Dalai Lama and his people’s exodus from their home land and the blood-soaked 1962 chapter of Indian history.

History is not “ a pack of tricks we play upon the dead”, Voltaire once opined. It holds out a mirror as a guide to the future on the premise that mistakes committed in the past are not “played upon the dead.”

Much water has flowed down the Brahmaputra since the 1962 betrayal of Nehru’s India by China. I do not wish to sit in judgement on a series of recent events which have revived the bitter memories of the past amidst Beijing’s war hysteria and claims on the Bhutanese Doklam plateau at the trijunction. India is bound by the treaty to protect the territorial integrity of Bhutan. Indian trops had earlier blocked Chinese road works in Doklam and have since been in a faceoff with PLA troops.

Defence Minister Arun Jaitely is on a firm wicket when he said recently that the “2017 India is not the India of 1962.” Still, it cannot be claimed with certainty whether India can fully match China’s economic and military power, especially keeping in view the Beijing-Islamabad dubious axis which adds to India’s problems of terrorism and related issues in Kashmir and beyond. What is equally worrisome is China’s belligerent postures on India’s long-drawn out border which hides China’s hidden agenda of expansionism, colonialism and military adventure. Beijing’s recent moves on the economic corridor passing through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) speaks a lot on its evil designs on this country.

President Xi Jinping is obviously back to the old Chinese games of expansionism and brinkmanship. History tells us that whenever China grows economically and militarily strong, it pursues its colonial policy to grab the neighbouring territories. We have had our problems with China on this count from 1962 onward. Our problem is that we are poor learners of history. That is why there were hush-hush murmurings in knowledgeable quarters when Prime Minister Modi played Jhula (Swing) Diplomacy during President Xi Jinping visited India in September 2014.

Narendra Modi’s was well-intentioned move since peace in the region alone can ensure economic development as visualized by the Prime Minister. All the same, it is in our national interests that we should never allow China’s real face erased from our memory !

The latest Chinese postures are but natural as Beijing seems to be conducting itself like imperialist Britain’s East India Company. Will NSA Ajit Doval have some sobering effect on the Chinese leadership ? I keep my fingers crossed.

Mercifully, the Modi government has been quietly bracing up India’s critical military gaps and has even started thinking on new strategic and defence lines, keeping in view today’s changing global realities. The recent defence ties-ups with Israel by Prime Minister Modi is a clear indication that New Delhi is very much alive to twin threats posed to this country by sinister games of the two neighbours.

Well, more than vigil, we have to be constantly on guard and bridge the vital gaps both on defence and economic fronts. The Doklam stand-off looks like the war of nerves being played by the PLA troops. In such a setting, I expect the Prime Minister to play his diplomatic and strategic cards tactfully to neutralize China’s brinkmanship.

Let us not be carried away by Sushma Swaraj’s remark that “all nations are behind us.” Nothing of the sort. War is, of course, not the answer in today’s Nuclear Globe. What India needs is not a policy of reaction but a pro-active dynamic diplomacy in the neighbourhood and beyond.

One thing, however must not be lost sight of. That is a nation’s power flows from its economic strength and military muscle and not by big talks. It will be better if Prime Minister Modi attends to ground realities and strengthen India’s grassroots, development-wise and add to the people’s power that ultimately holds the key to India’s destiny as a democratic power vis-à-vis an egoist one-party regime that China is. It now aspires to become a super power a la Imperial China.

As scholar Suisheng Zhao of University of Denver has put it : “Following the policy of fusion and expansion, whenever Imperial China was powerful, it tried to expand frontiers by claiming suzerainty over smaller neighbours. The expansion, however, often met with resistance. Chinese empire was not shy about military conquest.”

President Xi Jinping has apparantely used the legacy of Imperial China to pursue his political ambition. Fine. But it is high time world leaders looked behind the Chinese “peace” mask !

Perhaps, President Xi would learn a lesson or two from the Indian civilisational strength when rubbed in the wrong ! This is not a matter of Hindu nationalism. At stake is India’s civilisational roots and strength which bank on ethics and the message of peace to win the hearts and minds of people at home and abroad.

Added to these norms are the instruments of modern statecraft to stand up to dubious Chinese designs of President Xi. We failed to fathom Mao’s mind in 1962. We must not repeat the mistake and see to it that the India of 2017 is in reality different, both diplomatically and strategically, Mr Prime Minister.

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