For some time, the threat of Chinese expansionism has weighed heavy across countries in the world. China’s uninhibited lust towards the acquisition of more land and more power antagonised quite a few countries in the neighbourhood and their ambitious assault on the global world order antagonised the West as well. However, none were too sure on how to proceed.
And then something happened: Doklam 2017. At Doklam, the Elephant stared down the eyes of the Dragon until the latter was forced to look away. And the world took notice. It became evident that the Dragon could not be subdued without the might of the Elephant. For its part, the Elephant for a long time remained befuddled in its drunken stupor but there was sufficient indication that now, it was gearing up for battle.
It is under these circumstances that the Dragon made its move at Ladakh and the stage was set against a global pandemic. Quite evidently, the Dragon had decided that attack was the best form of defence and in order to distract the world from its gross management of the virus that ultimately led to a global economic collapse, it began to spread its wings militarily.
After the clash at Galwan Valley, where by all accounts China suffered more casualties than India and has not been able to make any ostensible gain, China wants India to believe that it extends an arm of friendship in good faith. Between patronising India and insinuating that the Indian Government was acting under the influence of the West, it also promoted awkward cartoons of Pandas and Dragons and Elephants in its attempt to convince the world that it truly wanted friendship with India.
But no one was buying what they were selling, not this time, and certainly not India. India retaliated by banning 59 Chinese apps, including the widely popular TikTok, and stripping Chinese companies from investments in Indian projects. It was not merely a government initiative, it was truly a collective Indian effort towards minimising Chinese influence in Indian economy.
It is under these circumstances that Prime Minister Modi paid Leh a surprise visit. The Chinese were, of course, not happy. But then, Narendra Modi went a step further and invoked the spirit of Veer Bhogya Vasundhara and took not-so-subtle digs at Chinese expansionism. It is indeed quite a shift from the days of yore. The New India does not encourage conflict but does not shy away from it either.
The Shishupala Moment?
During his speech, which was littered with references to India’s Hindu roots, Narendra Modi invoked Shri Krishna. He said that India worships Krishna in all His forms. Bansurishari Krishna is just as dear to us as the Krishna who wields his Sudarshan Chakra. It was, again, a reference to the fact that India will not shy away from conflict if circumstances make it a necessity.
In this regard, the story of Shishupala comes to mind. Shishupala could commit a hundred sins and yet, escape punishment because Krishna had promised his cousin’s mother that He will forgive a hundred of his sins. Shishupala, of course being Shishupala, committed a hundred sin and then committed one more.
As soon as the hundred and first sin was committed, Shri Krishna separated his head from his neck with his Sudarshan Chakra. There is a certain lesson in here. India is, of course, not Shri Krishna and could never be. However, in the past and even until now, India has demonstrated a remarkable willingness to forgive the sins of those who do not deserve such forgiveness and as a consequence, has suffered a million indecencies in a million different ways.
But, given the manner in which India and the ruling dispensation has reacted to the clash at Galwan Valley, it could very well prove to be China’s Shishupala Moment. It could very well prove to be the one line it should never have crossed, the limit that should have been respected at all costs. Of course, it is too early to say it for sure but it has the potential to set in motion a chain of events that could end with the decimation of China’s global ambitions.
The Elephant and the Dragon
It has become conventional wisdom of late, and it has been repeated numerous times by numerous prominent individuals, that the 21st Century will belong to Asia. It is postulated that in the 21st Century, after centuries of dominance by Europe, the global power centre will shift to Asia. Every trend does indicate that it is the likeliest scenario.
Concurrently, the 21st Century will also be defined by the epic rivalry between India and China. The 20th Century was defined by the great rivalries between Western Powers. The United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and Russia were the most prominent of them all. Similarly, if the 21st Century is to be Asia’s century, the world will witness a similar battle for supremacy between India and China.
China is an enemy that India cannot wish away. It is a monster that India will have to confront at some point or the other. And finally, with the onset of the global pandemic and the economic collapse, the inevitability of it has become evident across wide sections of the population. Chinese media might publish pictures of the Dragon and the Elephant enjoying a merry ride on a boat but everyone knows fully well, the Dragon and Elephant are locked in eternal combat.
Not a time for Cynicism
There is often a cynical despondency among Indians regarding our prospects at the world stage. They do not appear to notice that India has become an important player in international politics. The swagger with which MEA Jaishankar carries himself is a demonstration of that fact. The resigned acceptance among Western governments regarding India’s decision to abrogate Article 370 is further confirmation of it.
India trails China in almost every important department but it ought to be remembered that China turned around its fortunes completely in three decades flat. There’s no reason why India could not achieve the same feat if it put its heart and soul into it. Achieving it, of course, will require a collective demonstration of strength, of loyalty, of sacrifice and of honour. But it is certainly achievable.
Banning Chinese apps is only the first step towards it. Reducing Chinese influence in the Indian economy and Indian trade deficits with China is only part of the solution. India’s battle against China will not be won only at the borders or by banning apps and Chinese businesses. It could only ever be won when the dream of ‘Aatmnanirbhar Bharat’ is realised.
A Road Not Travelled
There is a certain sense of irony here. The global world order that China is at war with is as much of an enemy to India as it is to them, for it is based on Western hegemony. China’s bid towards undermining it has actually given us more room to exercise our strength. The surgical strikes against Pakistan, the Balakot Airstrikes, the abrogation of Article 370, the passage of the Citizenship Amendment Act, all of it was made possible due to China’s assault on western hegemony.
This is more reason why the current scenario could very well end up being China’s Shishupala Moment. The smarter thing for China to do would have been to make India an offer the government couldn’t have refused. Throwing Pakistan under the bus and allowing India to take back Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan would have been a sweet deal to make in return for India’s help in its war against the West.
However, driven by conceit and consumed by its own arrogance, China has decided to make an enemy of the one power it shouldn’t have in these troubled times. In doing so, it might have lain the seeds of its own demise. India might have been willing to give China a free pass over its gross management of the Coronavirus should the Chinese had compensated us adequately. China could have escaped without any culpability for its gross conduct. However, all that is in the past. Chinese transgressions at the Line of Actual Control have decided turned India’s mood against them.
The future is uncertain and there is a lot that could happen between today and tomorrow. However, should China bite the dust in the years to come, it will not regret the awful treatment it meted out to Hong Kong. It will not regret the forced demographic genocide of Uighur Muslims. It would not regret its occupation of Tibet. The only thing it will regret is the day when it embarked on its misguided venture against India, the day when it turned a billion people into its enemy with one of the strongest Prime Ministers India has ever had at the helm.