Forewarned: New Delhi will face the same fate against China as the US is experiencing now if it doesn’t rectify its follies

by Abhijit Bhattacharyya

The pioneer Indian ‘whistle-blower’ was the then Defence Minister George Fernandes. In 1998, he accused Beijing of helping Myanmar install surveillance and communication equipment in Bay of Bengal islands. Expectedly, Indians castigated their own minister, thereby weakening New Delhi and strengthening the Dragon.

Historically, British imperialists have succeeded more than their rivals in reading the enemy’s mind for 200 years (mid-18th to mid-20th century) and thus subjugating them. The imperialism of conquest, profit, trade, cash, exploitation and suppression, however, also taught the Communist Party of China (CPC) the advance reconnaissance and craft of subjugating the target country after World War II. Thus, the world today is witness to the CPC’s preference for avoiding frontal combat, except in limited sectors pertaining to India. The CPC possesses enough non-combat ammunition to take on New Delhi through the inter-locking of economics and commerce. The ceaseless humbling of India by an aggressive CPC, regrettably, continues unabated.

It began at the turn of the 20th century and the start of the 21st. Despite the 1962 drubbing by China, India showed an unusually premature eagerness to ‘open up’, riding the crest of ‘globalisation, liberalisation, privatisation’ wave, thereby inexorably falling into the CPC’s trap. Why? Because, “the world now is a global village. Everything is inter-connected, and the line dividing friend and foe is getting blurred.” Really? If so, then why does the ‘global village’ still carry in its womb a whopping 200-plus sovereign nation-states? Not all of whom are able to sustain on their own, owing to big fish eating the small fish! Why open up before the shark’s illusory trap of ‘free flow of goods, capital and labour’?

Despite the forewarning, India erred on China and its calculation went haywire. Delhi misread the CPC mind on the strategic/long-term plan. Nevertheless, long before ‘globalisation’ and ‘open up’ became the catchwords, ‘domestic politics of revenge’ to reverse Indira Gandhi’s China policy made Delhi open the diplomatic door to the Dragon. The then Prime Minister Morarji Desai and Foreign Minister Vajpayee’s Beijing visit in 1978 couldn’t make India pull back from China. Contrarily, India succumbed. For PM Rajiv Gandhi, too, the 1988 Beijing visit became a compulsion for the sake of continuity. The CPC was on a roll. Beijing saw the Delhi move as an acceptance of its inequality, rather than equality or mutual reciprocation.

Expectedly, things moved fast thereafter. Never mind, even if it was unidirectional profit for Beijing. The CPC yield soared as India got hooked to opening other Delhi-Dragon bilateral trade routes through the east and north-east, despite the vulnerability, volatility and violence caused by the Chinese contempt for Delhi’s sovereignty over the area. The CPC enjoyed trade profit as it went on inflicting territorial loss on Delhi.

Almost two decades ago, thus, was set up India-Tibet trade via Nathu La as one of the bilateral routes. Suspicion didn’t manifest itself till India got a dose of the CPC’s mischief, especially during the past four years, with a determined CPC push to opening a diplomatic base in Bhutan as well as violating the India-Bhutan-Tibet boundary with impunity.

In hindsight, one may now pose questions pertaining to the efficacy and effectiveness of the Dragon’s motive. Is it only trade profit? Or is it territorial acquisition under the garb of trade? Thus, when the joint India-China team was formed to chalk out modalities for trade, a rank outsider, lacking experience of dealing with Chinese state representatives or policymakers, was assigned the task of preparing a report. Was India’s interest protected?

Undoubtedly, the CPC got a virtual ‘deep penetration’ into Delhi’s geostrategic soil where India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Tibet meet. Under the trade garb, the CPC got a readymade picture — Is it very easy for other Indian traders (implying bigger and wealthier lot from places other than Sikkim) to come to Chhangu (near Nathu La, Sikkim)? Is it easy for Chinese goods and services to capture the market in India? It clearly showed the deep, long-term plan to capturing the Indian market, far and much beyond border trade. What are the main difficulties in planning in the Chhangu region? What is the Government of India’s stand on the proposed route? What is the Sikkim government’s stand on the proposed route? What is the pulse of the local people on the resumption of trade from this route? Can one use a mobile network in the Nathu La area? What are the present road conditions in the Nathu La region? What are the distances of major towns and cities from Nathu La? What local products of Sikkim are meant for export?

Simply put, do these constitute bona fide questions of the Chinese trade delegation, or advance intelligence, impregnated with military ops and a deep penetration info-system for feeding into China’s target? Including finance, economics, trade and commerce of India’s hinterland? Is Nathu La an alibi? To stamp the CPC’s presence in India’s underbelly, border and spread wings therefrom?

Today, do the majority of the Indians care as to how swift a change is occurring in that vulnerable region (India-Tibet-Bhutan-Nepal-Bangladesh)? How deep have Chinese ‘businessmen’ penetrated, owning ‘benami immovable properties’ around military areas? How money is being pumped in the name of start-ups and trade investment?

Strangely, however, the pioneer Indian ‘whistle-blower’ at the turn of the 20th century was the then Defence Minister George Fernandes. In 1998, he accused Beijing of helping Myanmar install surveillance and communication equipment in Bay of Bengal islands. Expectedly, Indians castigated their own Defence Minister, thereby weakening Delhi and strengthening the Dragon. Fernandes was spot on. His words appear prophetic in retrospect.

So, how disastrous was that for India after a marauding CPC instigated north-eastern states to secede from India and devastate Bengal from the 1960s to the 1980s? Why are Indians so blindly transfixed on, and forgetful of, the CPC’s malice? Does anyone remember the Dragon’s animosity towards New Delhi in its support for Naga, Mizo and other ethnic, north-eastern insurgents? Does India suffer from selective amnesia pertaining to the CPC-abetted Communist uprising (Naxalite) violence which ravaged Bengal?

Thus, those few who have followed the CPC trajectory over South Asia are likely to say that unless the 1.3 billion Indians collectively decide to deal with the menace which has penetrated deep — for instance, the recent Oppo-ISRO tie-up — Delhi will face the same (if not worse) fate as what the West is experiencing. The US slept for three decades over the prospect of getting ‘cheap’ finished goods from the ‘factory of the world’ of Zhong Guo. It suddenly woke up to face the harsh economic reality and is now trying to stop a further slide by introducing legislations by the dozen.

But, the West can’t yet fathom the bottom line. No imperial power ever had so large a demography even at its peak. Can India wake up and try to rectify its past follies?