Saturday, 5 December 1998

Playing Possum - Wishful Thinking on Strategic Issues

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

Recently, an analyst very popular on the seminar circuit wrote
an essay on why India should abandon its nuclear deterrent. His
theory was that if the country were to roll over and play dead,
it would be too non-threatening for the Chinese to bother about.
As for the Pakistanis, once they were confronted with the other
cheek, the urge to strike would be replaced with a desire to kiss.
Our hero did not reveal the source of his confidence that India’s
two rivals would behave in this Gandhian way, nor was there
any comment on what would happen if they did not.

Same Complacency
The analyst in question has spent long years in the United States,
though one has yet to come across an article by him condemning
that country for entering into an arms race with the former Soviet
Union rather than playing possum. Nor has he ventured to
reveal why New Delhi should behave differently from
Washington when it comes to safeguarding strategic interests.
Clearly, just as in the society of his birth, there is a caste system
among countries as well. Hence the effort on snuffing out the
minuscule Indian programme, rather than eliminating the gigantic
threat to human life from the stockpiles of the five other declared
nuclear weapons states.

The analyst's thinking is of a piece with that of those who
supported the Nehru-Mountbatten move to take the Kashmir
issue to the United Nations. During the 1950s, Nehru neglected
the eastem defences, confident that the Chinese would behave as
our modern hero expects them to behave: spinelessly. In 1962,
the Chinese proved him wrong. Nearly three decades later, the
same complacency has once more infected strategic thinking
about Beijing.

These days, the media in the major democracies (including
India) is filled with reports about the flowering of "democracy"
in China, about how "free elections" are being held at the local
level, and the daring shown by critics who actually condemn
Chairman Mao. Had these persons condemned Chairman Jiang
in the same language, there may have been some reason to
believe that changes are afoot in the Chinese Communist party's
style of functioning. However, in China the new emperor has
always welcomed abuse of his predecessors. And as for "free"
elections, those who report them are apparently too mesmerised
to realise that all the candidates come from an "approved" list
that has been carefully vetted by the Communist party. Only
those who have passed such scrutiny are allowed to contest.

Despots all over the world have conducted such "democratic
exercises" to give a veneer of legitimacy to their rule.
However, there is an alternative scenario, just as there was
in 1962. 'This is that by 2012-50 years after defeating India in
NEFA and Ladakh—the regime in Beijing discovers that it is
faltering on the economic front. Thanks to the use of the English
language, and to the adoption of western systems of justice,
India has become a much more popular destination for foreign
investment than China. The Congress has stopped its Jinnah-
style rhetoric that assumes minorities to be under threat in India,
while the B]P has moved from a single-religion focus to a
broader vision that covers all citizens. Both have adopted
moderate nationalism, and the country now has a two-pole
system of alliances centred around either the Congress or the
BJP. The Left parties form a separate (and small) segment of the
political spectrum, and the fanatics within the Hindu, Muslim,
Sikh and Christian communities have formed four religious
parties that constitute the right wing. Fortunately, their appeal
is minimal. Despite pressure from officials and politicians keen
on a return to the black-money generating era of the past, tax
rates have remained low, and coverage and compliance have
risen sharply, as has revenue.

Anti-India Platform
In defence, opponents of a nuclear deterrent have had their way,
and the missile and bomb programme has been scuttled. True,
instead of spending one rupee on deterrent systems, the country
is spending five on battling the subversion that its softness has
encouraged China and Pakistan to foment. However, increasing
employment in India and the absence of domination by any
single religious, caste or linguistic group over the others has led
to a fall in the "fanaticism quotient", so that expenditure on
generating insurgency is yielding diminishing returns. However,
both Pakistan and China are persevering in their efforts. Islamabad
has succeeded in establishing another puppet regime in Dhaka.

More worrisome has been Beijing’s success in forming a hardline
version of the Communist party in Nepal, and its take-over of
power there on an anti-India, anti-monarchy platform. just as
missiles and their warheads have been transferred to Pakistan,
China has begun stationing strategic units in Nepal.
The emergence of an India-Japan-Korea partnership has led
to a slowdown in China’s export growth. This has led to
agitations in major cities, leading the regime to form the view
that India has to be crippled economically so as to wipe out the
threat to Chinese goods. Rather than do this directly. Beijing calls
upon a willing Islamabad to hype up its religious rhetoric. A
fresh jihad is announced, and tens of thousands of "volunteers"
are sent across the Line of Control in Kashmir. However, Indian
forces once again defeat them. A new twist is needed.

Nuclear Blackmail
This is provided by Nepal, where the China-controlled regime
announced the "severing" of all ties with Beijing, and the
expulsion of Chinese staff manning strategic sites. Of course,
enough domiciles of Shanghai or Hong Kong remain behind as
"Nepalese citizens". The Kathmandu regime announces its
support for the "toiling masses" of Kashmir and warns New
Delhi that it will unleash nuclear arms unless Indian troops
retreat from that state. China, despite the ostensible rebuff
implied in its "expulsion" from Nepal, announces that it will
veto any move in the Security Council to intervene in what it
claims is an "internal matter for the South Asian states to resolve
among themselves". Both Pakistan and Nepal move Chinese-
supplied nuclear-tipped missiles to the Indian border, and give
New Delhi 48 hours to withdraw from Kashmir or face action.

Hopefully, by 2012, New Delhi will have a deterrent
significant enough to prevent such nuclear blackmail. That is, if
the politicians base their plans on experience rather than wishful

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