A shift of India to the Alliance of Democracies that is forming to counter the Sino-Russian alliance would erase the gains made by Moscow and Beijing in the Middle East and elsewhere. Those in thrall to Lutyens Logic give the false analogy that an alliance with the US would involve following the US lead in all theatres.
New Delhi: Not just after 3 May 2020, but for decades previously, the Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) has conducted itself on the deliberately undefined border with India in a manner that is indicative of a hostile mindset towards this country. Even after the 1962 October-November border war with India and Mao Zedong’s order for the PLA to return to pre-combat positions, since the Hu Jintao period, that entity has repeatedly flouted what may be termed as the “Chairman Mao LAC” by moving further and further into Indian territory, including during May 2020. Such patently aggressive action has its roots in the confidence of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership that the Lutyens Zone can be relied upon to block the robust responses needed to ensure that the costs (not just to the PLA but to the PRC in its entirety) of hostile actions on the Sino-Indian border are too high to justify before the Chinese people. Just as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Balakot strike ended the confidence within GHQ Rawalpindi that India’s leaders would not permit any expansion of the low intensity terror and border conflict with Pakistan into territory under the control of the Pakistan military, the response of Indian troops at Galwan followed by the Modi app ban has surprised those within the Chinese Communist Party, who have long been comforted by the silo system of decision making in the Lutyens Zone ensuring that border hostilities not be followed by any effect on trade and commerce. The way in which Chinese investment into India was put on a separate track in April was an example of the halfway house and tentative way in which steps concerning China have long been taken in India. The wording of the new regulation did not even identify China explicitly, but absurdly included all countries having land borders with India, surely illogical in view of the peaceable relations that India has with its neighbours other than China and Pakistan. The fact that the PRC was not explicitly named (even though it was the intended target) of the new measures, sustained the perception in Beijing that the establishment in Delhi was too much in awe of the PRC to make any other than cosmetic moves against PLA actions. Or in other words, that India would take steps designed only to create illusory perceptions boosted by spin.
Such complacency was erased with Prime Minister Modi’s Ladakh speech, while the Modi apps ban caused worry within the Chinese leadership that the lack of linkage between the border and commerce may be a thing of the past. Future moves in the direction expected of Narendra Modi would reinforce the realisation in the CCP that the Lutyens Zone cannot any more be taken as powerful enough to ensure weak policy responses towards the obvious threat represented by PLA actions on the deliberately undefined border between India and China. Undefined because of the grip of GHQ Rawalpindi over the PLA’s border policy towards India. The PLA seeks to divert India’s attention away from the 3,200 kilometre India-Pakistan border to the 3,500 kilometre Sino-Indian border, both of which have—not coincidentally—remained obdurately “undefined”, thus far despite efforts by the Special Representatives of successive administrations in India. In 2003, relying on Bhutto-style vague assurances on the LAC and the promised acceptance by Beijing of the absorption of Sikkim into India, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee gave away the last remaining cards that India held in the matter of Tibet. Neither has the LAC been accepted by Beijing, nor in unequivocal terms the accession of Sikkim to India. Given the lack of reciprocity on the Chinese side to concessions from India, a relook at past agreements may be overdue, including the definition of One China (especially concerning Taiwan), and in the hitherto mild or non-existent Indian responses to issues such as Xinjiang and the South China Sea, as well as island territories in the East China Sea. It would be particularly problematic for Pakistan to have India react against the situation in Xinjiang while Islamabad continues to maintain silence. India is a UNSC member till 2022, and is part of the Bio-Weapons convention, as well as an active member of FATF. India is currently chair of the WTO supervisory board, where it is expected to press for Taiwan’s re-admission to its councils after the “dictated decision” by WHO to exclude it despite the Tsai government leading the world in fighting Covid-19. As a consequence, the US has quit and Japan may follow, thereby forcing China to shoulder an even greater share of the organisation’s budget. While China loses no opportunity to create problems for India in international fora, the response from Delhi has usually been silence. Such a stance is precisely what Moscow has been tasked to ensure from Delhi, besides continuing to ensure that India and the US do not deepen their security and defence relationship. The geopolitically inexplicable S-400 deal signed by India and the country’s continued dependence on Russian weapons platforms that hold no secrets from the PLA are levers that are useful to Moscow in keeping India from the defence and security alliances needed to ensure deterrence against GHQ-PLA hostile activities on the border and elsewhere. The reality of the Putin-Xi partnership in ensuring fullscope military partnership between Beijing and Moscow is obvious to the world minus the Lutyens Zone.
ENDING MOSCOW’S VETO
Despite the meshing of both the strategic as well as the tactical goals of GHQ Rawalpindi and the Central Military Commission (CMC) in Beijing, as well as the extensive interaction between the Chinese, Pakistani and the Russian military, the lack of objectivity that has been a feature of what may be termed “Lutyens Logic” has ensured that the invisible veto exercised by Moscow over India’s security relationship with Washington has continued its sway. Once the S-400 system gets installed in India sometime in 2021, the path to the robust US-India defence and security relationship (which alone is sufficient to deter China) will have developed almost insuperable obstacles. Lutyens Logic has it that such a partnership would “provoke” the PLA, as though the moves of that military have not been provocative despite the continuing cosiness of defence and security ties between Delhi and Moscow. Any comparison of the responses of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to the Sino-Indian border clashes would show both the essentiality of Washington as a security partner and the lack of reliability of Moscow when it comes to a kinetic contest not only with China but with its protectorate, Pakistan. Supply of weapons the operational parameters of which are transparent to the PLA are no guide to the reliability of Moscow in a clash with either China or Pakistan. And yet, the hold of Russia in the vitals of the defence capability of India may continue for at least a generation more, as illustrated by the purchase of S-400 systems and the gratitude expressed when Moscow at top dollar sells equipment to India that the PLA knows how to counter. A shift of India to the Alliance of Democracies that is forming to counter the Sino-Russian alliance would erase the gains made by Beijing-Moscow in the Middle East and elsewhere. Those in thrall to Lutyens Logic give the false analogy that an alliance with the US would involve following the US lead in all theatres, including in matters relating to Iran and the Middle East, where US actions have often made the problem worse. In the case of Iran, India ought to have continued to buy oil from that country rather than stop such purchases out of fear of US sanctions. At the same time, it ought to have withdrawn from the S-400 deal and opted instead for THAAD. Those who rely on merely technical calculations of the two systems forget the deterrent power of alliances. Had Chamberlain the wisdom of Churchill and built a partnership with the USSR in the 1930s, the 1939-45 war may have either been avoided or ended much quicker.
INDO-PACIFIC CHARTER FOR SECURITY
The formalising of an Indo-Pacific Charter (by which the Indo-Pacific democracies pledge to stand with each other in case of aggression) would prevent and not cause war, by making the costs of conflict far higher than the negligible overall cost that the PRC has so far borne as a consequence of PLA moves against India. That PM Modi is cut from a different cloth from Manmohan Singh means that, almost certainly, the hopes of the PLA that a treasure trove of meta data will become available to it as a consequence of the entry of Chinese entities into the 5G space in India will be dashed. Operators from select friendly markets such as Japan and Taiwan need to be allowed to compete with domestic brands, to ensure steady upgradation of quality and reduction in user charges through competition rather than the creation of monopolies. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to go farther than his immediate predecessors dared to do in defence of Indian interests, including against the billionaire lobbies in the US that have the support of President Trump. An issue on which PM Modi has not budged despite pressure from the White House is that of the Data Equalisation Levy and on data residency, which explains why US tech giants are having to make substantial investments in India, rather than as formerly produce elsewhere and sell in India. Sucking up metadata at will in the manner that PLA linked PRC entities have been doing without check or limit till recently may soon be a problem of the past. So far as the US and India are concerned, the fact is that India by its size and potential stands on a plane different from any other ally of the US, and both sides will therefore have different approaches to some issues. This will not, however, obviate the security imperative of the two largest democracies working together in pursuit of common objectives, such as primacy over the Indo-Pacific and the suppression of the global terror network. It may be remembered that a much smaller France under Charles de Gaulle and Jacques Chirac took stances opposed to the US, including the principled opposition of Paris to George W Bush’s 2003 war against Iraq. More recently, the EU seems to have discovered a bit of spine in trying to oppose the withdrawal by the US from the JCPOA, a nuclear deal in which almost all the concessions were made by Iran. Talk of “strategic slavery to the US” by elements in the Lutyens Zone is simply designed to prevent the GHQ-PLA nightmare from coming true, which is the formalisation of a military alliance by the Quad that is headquartered in the Andamans.
21st CENTURY POLICIES FROM PM MODI
India, despite being the world’s most populous democracy, has a governance system that excludes the participation of any other than the thin crust of the administrative apparatus in the making and implementation of policy. That the administrative services in India contain some outstanding individuals is a given, as also the good work done by them in various fields, including among several others the example of V. Kurien in the milk revolution and K. Subramanian in proving George Tanham wrong when the US scholar said that India “lacked a strategic culture”. However, the exclusion in the processes of governance of civil society despite its multiplying capabilities and talents has had its effect on the quality of both policies as well as performance. Barring a few isolated instances where politicians have sought to induct domain specialists from outside the administrative framework (including the selection of P.N. Dhar as Secretary to the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi), politicians cutting across party lines have maintained the boundary between the civil service and civil society, with the latter not being allowed entry into the processes of governance except in nominal or symbolic ways. The best indicator of success in national regeneration is per capita income, and it is for each citizen to judge by this standard the success of different political regimes in the objective of ensuring an adequate lifestyle for the people, as well as security both on the borders and within the country.
The causes and consequences of Covid-19 have created the same opportunity for India as was opened for China in the 1970s by the deepening contest between the US and the USSR. Should Prime Minister Modi go ahead with utilising this opportunity in the manner that the Chinese leadership did, especially during 1983-99, with the US and the rest of the world, 2020 will witness the rise of India to not simply being the third superpower on the globe, but as a country that removes the poverty caused by centuries of colonial oppression and maladministration that drained the country of vitality. Those who repose confidence in Prime Minister Narendra Modi are looking towards a bold new strategy for national rejuvenation, including through the comprehensive and clear-sighted utilisation of the opportunities created by global geopolitical faultlines and synergies.