The China Factor has staged a dramatic comeback in our minds, hearts, in public debate and, regrettably, as a negative one. Did it have to be like that? Post 1971, as we felt progressively more secure externally, we had been liberating ourselves from the fear of China. Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to Beijing became a happy turning point, followed by many other significant, though small steps in reconciliation. All this while the Dalai Lama was in India, continuing with his activities, spiritual and temporal, and getting into spats with China. Never before have the Chinese ratcheted up the protests to the level we see now, as he sets off to Tawang — and never before have we reacted with so much alarm.
So what is different now? You can analyse the Chinese motivations for ever. In fact, analysing “why is China behaving this way” is a flourishing global industry and we can further swell its ranks while, probably, coming to the same conclusion after our exertions that everybody does, about the inscrutability of the Chinese. Why don’t we, therefore, examine for a change “why are we behaving this way”. Or rather, reacting/responding this way?
There’s been a lot of provocative talk in Beijing, but we have seen no evidence of any military movement. In fact the one thing you can say with confidence — and since it is a well-known fact we are not betraying any secrets by saying so — that our satellites are good enough now to detect anything really unusual or significant in that area. Yet, some of the talk on our side is curious: upgradation of airbases along the borders, stationing of Sukhois, raising two more mountain divisions, sanction of funds and, lo and behold, quick environmental clearance of road-building projects in the border region. What do we expect? That, if the Chinese really intend to invade us, will they give us five years to get ready? Or, for heaven’s sake, if they did indeed invade us, will they just walk in, and annex Tawang or whatever else? Neither of the two is an inevitability or even likely. Our armed forces are good enough today to defend their territory and, while capability upgradations are needed, the flurry of activity today is not much preparation of some future invasion, but to make up for lost years in our military modernisation.
Then why did we react with such alarm? Go back to 1987, when a real border stand-off took place with China (starting with Sumdurong Chu, ahead of Tawang) and both armies did indeed build up eyeball to eyeball. None of the alarm that seized us over the past few weeks was evident then. There was, in fact, a feeling of stoic confidence. Today, as a nation, economy, and military power, we are much stronger. Why, then, did we get more worried?
Could it be that this came from a much larger number of our people having much greater exposure to how rapidly China had progressed? Or in fact how much faster than us they had progressed? Until a decade ago, it was merely a talking point for the aam admi in India. Today, he sees images of the flawless grandeur of the Beijing Olympics while we make an embarrassing spectacle of our waffling with a mere Commonwealth Games. He sees Chinese goods swarm his daily life, from chappals to rakhis to TV sets to Ganesha idols while reading of how much of our exports to China are colonial-era raw materials like iron ore. Then he reads all the stories of the fears we have of high-tech Chinese goods and equipment, in vital areas like telecom and power, and of Chinese contractors in road and pipeline building. Could it just be that all this is now creating a deep-set inferiority complex, a feeling that we have been left behind, that we have lost that competition that we thought so enhanced our global stature? India-China was one hyphenated equation we so loved as the rest of the world used it in terms of our rising economic strength, and global power. I know it is an audacious — and risky — point to make, but could it be that the realisation of just how large the gap between us and China has become, and how fast it is increasing, has panicked us into believing that we have lost the competition even before we could join it, much like the war in 1962? Or that the Chinese, powering along at double-digit growth still, have peeled away like a champion marathoner over the also-rans in the last lap, in this case taking that hyphen away with them?
An analysis of our own minds may show that the answer to our fears does not just lie in modernising more air bases or checking out the fortification of our forward defences and the quality of our bunkers. That we should do — and should have been doing — anyway. Good fences, as they say, make for good neighbours. The answer lies in getting our act together as a nation, a system of governance and society to be at least a worthy near-equal to China. We have to defeat internal threats like the Naxals with a sense of purpose, rather than lose time in vacuous debate; multiply, three times over, the pace of infrastructure-building — not just in Arunachal and Ladakh, but all over India; liberate ourselves from the fear of double-digit growth; and show much greater national focus than we do.
The real threat today lies in our heads, collectively. Our country has somehow found smug peace with the idea of growing on the basis of “China minus four”, that is, if China grows at 10 per cent, aren’t we so happy to grow at six. Then we celebrate so proudly the fact of being the “second fastest growing economy in the world”. We forget that the Chinese grow that much from an economic base four times bigger than ours. And that if this differential continues, they will soon go so far ahead that we could be reduced to being to China what Mexico is to America. Will that leave us with more secure borders, even if we double our armies?
The fact is, our armies are now good enough to defend our territory, and will continue to be so. In fact, they will be stronger each passing year. But national power and pride are no longer determined merely in terms of territorial size or integrity. Cuba can protect its territory, but can it stop lakhs of its people from escaping to Florida? An electric fence built by the Americans cannot stop thousands of Mexicans from streaming in, and they will not stop even if Mexico were to use its entire army to keep its own people “within”. In today’s world, it is not rival armies, but your own people who can defy your borders and render them irrelevant. If the current differential in our economic growth and China’s continues for another decade, many of our border populations will start asking us, and themselves, some hard questions. Are we prepared for that?
If we want to, we will have learn to look at China through a new prism, as an opportunity, rather than as a threat or enemy. Opportunity, because you can use the Chinese example to push for faster decision-making, decisive governance, economic reform to at least slow down the pace by which we are falling behind. If you merely focus on the military, you will be trapped forever in the “threat” syndrome and losing the real battle before you even joined it.
कोई भी मूल्य एवं संस्कृति तब तक जीवित नहीं रह सकती जब तक वह आचरण में नहीं है.