Lost Opportunities, Created Problems : Yet Solutions Remain Open

img1 Archbp Thomas Menamparampil
23 Nov 2020

The day we say we have something to learn from others we shall make progress. We shall recognise the worth of “Work” over “Words”.

Emotional integration is more important for the nation than Rafale fighters

When Modi won elections with an impressive majority last year, one extremely beneficial thing he could have done would have been to sit down with Xi Jinping of China and come to a permanent agreement about our shared borders. 
He would have ensured peace to half of humanity: nearly three billion people in our two countries and our populous neighbours. He would have been gratefully remembered forever. If there were some criticism from the Opposition, he could have sought acceptance through his “persuasive ways”, pointing to the long-term advantage of reaching a final settlement. These are areas where “not a blade of grass grows” as Pandit Nehru described, and some accommodation would not be a loss.  If he could have reached a reasonable agreement, Modi would have manifested incredible historic sense.

That was not what Modiji chose to do. Was he not a Pracharak first, then the Prime Minister? He sent the army into Kashmir alienating millions of his own countrymen. Rather than befriend an “alienated” neighbour (China), he preferred to “alienate” a friendly member of the family (Kashmir). He added insult to injury changing the constitution and opening the ownership of land to non-Kashmiris…thus, driving fear into indigenous communities about their demographic future. 

If the PM had thought that further integration of the State into the Union was beneficial for the people concerned, could he not have entered into a dialogue with them discussing pros and cons?  While he flattered the aggressive section of his own community by this precipitate action, he embarrassed the reasonable section among them and silenced the Opposition. India’s international image suffered most: the Muslim world alienated, India Isolated overnight. But as far as Modiji is concerned, another Hindutva goal achieved, a job well done, ‘internal’ popularity soaring. But in real truth: minority-vishwas shattered, millions of men placed under permanent quarantine. But remember, emotional integration is far more important for a nation’s security than Rafale fighters. Fairness to fellow citizens is fundamental. 

Hollow victories

But no, Modiji knows what he is doing. See how he has captured Bihar. He has won nearly all the recent bypolls in UP, MP, Karnataka, Manipur, even Nagaland. However, you will agree with me, there is some difference between election stunts (using money, muscle and deceit as Tejashwi puts it) and verifiable performance in socially beneficial initiatives. See how Trump won more votes in counties that were hardest hit by coronavirus. Not that those voters were impressed by his virus-controlling efforts, but they were convinced that he was the best crusader for their interests…fair or foul. 

Unfortunately, today, Self-interest rules, not Merit: utility, profit, and market expansion, crony loyalty…in BJP India: Hindutva interests, RSS concerns, leader-worship, blind allegiance, slogan-shouting, cow-protection, unscientific boasts, obscurantist expressions of religion, marginalizing of minorities and weaker groups. But listen. The softest whisper is the loudest: “Bribe-raj” has taken over India. JNU could study the theme, “The Role of Money in Indian elections under Corruption-free BJP Rule”, and find out how much each election costs an average citizen.

Consequence: Indian economy keeps sinking at an unprecedented rate…with most money going for bribes! The GDP shrinks another 8.6%. Nobody learns a lesson. What can you expect when unproductive expenditures multiply, like temple-building, pujas, melas, maintenance of shrines, priests, sadhus, and astrologists?  Meanwhile doctors and nurses complain of neglect, lakhs of municipal workers are not paid in Delhi and elsewhere.  Further, many pro-business-community laws are passed in a hurry. Mamata Banerjee complains, recent relaxation of trade norms favour hoarding, profiteering on essential items like cereals, oilseeds, edible oils, onions, and potatoes. 

Truth too can be Modi-fied—insensitivity can be philosophical 

The Trump-ian comparison is not irrelevant. Trump has always posed, not as the guardian of truth, but the creator of truth: about race relationships, Mexican wall, climate change, virus danger, media credibility, or role of international bodies like the WB or WHO. The President’s power is “total”, he says; and what he says is final. For many leaders today, what people can be coaxed to believe…that is Truth. 

Modiji has never admitted making a mistake. Recently he felt the need of defending demonetisation once again against accumulating evidence and firm conviction of neutral economists. Why doesn’t he acknowledge that demonetisation was meant to cripple the Opposition before the UP election, in which he eminently succeeded? Congrats! Why doesn’t he make an honest confession that the early lockdowns were against CAA-protesters, not against coronavirus? If it was really against the virus why did he lift it totally as the pandemic was spreading faster in India than anywhere else in the world? Admit that the “strategic” vaccine delay has helped the Government to crush CAA protests, silence liberals, co-opt mainline media, and throw out the Congress. Emergency continues. 

Coronavirus? The reigning philosophy seems to be: Let those who are doomed to die, die. If that is their Karma, what can the Government do? As for the sufferings of the poor, they are well deserved. That explains the treatment the regime deals out to an 83 old Jesuit Stan Swamy who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, has fallen several times in prison, has lost his hearing ability in both ears, and has had two hernia operations earlier. Meanwhile Arnab Goswami gets the bail.  

Alienating neighbours

 Similarly, as Trump kept close to autocrats like Kim Jong-un, Modi has endeared himself to leaders allergic to Islam like Netanyahu and Macron. Muslim-bashing had always been the favourite pastime of the Hindutva brigade, led by Yogi, Amit Shah and Modi. Of late it reached a high point with a mosque turning into temple at Ayodhya, Kashmir covenant in the dust, and surgical strike into Pakistan. With the Kashmir misadventure, Vivekanand’s and Tagore’s India that felt one with humanity finds itself isolated, facing opposition from Islamic countries from Malaysia to Turkey. It will be terrible if the isolation of the nation deepens as the internal popularity of the Prime Minister rises. This contradiction is our Covid-19 today.

Again, if the Prime Minister’s Kashmir venture landed the nation in trouble, the Home Minister’s indiscreet call for liberating Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir and Aksai Chin was the immediate cause of the movement of the Chinese army into Ladakh. Discerning citizens feel embarrassed when our leaders act like school children flexing muscles and boasting about militarily sensitive matters that should be left to “Security” personnel. This sort of emotional build up in view of votes should be considered “criminal”. Those who compromise national security in this manner should be considered “anti-national”. We lost men, we lost space. 

Then came silence. No call for “surgical strikes” or Balakot boldness in response!  We are dealing with a neighbour whose economy is five times bigger than ours and annual defence budget three times ours. 

The nature of colonial borders

Let us return to the theme of settling borders. Those nations emerging from colonial rule that settled their borders with neighbours on mutual consent early enough could concentrate on nation-building. Those others that did not do so kept struggling with their neighbours, losing their limited resources on weapons. Arms become outdated in a short time, calling continuously for more expensive replacement. Meantime arms-producing nations stoke the strife so that their arms sales may soar! India is a primary victim, though our leaders will not admit it.

The British sought to define the Himalayan borders, in the east linking the highest peaks, and in the west keeping Russia in mind. China then was not a major concern. In fact, China never controlled Tibet except under the Mongols. The British recognition of the Chinese suzerainty over Tibet was merely a strategy. 

What gave confidence to Nehru was that India had always stood by China.  Gandhi, Tagore and others had maintained personal contact with Chinese freedom-fighters in their own time. Nehru had spoken up for China in every international forum during the 1950s and had taken pain to introduce Zhou Enlai to several world personalities. Consequently, Krishna Menon considered the defence of the northern frontier a non-issue. The Government of India was not even aware that a big portion of Aksai Chin was already under Chinese occupation. 

The Aksai Chin areas, of course, count much more for China than for India, as they link Tibet with Sinkiang. In official discussions, the Indian side kept insisting on the border that the British had drawn up in agreement with the Tibetan government, which China had never accepted. The dialogue ended in a deadlock and moved to the stage of provocative exchanges. Then came the unexpected attack of 1962 for which India was least prepared. Nehru was a shattered man and did not live long after the humiliation. A man of great ideals was dealing with a “Revolutionary” combatant who believed that political power flows “from the barrel of the gun”. 

We all have something to learn, to correct 

But this painful event need not be absolutized. The Chinese themselves are critical of Mao today, though they are grateful to him for what he has done for their country. Many of them are conscious of the hurt that the 1962 humiliation inflicted on India, which festers even after over half a century. However, our long-term relationship is with the Chinese people. Governments will come and go, but people will remain. They admit their mistake more readily than their southern neighbours. Many are conscious that they were too hasty is jumping in for Communism, and then switching to capitalism with little thought.  Similarly, many regret that their government imposed the “one child” policy without calculating its long term consequence. But under the present regime they are not able to discuss such matters freely. However, they are eager to learn from others, though they may not proclaim it. 

On the other hand, we Indians are slow to make up our mind, and much slower to admit a mistake. Putting it more plainly, in pontificating on any topic, lecturing to others and boasting about our uniqueness we stand first; but in learning from others, correcting our mistakes and adopting a wiser path, we are immensely slow. So, we never learn realistic lessons, and everyone overtakes us one by one. Soon after World War II, Japan marched ahead of us. They, of course, had a head start. Then, while we were lost in our self-importance, the Asia Tigers overtook us, then the ASEAN, then China. We were busy teaching everyone else in the Third World “political correctness” and the right approach to economic problems. And currently, while we are posing as Jagadguru (an RSS ambition), Bangladesh and Vietnam seem to be overtaking us, leaving us to compete with Burkina Faso and Burundi! 

The day we say we have something to learn from others we shall make progress. We shall recognise the worth of “Work” over “Words”. We shall shed out caste prejudices, communal narrow-mindedness, mutually alienating postures and gestures and strategies. We shall befriend our neighbourhood and prosper together.

A fresh dialogue is possible

While our leaders may be wise in seeking solidarity with the US in our present difficulties, surely they are not opting for a “Subsidiary Alliance” like in the British days. Jaishankar spoke of “strategic autonomy”. We do not want our country to become the dumping ground of all the outmoded weapons of America so that their arms industry can thrive. Arms-dependence is the most modern form of colonialism.  Similarly, we need not adopt the European style “Balance of Power” politics that moved from war to war. Nor is our future assured best leaning on “aging” powers, when rising populations, oil wealth, and creative energies are pointing in other directions. Despite Quad and the Malabar navy exercise in the Bay of Bengal, fifteen nations, including Australia and Japan, chummed up with China the other day for a common market! We just cannot shake off our interdependence!

War, Modiji will admit, is not exactly like Diwali fireworks! It is the last option. Rajnath Singh was being realistic when he said, “Anyone can start a war, but the outcome is uncertain”. If losing a war can be a dreadful thing, winning it is even worse. Duke of Wellington, the hero who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, admitted soon after the victory, “The next dreadful thing to a battle lost is a battle won”.  ANGER is planted into the neighbourhood! Even after a century, it can explode. The great historian Renan used to say, “Today’s victors are tomorrow’s losers”…not only with regard to China, but also Pakistan. A befriended neighbourhood will make of India what she seeks to be.

Biden’s election seems to change the atmosphere even in our neighbourhood.  Xi addressing the Shanghai Cooperation Organization said, we need to deepen our “solidarity and mutual trust” in resolving differences. Modi announced an exhibition in 2021 on Buddhist heritage in the National Museum and hoped for “peace”. Army generals spoke of withdrawal. A PERMANENT SETTLEMENT of the borders should have the highest priority. It would bring peace to “Half of Humanity”, and the rest of the world. Modiji, riding the crest of popularity today, can get a permanent settlement done. If he succeeds, he will merit the grateful memory of generations. His internal popularity must establish its validity in the wider world as well.

Kakuzo Okakura, a Japanese intellectual wrote to Tagore in 1903, “Asia is one. The Himalayas divide, only to accentuate, two mighty civilizations, the Chinese with its communism of Confucius, and the Indian with its individualism of the Vedas...Arab chivalry, Persian poetry, Chinese ethics and Indian thought, all speak of a single Asiatic peace...”. India’s Message to the world has always been one of TOGERTHERNESS. 

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