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Know Your Neighbour

Know Your Neighbour

China-Pakistan: Prosper-Thy-Neighbour Philosophy or a Perish-Together Proposal?

Know your neighbour. Seek to understand his mind. Accommodate to his ways and interests to the extent possible. Let it be evident that you rejoice at his success, not with a condescending attitude but in genuine admiration. You can always learn something from an achiever. And while you press ahead, let not your pride be that you have outsmarted him in some area. He may surprise you with a gesture of appreciation you never expected. Everyone earns recognition spontaneously on his own merit. One who seeks it, never finds it. They alone thrive who vibrate with their neighbours, who live by a philosophy of co-belonging, and promote a policy of co-prosperity.

But unfortunately, we in India have been brought up in another culture: of ongoing tensions with our neighbours, most of them manufactured. “Pakistan is perverse”: for the present regime that is an unassailable truth. They have come to power on the strength of the Balakot surgical strikes beyond the borders,  a pre-election deceptive stunt on a massive scale. Was there a real threat? John Bolton hardly noticed a crisis between India and Pakistan towards the end of 2019. If so, we need to be embarrassed at the fact that we are under a regime that got their mandate based on a falsehood.

Dealing with Confucian Concepts, Relationships, Working Styles, Ethos

Then there is our other neighbour. China, for many, is an enemy. George Fernandes, still new in office, is remembered for his stunning gaffe “China is our enemy number one”. The Chinese acted more maturely and welcomed him when he visited their country as the Defence Minister. Even these days, Sharad Pawar has been repeating that China remains the greatest ‘threat’ to India. We are surrounded by enemies then!

Apart from these two, we are lost in our self-importance. We hardly give any attention to the other smaller nations around us. Of late we have alienated even Nepal and Bangladesh. Thus, we have totally failed to vibrate with our neighbours. That is the height of our foreign policy.

Sun Tzu (544-496 BC), a Chinese general, military strategist, and philosopher, writes in his ‘The Art of War’, “When you know yourself and others, victory is not in danger”. Know your neighbour, then, even if he is an opponent. With our early British connections and intense relationships with the Anglophone world, the English-speaking elite of India, often called Lutyens ruling class, know more of Oxford and Harvard ideas than the Confucian concepts and working styles that prevail in East Asia. They have a better understanding of Trump’s threat to ‘retaliate’ for delaying hydroxychloroquine than Xi’s threat to impose trade sanctions; of US invasion of Iraq and interference in Afghanistan than Beijing’s eagerness to press the Belt and Road Project; of America controlling ME oil resources than China seeking to appropriate African mineral resources. However, study carefully, make your own judgement objectively. Friend or foe, what is wrong is wrong.

Recognize Internal Weaknesses, Work on them

Know yourself. Evaluate the situation in your country at depth. Know, not merely the army strength, but the nation’s collective energy, determination. Do leaders who have been working hard during the last six years to build up a fragmented society have a moral authority to pull the same society together for a collective effort? If the Lutyens ‘high class’ was distant from the average citizen, the ‘upper caste’ elite that controls the present order are more distant from him: from Dalits, OBCs, minorities, tribals, marginal groups. ‘Social distancing’ of Manu still prevails.

It will be very revealing to see how many of the heroes who gave their lives for the nation at Ladakh belonged to the dominating classes, and how many to the weaker communities, who are harassed at home or brought back dead from the battle front. Yes, it is not standing during Vandemataram or fanaticism about Suryanamaskar, Yoga or cow protection that proves one’s loyalty to the country, but preparedness to serve the nation at the greatest cost. We hope this message will go through during these painful days of Ladakh encounter and Covid pandemic. Polarisations don’t pay, divisive slogans demotivate, empty boasts are merely counterproductive.

In any case, it is clear that Modiji’s ‘Hug Diplomacy’ has failed; that Sabarmati and Mamallpuram display of camaraderie was based on a shallow understanding of differences. Modi visited China five times, but his understanding of the Chinese mind made no progress. Sun Tzu points deeper: gain a deeper psychological understanding of the ‘other’ and a deeper perception of the hidden ‘issues’ about which nothing is said. ‘Book of Balance and Harmony’ explains “Deep knowledge is to be aware of disturbance before disturbance, to be aware of danger before danger…”  ‘Tao-te-Ching’ suggests the following strategy for action, “Plan for what is difficult, while it is easy, do what is great while it is small…” The ultimate goal for Sun Tzu is not mutual destruction, but to win the battle without fighting at all. That is where our administration has failed.

An Emotion-Driven Leadership is a Negative Asset

Unfortunately, our leadership goes by emotions; our neighbour by calm calculations, long vision. The present India-China tension has hardly figured in the Chinese press. It is a non-issue for them. Meantime we are all excited. Modi has quit Weibo; Gadkari threatens to ban Chinese companies from highway projects; Shivraj Chouhan calls for boycott of Chinese goods and threatens to break them down economically. But emotions do not help matters. Reality remains.  China’s trade with India is merely 5% of her exports. Our refusal to buy Chinese goods will make too little difference for them, much for us.  We are losing $63 billion a year to China due to trade deficit, recently reduced to $ 48.66 billion. Just compare: 13% of Russian exports go to China, 1.7% to India; 22% of its imports come from China, 1.4% from India. Our share in international trade is insignificant. In spite of all that, our Brahminic self-esteem is inflated and our performance poor. The Chinese respect Performance. “Deep” self-knowledge is urgent!

Meantime India’s dependence on China is only growing. Nirmala Sitharaman laments that even Ganesh statues, soap boxes, toys and incense sticks come from China. Add to that liquid soap, rakhis, pharmaceutical ingredients, electronic goods. Indian farmers are waiting for Chinese sprays and pesticides, held up at the ports. ‘Make in India’ formula goes with ‘Buy from China’, including the mighty statue of Patel in Modi’s Gujarat. A picture was shown the other day of a man calling for boycotting Chinese goods, using a Chinese mobile. Today 90% of the electronic market is located in China; 70% of the world’s mobiles at Shenzhen. China creates 1200 startups every day.

Meanwhile, India is being noticed in EU and US for weak manufacturing, low productivity, interfering red tape, legal unreliability. No wonder, of the 56 companies that shifted out from China in 2018-19, Vietnam got 26, Taiwan 11, Thailand 8, India 3. Add to that the undeniable fact that China’s GDP is 5 times bigger than India’s, military budget 3 times higher. Recognizing that is being realistic.

In the same way, Atmanirbhar Bharat is good as long it is not about giving monopoly of arms production, railway transport and essential services to cronies of the Ruling Party; or dumping costlier goods of inferior quality on ordinary citizens, and damaging the competitive edge of Indian products. 

Respect is due to Everyone, even to an Enemy

What China will not easily accept is an experience of “losing face”, being humiliated.  Even though Nehru’s boast in the Parliament of having given instruction to the army to “throw out the invader” was for internal consumption, for Mao it was a personal challenge. He accepted it. Understand the Chinese mind. For every tariff raise or sanction that America has imposed on China, there has been a response. Amit Shah’s threat to take back by force POK and Aksai Chin invited a response. And we paid for it.  

Sun Tzu says, “There are three ways in which civil leadership causes the military trouble. When a civil leadership unaware of the facts tells its armies to advance when it should not, or tells its army to retreat when it should no…the soldiers get confused…This is called taking away victory…” This sort of interference has happened in our own times: before elections to rouse public sympathy, in periods of discontentment to divert attention, or in an effort to thrust some unpleasant decision on the nation while society is made to look to the borders. Such political deceptions had nothing to do with military threats. The army is confused, the opponent even more. We say that the Chinese are inscrutable, they say the same about us. Read the mind of your opponent.

Fortunately, Modiji has been measured in his words. But we cannot deny that we are under the guardianship of an unconstitutional brigade (RSS-VHP-Parivar and its affiliates) who have dreams of an Akhanda Bharat stretching from Afghanistan to the Malay Straits, as though they represent the resolve of the Indian people. China too, after centuries of western humiliation, wants to assert herself over land and sea wherever she can. She remembers the Silk Road, the Zheng He expedition that reached Africa. As India finds it hard to read Chinese intentions over Arunachal and Ladakh, China is anxious about India’s long term plans for the Dalai Lama and Tibet. Fortunately, India and China never clashed any time in history except for the nightmare of 1962, of which most Chinese are unaware even now. The Chinese people love and esteem Indian society, which they expect to be reciprocated. Thoughtless leaders clash. Ancient civilizations like India and China, despite ambitions, have a long-term view of history, and are mature enough to be realistic.

Realism Must Combine with Idealism, Idealism with Realism

Accepting reality is human wisdom. We know that countries like Portugal, Spain, Austria, France, and now UK found it hard to get used to the situation of having lost an empire. India too must accept reality as it is and its present position, and plan a reliable future built on that reality. So must China, even while helping Pakistan to build a navy. They will have to come to a peaceful understanding with their neighbours on the South China Sea and others, so as to ensure a peaceful future together.

China has settled borders with 12 countries, except with India and Bhutan. She has painful memories of Indian soldiers, serving the British during the colonial period,  being hard on them in the battlefield, e.g. during the Opium Wars. They are afraid that Indian soldiers may do the same thing over again serving American interests. India cannot allow herself to be instrumentalized to promote American interests. John Bolton made it very clear that America is unlikely to come to the aid of Indians in any possible conflict with China. Flattering terminology like Indo-Pacific alone will not add to India’s strength; friendship with all will. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was very clear that his country stood on its own, and would not bend to anybody’s bidding, no matter how strong. We are not sure of the mind of the present leadership. 

There are many uncertainties for the future.  But our strength will lie in doing what is right. Our neighbours are here to stay. Hurt memories are like buried explosives waiting for their own time. Respect shown is respect sown. It returns. Raj dharma is about being upright in political conduct within the country and between nations: rule of law, parliamentary procedures, international conventions, etc.  Sun Tzu has these amazing words, “The exercise of kindness in battle leads to victory, the exercise of kindness in defence leads to security”. Apply this to trade war or fierce competition as well. Dharma Yudha warriors are not Yogi’s criminal gangs, today to be used for cow defence and tomorrow to be shot dead in police encounter; they are those who speak up for what is right. Xi is going hard on intellectuals, Modi on critics, Trump on Doctors. But our ancients said, “Let noble thoughts come to us from every side” (Rigveda I-89-i). Let idealism return to world political scene, let voices for what is right be heard loud and clear.

(Published on 20th July 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 30)