Saturday, April 12, 2008

INDIA'S 'POWER': WEAKNESS=VIRTUE, STRENGTH=IMMORALITY

The uprising in Tibet is the latest in a long series of developments in India’s neighbourhood that has exposed India’s congenital inability and lack of desire to get itself to be counted as even a small player, forget a major one, in the region.

The ongoing protests against Chinese oppression in Tibet have seen India bend twice over backwards like a little nation so that the Chinese are not annoyed at all. All the cacophony about “morality” that accompanies other developments to influence India’s response - national interest be damned - is conspicuous by its almost total absence. This time, it is neither morality nor national interest which is determining India’s official and even media response to what China has been doing in Tibet for 60 years.

This time, it is an unashamed, unacknowledged acknowledgement of the utter relative weakness, not economic but military, that India has allowed itself to sink into vis a vis China. It is that unaddressed asymmetry and the terrifying fear of a Chinese retaliation to forcefully settle their long held claim over Arunachal Pradesh which has forced the country into pushing its lofty moral stances under a very dirty rug,

But, weakness somehow manages to find the strangest of moral ruses. There are voices comparing Tibet with, would you believe it, Kashmir and even the North East to justify the prostration to the Chinese! We conveniently like to forget many inconvenient truths. Had India wanted, for example, it could have claimed Myanmar with nearly the same justification that China has claimed and taken Tibet.

Tibetans do not claim Arunachal Pradesh; the Chinese do, on their behalf! The Dalai Lama has been driven out of his country by the invading Chinese; in Indian Kashmir, Kashmiri Hindus have been driven out by fellow Kashmiri and Pakistani Muslims! But, for the most dishonest of “moral” reasons, we gag the Dalai Lama and praise the Chinese who use the foulest of words for this apostle of peace to avoid talking to him; we pretend that homeless Kashmiri Pandits don’t exist and give enormous respect, time, importance, understanding and sympathy to the masters of AK47 wielding killers fielded by Pakistan to usurp Kashmir.

Last year, when the military junta in powerless Myanmar was facing a revolt from monks, ‘conscience keepers’ of India were up and awake, berating India for not taking the side of the monks. Very few were then concerned that India had already lost much ground to an aggressive and focused China and that any abrupt reaction against the junta would drive Myanmar almost totally into the arms of that country. It did not matter to them that the Chinese were working steadily to get a very easy route through Myanmar into the plains of Assam, to cut off and capture most of Arunachal Pradesh, whenever they decide to, with ease. All that mattered to them was the “morality” of supporting democracy in Myanmar and the unacceptability of supporting military dictatorship. National interest? That is all bunkum, said one illustrated TV personality.

Exactly the opposite happened when the Musharraf, the General responsible for occupying parts of Kargil, overthrew a democratically elected government in a military coup. Then there was no moral outcry, no calls to break ties with the military regime that had launched an attack on India and show solidarity with the forces of democracy. On the contrary, the practical voice which was most heard was that we had to do business with whoever was in power in Pakistan. The moral brigade was in fact the first to forgive the General and begin a long lasting “love affair’” with him. Was all this due to an enlightened understanding of national interest or was it because of something more fundamental and disturbingly so?

Ever since India gained Independence thanks mainly to the moral force of Mahatma Gandhi’s words and actions rather than any conventional force, India has fancied itself as a global moral voice, a sort of continuation of the Mahatma’s legacy. Gandhi’s morality and non violence had no space for “weakness” at all. It was the unusual actuation of great, uncompromising strength which did not need any weapons. Indeed, in retrospect, it is clear that that was the only strength which could have defeated the British; militarily there was just no chance.

In Independent India, unfortunately, somewhere that concept has got seriously distorted. The reality of global power play of nations has simply not been grasped fully in its harsh, violent and ambitious dimensions, despite many rude wake-up calls. There is a peculiar paralysis when it comes to talking about and with strength.

In fact, in India, we weirdly hyphenate strength with immorality; it is not something to be sought or flaunted. Unfortunately, that has become our national ethos. Being macho might be fine for the Americans and the Chinese, but that is not the arrogant path that India should tread. On the flip side, great virtue is associated with weakness, as if only the weak and the meek tread the moral path. Perhaps that is true, for the weak often have little choice, as confronting the strong will lead to only one result. You can keep calling the possession and use of strength by any uncharitable epithet to justify your weakness; if you succumb to it, as India has done almost always done since 1947, except in 1971, the moral part is nothing more than a camouflage to fool you own countrymen and even yourself!

Why has this state come about? Is it because at some level we are still in the mental frame that we got into to drive the British out of the country? Then the moral question was straightforward: the colonial foreigner had no right to rule over this vast land. He knew that too.

However, for an independent country aspiring to be one of the great nations of the world, the questions are many more and far more complex. Morality cannot be the determinator that will make an aggressor see your reason. Nor is it a workable tool to take a practical view of the globe in which countries fight essentially by the rules of the jungle when it comes to the crunch. Only the fittest have survived till now; there is every reason to believe that might will continue to be almost always right in future too.

The Americans know this elementary stuff. So do the Chinese, who are working furiously to ensure that they too get securely into the “right” lane of might which the US has made all its own. Indians, despite being thrice as many as Americans and almost as many as Chinese on this planet, just don’t seem to get it. We want to continue to make believe that we are in a separate lane all of our own and claim that our weak moral lane is the right one which will not be challenged by those in the lanes of might! This strategy is probably the only practical one which will work for, say, Fiji, Mauritius, Tonga, Cuba and the like. Not for a country that is almost a sub continent.

This raises another question. Does India have no world view commensurate with its size and strategic importance? Has India not yet woken up to its role, responsibility and power as India the nation? Does it still continue to think small and react like those hundreds of pre-British era kingdoms whose tiny world view virtually ended at the boundaries of their little kingdoms? Or does India still view itself as the age old spiritual and cultural entity it has been rather than the huge political reality that it is today in a world whose map has been, and will continue to be, shaped by power and force, no matter what Indian “delusionists” may tell you?

India’s internal political, bureaucratic and social dynamics are clearly dominated by forces trying to cut up the country into smaller and smaller “estates” and groups whose vested interests they champion as supreme, no matter what happens to the country. The few voices trying to take a larger, holistic national view are invariably drowned out by the force, even blackmail, of small pressure groups fiercely protecting their small turfs.

That is another reason why there is very little serious national political debate, awareness and interest in matters related to foreign policy and India’s engagement with its neighbours. Whatever little there is, is concerned mostly about the effect that any action or response will have on the many constituencies that we have created in babudom and the society. This is the effete and self destructive “soft power” that India projects to the world, garnished with immoral morality.

India is the prime real estate that has been most invaded and attacked in the history of all of mankind. It should, therefore, have logically been most alive to and concerned about the challenges that it faces or may face in future to its standing, interests and even existence. It was the country's economic prosperity and its riches that had repeatedly attracted invaders in the past. Emboldened by the total lack of organized vision and strength, and the prevalence of petty and destructive internal divisions, they were able to achieve easy victories, often with a smaller force.

With so many historical lessons to learn from, including those received after Independence, India should have been fully committed to addressing the mistakes of the past so that history does not repeat itself. But, it is a matter of serious concern that nearly the same weaknesses continue to mark national response to the challenges that the country faces from its aggressive and hostile neighbours, forget the rest of the world.

When are we going to learn what we should have learnt many years ago? Even as China demonstrates its unflinching resolve to aggressively protect its national interest and bullies us into meek submission, there is nothing to suggest that we are even thinking about where we have gone wrong to find ourselves so belittled again, and where we should go from here.

The paralysis appears to be almost complete and irreversible. Perhaps it will take the US to get India to show some movement and spine befitting its size and potential strength. It will do that not because of any moral love for India, but because it will see for India in America’s national interest what India should have seen on its own!
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