A major flaw in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s China policy is the intangible one of sneaking admiration for the authoritarian Chinese model of ruthless efficiency. The PM and many in his government believe that the Chinese way is the one India needs to adopt to move up the league table of global power. Overwhelming quantitative upscaling is considered the strategic mode.
That is why the Modi government is so fond of reeling out statistics of moneys allocated, the targets met, and the beneficiaries always counted in terms of numbers. The desire is to create gigantic banks, gigantic networks. Anything small is considered insignificant and even shameful. It is this unnoticed admiration of the Chinese way of doing things that seems to have created the proverbial blind spot in assessing China’s militaristic moves at the unsettled LAC.
The most important element in its rethink that the Modi government must do, is to remove the rose-tinted view of the Chinese way and to know that is not the way for India. China has achieved its economic success by adopting the collectivist ethic of communism to achieve capitalist ends of producing goods through state-owned factories, including those of the PLA, on a large scale and flooding foreign markets at cheap prices, in a manner that is unimaginable for any other country which does not have a huge population and an authoritarian government. The human cost of the Chinese success is enormous and unacceptable, and India should not consider it as an option.
Once the Modi government puts away the Chinese ghost from its political imagination, then it will be able to counter China at the LAC more effectively. In the last 70 years, India has created the example that democracy and economic progress are not incompatible. It has had its moments of shameful shortcomings and avoidable pitfalls. But it has shown that India is a diverse society in terms of ethnicity, religion and language and that it meets its challenges and solve its problems through this very diversity.
In contrast, China is a homogenous society and polity. India remains competitive in the world because it reckons with diversity, where competing interests and world views are taken to be the norm. Most importantly, Indian diversity presupposes fierce non-conformism. The superficial Western observer might think that traditional India is hopelessly conformist and therefore it is not capable of adopting ostensible modernism. But India has adopted modernism because it is inherently diverse and compulsively non-conformist.
It is this non-conformism that fires the spirit of diversity and keeps the imagination free. It is Indian creativity which will help the country become the world leader in science and technology. There is space for the genius in the Indian system. The Chinese system cannot afford the free play of imagination.
With the West in decline, it is the rivalry between India and China that will dominate world politics for the rest of the century, but this rivalry is premised on a difference between the Indian and Chinese ways. There cannot be rivalry if there are no differences, and both can only offer goods and services at competitive prices. It will be a battle of ideas, a battle of world views.
Right-wing Indians, including BJP and others, entertain the illusion that India and China will dominate the world this century, and it is not important that India should be different from China. What is important is overwhelming economic and military power, and India should reach it through the Chinese way because it seems to pay off right now.
However, the long-term civilisational stakes are played at the level of ideas and values. Americans and democratic western Europe did not win the Cold War against the Soviet Union and its east European satellites because of economic and military prowess. The West won the battle of ideas and values. The Soviet Union crumbled despite being a military and economic superpower, because it had no ideas.
Chinese President Xi Jinping seems to think that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a creative idea that will fire the world’s imagination. BRI is an infrastructure project to facilitate movement of goods to the farthest points, somewhat like the famed trans-Siberian railway. The BRI will be a conveyor belt of goods, but it is not a communication channel for ideas.
Modi and his aides must get back to the drawing board as it were, and recognise India’s traditional virtues and values. The Indian virtues are democracy, diversity and the underlying principle of these two is non-conformism, cussed individualism. The Indian does not challenge the dominant idea or orthodoxy with an intent to overthrow it. He or she walks off to set up one’s own system and pursue one’s own ideas. In due course, an ecosystem of different ideas and values evolves. This is the Indian genius.
China’s communist leaders have fallen into the trap of reducing themselves into a global economic hub. They shun ideas, they fear non-conformism. Modi and the BJP must avoid going that way, of persecuting non-conformists, of hunting out dissidents. That way, India will become another China. If that happens, the Asian century will become one of sterile uniformity. India can be a beacon to the world not through yoga, but through intellectual imagination, which is its forte.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.