The simmering geopolitical tensions between India and China came to blows earlier this week, but then didn't. As the deaths of personnel being mourned in both countries, the leaders were sensible enough to walk back from the brink, recognising the futility of the conflict. However, while a hot war looks unlikely, the countries are likely to settle for another long period of disengagement and conflict. And, it seems the way it should be : Two emerging countries vying for global roles, with thousands of miles of common but unsettled borders and burning jealousy of trade are destined for conflict. Besides, the incompatible political systems, democratic India versus communist China, are supposed to engage - so say the commentators - in twentyfirst century's defining battle.
But is this the way it must be?
The current conflict seemed to have emerged from India's US pivot, a shift of foreign policy dating back to the 2008 Nuclear Treaty with US, which pulled India into the orbit of American Asia strategy. Over time, this shift has proved profitable not just in achieving nuclear recognition but also in neutralising Pakistan. However, while the object of Indian policy was to gain an upper hand on Pakistan, which it has somewhat achieved, the US strategy is focused on containment of China. In the new world of US-China conflict, India provides the foot-soldiers - as well as the right geographical vantage points overlooking the Silk Road - for the reworked US strategy in Asia. If anything, continuous tensions with India - and in South China sea - should keep China locally engaged, cutting down its resources and will to take on a greater geopolitcal role.
But, if India wants to take on China, should China not try to win it back? After all, India is crucial to its grand strategy of shifting the world's economic gravity to Eurasia. Besides, it must achieve a stable Asia before it can aspire for a global role. Its leaders are no doubt mindful of Germany's fate in the last century, whose great scientific and technical achievements came to nothing for its failure to evolve out of the European balance of power system. China wants to keep the borders unsettled and encircle India with hostile neighbours, in order to curtail its geopolitical aspirations and keep its involvement limited in the Indian Ocean area.
This is perhaps all geo-political common sense. However, all this thinking is framed in the European nation states model based on competition among nations and territorial sovereignty. This is based on the cold war ideological framework of competition between democracy (of which India is at best an imperfect example) and communism (though the Chinese version is peculiar). Furthermore, it is based on the view of China as an emerging world power and its rising power as a new and destabilizing force in world affairs that needs to be contained.
However, a more imaginative thinking would go beyond these tired nineteenth and twentieth century assumptions. To start with, it's quite valid to think about China's rise as a return to natural state of affairs, rather than an anomaly. China, India and the Eurasian plain combined was world economy's centre of gravity until almost the middle of nineteenth century and given that most of the humanity lives in this area, it is perhaps crucial for a more balanced and more just world system. The great civilisations - not just the Indian and Chinese, but also the Persian and the Mongolian - lived a-territorially, not fighting over lines of control but engaging at multiple levels, which involved, from time to time, military raids for plunder but rarely for grabbing territory or establishing hegemony. Geography saw to the peaceful existence of two of the world's most powerful societies side by side. The Indian civilisation, spiritual and individualistic, never got sucked into any conflict with the more earthly and communistic Chinese, just because their systems were different. Even down to days of Mao and Nehru, when the two countries fought a war, India and China were never seen as belligerent countries by their leaders.
The history of 1962 war doesn't change that fact. The war, seen from the vantage point of time, would have been caused by various factors, among which were Mao's need to reassert his authority after the disaster of China's Second Five Year Plan (the Great Leap Forward) and the intention of limiting Nehru's, and India's, outsized global influence. But even then, it was triggered by geopolitical anxieties and particularly India's closeness with the United States and its alleged complicity in CIA's efforts to destabilize Tibet. That is indeed the right way to view the conflict - the Cold War context - which is now past. There was nothing inevitable - or permanent - about the 1962 conflict. It was a product of its time and caused by a failure of imagination and communication.
It's true that both China and India are anxious nations, insecure at home in their attempts to forge new identities and offended easily abroad in consciousness of their lost glory. But what's forgotten is that both the civilisational unity and material and spiritual prosperity came because of exchange and engagement with each other. China was once great and India was too - when they coexisted and cooperated. And at the moment of their abject humiliation, Indian opium, shipping and personnel were harnessed by the British to defeat and destroy China. They went down together, under mutually reinforced yoke to the benefit of foreign masters.
The questions today are which past do we learn from and which future do we want to construct. Have we not suffered enough by limiting our imagination to the ideas of dead white thinkers? Our model of the world doesn't have to be that of the Colonizers and there are greater uses of geopolitics than mere preservation of Anglo-American hegemony. Indeed, lot of private fortunes and intellectual egos are entwined in the world system thus visualised, but, if 2020 should have taught us how limiting these interests are and how limited their ideas could be. It is time to rethink the world and in that reimagined context, there is no reason for India and China to fight.
Popular posts from this blog
A friend has recently forwarded me a quote from Lord Macaulay's speech in the British Parliament on 2nd February 1835. I reproduce the quote below: "I have traveled across the length and breadth of India and I have not seen one person who is a beggar, who is a thief. Such wealth I have seen in this country, such high moral values, people of such calibre, that I do not think we would ever conquer this country, unless we break the very backbone of this nation, which is her spiritual and cultural heritage, and, therefore, I propose that we replace her old and ancient education system, her culture, for if the Indians think that all that is foreign and English is good and greater than their own, they will lose their self-esteem, their native self-culture and they will become what we want them, a truly dominated nation." The email requested me to forward me to every indian I know. I was tempted, but there were two oddities about this quote. First, the language, which
Nations are ideas. We try to fashion them as territories. But how can a river, a mountain ridge or sometimes an imaginary line in the middle of a field can explain the wide division in the lives, thoughts and futures of the people who live on different sides? Nations are not the people too. Indeed, people build nations and become its body. But the soul of the nation is an idea: People come together on an idea to build a nation. While that's what a modern nation is - an idea - and that way exceptionalism is not an American exception, very few nations are as completely defined by an idea as Pakistan. There was hardly any political, geographic or military rationale of Pakistan other than the idea of an Islamic homeland in South Asia. [In that way, the ideological brother of Pakistan in the family of nations is Israel] This, abated by the short term political calculations of some backroom colonialists, created a modern state which must be solely sustained on that singular idea. Religi
Today, Helen Goddard, 26, a highly popular music teacher of a City School for Girls, has been sentenced to 15 months in prison. Her crime was to carry out a year long lesbian affair with one of her pupils, who appeared in the court and admitted that the affair was consensual and it was she who pressured Helen into the affair. For Helen, a bright musician and a devout Chistian, this is an extraordinary lapse of judgement. Also, she was teaching in the £13,000 private girls only school in London. She was surely aware what the consequences of her action will be. The fact that she still could not stop herself tells us that lovers do not always act rationally, something we always knew. There is more in this affair than personal tragedies. For a start, this has all the dramatic elements: a bright, beautiful teacher more in Julia Roberts mould [as in Mona Lisa Smile], a stiff upper lip school [not unlike Wellesley] and a story like Notes On A Scandal with an added twist. Indeed, Helen was gui
Introduction : The Business of Gift Giving Business gift giving has always been common and contentious at the same time. Business gifts are usually seen as an ‘advertising, sales promotion and marketing communication medium’ (Cooper et al , 1991). Arunthanes et al (1994) points out that such gifting is practised usually for three reasons: (a) in appreciation for past client relationships, placing a new order, referrals to other clients, etc.; (b) in the hopes of creating a positive, first impression which might help to establish an initial business relationship; and (c) giving may be perceived as a quid Pro quo (i.e. returning a favour or expecting a favour in return for something). The practitioners of gift-giving generally argue that doing business is often an aggregation of personal interactions and relationships, and gift-giving should be seen as a natural way of maintaining and enhancing these relationships. ‘Business gifts, especially one given in the course of the festive s
This post is a reaction to Aatish Taseer's evocative obituary of secular India in the Atlantic ( read here ). While I agree with it mostly - and share the reservations about the direction and the future of India - I differ with the author on one key aspect: I do not agree with his portrayal of a resurgent Bharat eating up a secular India. In fact, I believe while Mr Taseer regrets the Indian elite's loss of connection with the realities of day to day life of the country, his very presentation of Bharat and India as oppositional entities stems from that incomprehension. While I understand that he is only using these categories as RSS uses them - to effectively other the English-speaking elites and non-Hindus - I believe it is a mistake to describe the profound changes in contemporary India as the ascendance of Bharat. I grew up in Bharat. I never learnt English until late in life, when I started working. My growing-up world was one of small-town India, vernacu
In most societies today, making profits are accepted as moral, if not especially praiseworthy. This was not as obvious as it appears today – people used to be embarrassed about making a profit not so long ago. Crazy as it seems today, it is worth thinking why it was so. Profits, as economists will put it, is the reward for risk-taking, for putting a business enterprise together in the pursuit of an objective. In this definition, remember, profits are not what it is commonly understood to be – the gross middle-line towards the bottom – but a figure net of entrepreneur’s earning [wages for his labour], dividends and interests on borrowed capital, and provisions for building and other physical assets [a sort of rent, offsetting what these assets could have earned if leased out]. This pure profit – surplus – accrues to a business as a reward to its organisation, for the act of entrepreneurship itself. Economists were divided on how this surplus comes about. The conventional wisdom was, as
Introduction: Hastings in the history of Indian Education Whether or not one includes Warren Hastings in the history of Education in India is a matter of perspective. If writing the history of education means writing the history of schools, the impact of Hastings' administration would be quite limited. If anything, the rapid implosion of local rulers in Eastern, Southern and Northern India during Hastings' tenure had meant a bleak period for the indigenous education system, as patronage and funds would have dwindled away for many of them. The Company administration really concerned itself with the schooling of the natives only after 1813, as Nurullah and Naik rightly pointed out ( see my earlier post ) and one can legitimately start the story at this point. However, if history of Education in India is to encompass the transformation of Indian Scholarship, on which foundation the new, colonial, system of Education would be built, the story must start with Warren Hast
Buzzwords have disadvantages. Right now, experiential learning is one, and that means we put the label on everything and it stops to mean anything. Also, this means reasonable conversation about experiential learning becomes difficult - at times such as this, either you preach experiential learning or you are traditional, antiquarian and hopelessly out of touch. But, overlooking the limitations of experiential learning can cause big problems. Experiential Learning does many things - putting practice at the heart of learning is an important paradigm shift - but not everything, and it is important to be aware what it does not do. Usually, we equate the terms Project-based Learning (the method) with Experiential Learning (the idea) and Learning from Experience (the ideal), treating them as one and the same and using the terms interchangeably. Any talk about distinctive meaning of these terms is usually seen as pedantic, but really represent very different ideas about education.
Introduction Erna Petri née Kürbs, a farmer’s daughter from Herressen in Thuringia, arrived in Ukraine with her three year old son to join her husband Horst in June 1942. Horst, an SS leader inspired by Nazi ideologue Dr Richard Walter Darré, settled in the plantation of Grzenda, just outside today’s Lviv, to become a German Gentleman-Farmer. Erna saw Horst beating and abusing the workers in the plantation within two days of arriving there, which was, as Horst explained, necessary for establishing authority. Erna joined in enthusiastically, settling into a combination of roles of ‘plantation mistress, prairie Madonna in apron-covered dress lording over slave labourers, infant-carrying, gun-wielding Hausfrau.’  However, there were clear rules in the plantation, and Erna was very much expected to play the woman’s role of being a Cake-and-Coffee hostess. When four Jews were caught in the estate while trying to escape from a transport to a death camp, Horst told Erna and her female
As India's democracy reaches a critical juncture, with a very real danger of a authoritarian take-over, Rabindranath Tagore's birth anniversary is a perfect occasion to revisit the founding idea of India once again. There are many things in his politics that we may need to dust up and reconsider: Tagore's political ideas, because of his inherent aversion of popular nationalism and enthusiasm about Pan-Asianism and universalism, were outside the mainstream of the Indian National Movement, seen as impractical and effectively shunned. He was seen mostly as the Poet and the mystic, someone whose politics remains in the domain of the ideas rather than action. Tagore himself, after a brief passionate involvement in politics during the division of Bengal by Lord Curzon in 1905, withdrew from political action: He never belonged to the political class, despite his iconic status and itinerant interventions, such as returning the Knighthood after the massacre of Amritsar in 1919.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.