India: resumption of follies

Can India afford to indulge in such a competition with China?

Muhammad Ali Ehsan May 31, 2020
The writer is a member faculty of contemporary studies at NDU Islamabad

An estimated 7 million Germans were killed in World War Two. Yet we had Hitler who much like Narendra Modi of India considered himself as a great visionary leader and misled a German nation that at that time stood behind him. Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945. From the moment he took power (1933) it took Hitler full 12 years to bring ultimate humiliation and defeat to his country. It is PM Modi’s 6th year in power and already his Hitlerism (political and military ambitions) poses huge security threats to the region and specially its neighbors like Pakistan, China, Bangladesh and Nepal.

The benefit of hindsight and reflection on the past crises is an enabling statecraft tool that must be relied upon by the policymakers to help resolve the present and future problems. Germany had a Nazi past and under 12 years of Nazi rule, crimes were committed against humanity under the illegitimate laws of the Nazi state. Before Hitler took Germany to war, the Nazi persecution of non-Nazi Germans and Jews had already begun in the 1930s — much like the ongoing persecution of non-Hindus and Muslims in India under the Modi rule. Much before Hitler had taken steps outside towards the war, inside Germany he was doing everything possible to create ‘Germany only for Germans’.

The East Germans could not meet the West Germans as Soviets had built a wall (Berlin) in 1961 that separated them and until its eventual fall thousands of Germans were killed by Soviet troops that tried to cross it — much like how today the people of Kashmir have been divided and prevented to meet each other. In Indian occupied Kashmir their arrests, detention and killing is a normal routine, much like the disappearances and imprisonments of Jews in the concentration camps during the Nazi rule. Emboldened by lack of opposition and media that is too afraid to expose him, Modi has gone ahead and introduced the draconian Kashmir laws which, on the pattern of Hitler’s Germany, seeks to permanently alter the demography and geography of Kashmir.

The Nazi German nationalism and the Hindutva Indian nationalism, though born many years apart, are twin brothers. Like Hitler, Modi is a rejecter of moderation, caution and compromise — a leadership attribute that sparks discontent and instability at home and creates enemies abroad. Both Hitler and Modi had a deprived childhood and not ideal circumstances in which they grew up. A leader’s outlook towards life is a consequence of his exposures as his commitments grow out of the core beliefs that he carries and which are a direct reflection of his past. But is it only the leader that we should blame? What about his advisers, the accomplices in crime? Hitler could not have been Hitler without the other top Nazi subordinate leaders that surrounded him. His assistant Martin Bormann, Adolf Eichmann the organiser of rounding up of Jews, the Luftwaffe chief Herman Goring who led Hitler in his disastrous campaign of invasion of the United Kingdom, his foreign Minister Joachim Von Ribbentrop (the author of Moltov–Ribbontrop Pact), the German-Soviet Union non-aggression pact that was signed in 1939 only to be violated two years later.

Why I name Hitler’s subordinate leadership is because a leader may lack the sense of good judgement but the role of those that surround him is equally important. It is these radical advisers, the believers in the Nazi or Hindutva ideologies that a leader surrounds himself with that refuse to compromise and push him into taking extreme and unpopular decisions that ultimately brings his nation to the brink of disaster. Rajnath Singh, Amit Shah and Ajit Doval may just be performing the Nazi advisers role in the Modi government today. Who would decide that such people are not the promoters of the national interests but a liability for the political and security interests of their country? Much like in Hitler’s Germany the ‘restorers of the previous status quo’ in India have also been sidelined through elections. They lost in Modi’s second term gaining elections (2019) and now the region and the world sits with its fingers crossed to see what Modi’s Hindutva ideology unleashes till 2024.

The response of the world that refuses to learn lessons from history is beautifully summarised by none other but Winston Churchill who, in the last volume of his six volume history of World War Two, Triumph and Tragedy, writes, “How great democracies triumphed, and so were able to resume the follies which had so nearly cost them their lives.”

In South Asia the credit for the ‘resumption of the follies’ that Winston Churchill mentions in his book is worn as a crown by non-other than Modi’s India. India’s uncharacteristic foreign entanglements and its extended measures of deterrence is causing undue anxiety in the region thus forcing other countries including China to consider the importance of their own defense and deterrence in places like Galwan Valley, Laddakh.

India is a defence and strategic partner of United States and when Trump administration declares ‘competing with China as the highest national security priority’ India has to be at the forefront to assist US in winning this competition. Walter Lippmann, the American political commentator and writer who is credited for introducing the concept of Cold War, writes, “Republics utilize alliances to create shields.” Since the last two decades or so, the Indians act as an American shield against the ‘rise of China’ in the region. It is because of this reciprocal obligation between a regional (India) and the world (US) powers that the Churchill determined ‘Indian resumption of follies’ is ignored by US in the region. But China knows how to stand up to American allies in the region. If it can transform reefs and rocks into military bases in South China Sea then India can well imagine what China can do and create at the world’s roof top and regions like Laddakh.

Can India afford to indulge in such a competition with China? Can any country check China’s growing power without American assistance? Wouldn’t such an assistance mean more tension and polarisation in South Asian politics? And if it is the American assistance without which India can never challenge China, what would that mean for Russia?

Can International Relations scholars and policymakers depict the 21st Century Balance of Power in South Asia? Will China develop a global defence posture like US or would it persist with its A2AD (Anti access area denial) policy? Whatever be the predictions there are already strong indicators that Asia might as well be the primary military theatre of 21st Century.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 31st, 2020.

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