India’s narrative; embarrassment into strategic opportunity

This article is a sequel to my earlier piece, ‘Indo-China standoff; the tactical face of strategic contest’, and is an attempt to bring to light the ongoing desperate efforts by India to not only cover up domestic politico-military embarrassment, but also twist it into a strategic opportunity by spreading newly crafted narratives by its well-placed diasporas in American government, media and think tanks. One minor Chinese military move has taken the wind out of the imprudently inflated balloon of Nazi Hindutva, unashamedly practiced by the PM Modi-led BJP/RSS government even to the chagrin of thoughtful Indians; the initiation of new narratives of running with the hare and hunting with the wolves looks ridiculously awkward.
Quite obviously, the Modi government is facing a crisis of credibility both at home and abroad due to non-availability of any significant political, diplomatic, economic or even military response to the Chinese initiative in Ladakh and along the entire LAC. Since Indian attempts to leverage membership of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) and bear the title of America’s new strategic ally for Asia-Pacific didn’t materialise to their expectations, as President Trump doesn’t believe in a free lunch. Therefore, the red-faced Indian defence minister had to rush to Russia to conduct a shopping spree of military hardware (Mig-29, SU-30, S-400 Missile defence system, K-class submarines, T-90 Tanks etc worth more than USD16 billion) not only to please the old guard, but primarily to beg for easing tensions with China, which had shown India its place in the region, cutting it to size and sending a clear message to the Quad that China is capable of taking care of her strategic interests especially when it comes to any threat to the Belt-Road Initiative (BRI). The fine kick delivered at the back of the Indian soldier and throwing him meters away in Ladakh by the PLA warrior has now been strategically rammed in home even better with Iran, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh lost to China; and the Pakistan-China strategic partnership on CPEC including Gwadar deep sea port getting further reinforced and Kashmir coming in the global spotlight as an unfinished UN agenda with China now asserting itself as a third stakeholder. The 25 years of economic and security strategic partnership between Iran and China worth $400 billion and Iran kicking out India from Chabahar port, oil refinery and the 628 kilometre-long rail projects linking Chabahar-Zahedan and onwards expanding across borders to Zaranj, Afghanistan is the latest blow to Indian dreams in the region and a great boon for China’s BRI.
India had already spent an unprecedentedly high amount of US $71 billion during 2019; and now is forced to run from pillar to post to spend even more on military and defence related infrastructure. Between 2008 and 2020, India ordered seven different major US military platforms. The US is India’s fourth-largest source of arms after Russia, Israel and France, with India-US defence trade increasing significantly from $200 million in 2000 to over $20 billion, after the induction of the two recent procurements. Key factors in this growth include the US recognition of India as a ‘Major Defence Partner’ in 2016, and the signing of three defence cooperation agreements between 2016 and 2019. This could have a catalytic effect on India approving the acquisition of additional US military equipment, including six anti-submarine warfare P-8I Neptune. That will further exasperate the plight of more than 600 million poor Indian people kept camouflaged under cover of Bollywood movies, false propaganda, hate culture against minorities, Islamophobia, atrocities in Kashmir, abrogation of articles 370 and 35 A of Indian constitution that deprives mandatory special status granted to Kashmir/ Kashmiris, illegal allotment of Kashmir domicile to Indians to change the demography of Kashmir, the Citizenship Amendment Act depriving Muslim immigrants the right to an Indian citizenship and belligerence against all neighbouring countries. With just one cool-headed Chinese stroke on the right pressure point, Modi’s poor performance on the economic front, unfulfilled promises to poor farmers, unemployment and health facility-starved Indian masses, saffronisation and inadequacies of the Indian Armed Forces stand badly exposed. The irrational dream of ‘Mahabharat’ sold to its followers by RSS/BJP by falsely projecting itself as a delivery boy among Quad countries by relegating Russia for America has obviously been shattered, putting India in a catch-22 position.
So here comes the barrage of the typical remorseful and meandering narratives from well-embedded Indians in the US and a few other Western countries’ governments, think tanks and media for turning India’s sheer embarrassment into another opportunity to do face-saving, restore the broken mask of hypocrisy; and to beg, borrow or buy diplomatic support and enhancement of defence capabilities to the glee of sponsoring global military industrial cartels. The Indian activists are now busy in sending out messages to policy and decision makers in the Quad and some other European countries that they are all losing India by not standing tall against China; with focus on asking specific technologies, weapons and equipment that could help India to contest and contain rising China and subdue other regional countries (without stating) with enhanced strategic military capabilities. At present Indian lobbyists are asking US policymakers to assess as to how the current India-China confrontation exposes Indian strategic vulnerabilities i.e. deficiencies in India’s national security “software” & strategic assessment; India’s sensitivity to and concentration on continental borders (trading off with a maritime focus); and India’s dependence on Russia. US policymakers are being convinced that If India is required to act as a pivotal node of the American Asia-Pacific policy and if the US wants to grab this chance(trap), US policy shifts can assist to alleviate (if not fix) the above-stated three challenges, while expecting greater reciprocity. This could include greater C4ISR collaboration, security assistance packages, and interoperability workarounds to Russian hardware. In barter, the US could hope for a more institutionalised intelligence relationship, diplomatic support in the region (e.g. US presence at Diego Garcia), and visible operationalisation of defence ties inclusive of complex joint exercises, operations, and even basing access to enhance deterrence—all lucrative traps to entice America without losing Russia; paradoxical to say the least.
The inconsistent Indian narratives raise many questions. Is the Indian dream of gaining strategic balance against China realistic while keeping current and future economic potentials of India? Is India not plunging herself into a greater game prematurely even if BJP continues to live in a delusional make-believe world? How would Russia’s President Putin cater to keep a fine balance in arming India without irking China, besides keeping India out of American orbit? Are Indian strategists not aware of the history and ultimate fate of American allies? How would India survive with all hostile neighbours kept under duress in the last seven decades now allied with China? How would India cope with a weakening economy, more internal political polarisation and much hyped fissiparous tendencies? Will the West risk sharing advanced technologies with India keeping in view her partnership with Russia? Why would the West (US-led NATO and Quad) still invest on a lame horse that lost its very first (minor) race?
Pakistan will have to constantly remain cognisant of the ever-widening strategic balance vis-à-vis India, which must be offset in time by tri-service, joint defence productions with China. A more forceful government-wide and full spectrum approach needs to be consistently followed up on resolution of Kashmir issue with at least one permanent UN Security Council member standing with Pakistan as a strategic partner now. It goes without saying that China, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and all other regional countries need to stand united for common prosperity and security.

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