India’s China Narrative Needs To Grow Up

India’s China Narrative Needs To Grow Up

by Venu Gopal Narayanan - Jun 26, 2020 02:11 PM +05:30 IST
India’s China Narrative Needs To Grow UpThe flags of India and China.
  • Exposing the true nature of the Chinese state is vitally necessary, if our own domestic narrative is to rise above repeatedly reacting to a shamefully gleeful opposition, who seek to capitalise on the prevailing crisis in a politically unconscionable manner.

Every so often, there comes a time in the life of nations, when public discourse fashions the future for better or for worse. This truth gains greater importance in democracies, where the popular mood often gets translated into a political mandate.

The British benefited from such a periodic phenomenon in 1940, when prevailing views on war and peace forced prime minister Neville Chamberlain to make way for Winston Churchill.

In stark contrast, the Germans got it wrong in 1933, when a confusing mixture of economic devastation and perceived national slights propelled Adolf Hitler to power. On both occasions, the outcomes were largely forced by the quality of the prevailing public narrative.

India stands at one such juncture presently. Twenty of our soldiers have been killed in a rare, border clash with Chinese troops in Ladakh. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has refused to meet with his Chinese counterpart while on an official visit to Moscow.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has ominously declared that the sacrifice of our troops in Ladakh shall not go in vain. Foreign Minister S Jaishankar has publicly tutored China on the need to respect international law, while privately informing his Chinese counterpart, in no uncertain terms, that the Galwan Valley clash will affect Sino-Indian relations adversely.

And yet, with all these dots waiting to be linked, the free press of India still spends the bulk of its time commenting on truly inane, and wholly irrelevant, statements by our politicians – about our politicians.

Instead of painstakingly analysing the dynamics behind this delicate moment, which has effectively upended a decades-old status quo, or dissecting the motivations and track records of the key Chinese personalities behind this destabilisation, our press has, thus far, either indulged in jarring, unhelpful jingoism. It has focused on which politician thinks why Modi is to blame for this or that, or arbitrated over whose masterly tweet trolled whom with how much vehemence. At times, the immaturity and ignorance on display is frightening.

The net result is that instead of objectively studying the prevailing threat, and educating the public on the interlinked intricacies of geopolitics, our press has ignored Chinese motivations almost to the point of exclusion, to report instead on our endless, domestic, political burlesque.

Where is the D R Mankekar of today, who might turn a rodomontade politician into jelly with a single editorial? Or a Girilal Jain, whose every piece was a postgraduate seminar in current affairs?

The problem is that most voluble Indian commentators continue to make the mistake of trying to understand China through Indian eyes. That is because this is the approach adopted when analysing Pakistan.

And because it works with Pakistan, we think the same technique can be applied elsewhere, not realising that it works with our noisome neighbour only because of countless commonalities, and an umbilical past. But China is different.

What is needed here, instead, is a cohort of specialists with long experience of studying the Middle Kingdom; only they can explain the nuances and subtleties of Beijing’s political dynamics to the Indian public in Chinese terms. For example, the definition of a dynast in China is not the Indian one of ‘raees baap ka bigda beta’, to put it pithily.

Unlike our own privileged dynasts who have no clue of what they want, beyond trolling Modi on social media, the single party totalitarian system in China has successfully subsumed such lunatic tendencies under specific, collective, national goals.

Similarly, only experts may delve into the motivations of the present Chinese leadership to define what China wants – without falling into the superficial, armchair analyst’s trap of glibly viewing them as some sort of spoilt elite with a deep sense of entitlement, seeking a better seat at the high table, but with no moral compass (or some such fluff).

Or, to bring out the deep contradictions of identity in a leadership which calls itself communist, but which can’t claim such ancestry by any stretch of one’s imagination, because it actually represents the most successful repudiation of Marxist dogma in modern history.

So too, with wild theories, like Xi Jinping being hung out to dry by internal factions in case of a global post-epidemic blowback, or issues with India, Taiwan, Japan, America, or foreign trade (to pick a few items on a long list).

Once again, the need of the hour is for such wishful thinking to be countered authoritatively by those in the know, and alternative, more plausible scenarios being posited for evolved public consumption.

Most importantly, exposing the true nature of the Chinese state is vitally necessary, if our own domestic narrative is to rise above repeatedly reacting to a shamefully gleeful opposition, who seek to capitalise on the prevailing crisis in a politically unconscionable manner. Not to mention, also nailing those who still think that Chairman Mao is their Chairman.

Without that, too large a section of the Indian public will continue to misguidedly view Sino-Indian relations in simplistic, tactical terms (like the Galwan Valley clash), instead of better understanding the strategic aspirations of the Chinese leadership.

And self-styled strategic affairs experts will, for example, get away with the sin of blithely proposing ‘limited war’, without ever defining prerequisite political objectives.

Consequently, this article is only a tiny, first pebble cast into a still pond, with the urge that its ripples beat upon more knowledgeable shores, and amplify in return; WhatsApp university alumni have to be corralled within social media.

And India needs to make that vital distinction between casual commentary and incisive insight, if we are to avoid the misfortune of an emotional, immature, ill-informed, Twitter-esque narrative inadvertently snowballing into policy-making, simply because the political pressure it generated somehow achieved critical mass.

Venu Gopal Narayanan is an independent upstream petroleum consultant who focuses on energy, geopolitics, current affairs and electoral arithmetic. He tweets at @ideorogue.
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