THE WUHAN METAPHOR

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 05 May 2018 10:07:33


“No more Doka Las: Modi, Xi to armies- Newspaper headline following the Wuhan summit  of the two leaders 


THAT both, India’s Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi and China’s President Mr. Xi Jinping, decided to avoid any Doka La-type situation in future, is actually a piece of news whose metaphor needs to be understood in depth. Deciding to avoid any repetition of face-offs like the one that took place at Doka La at the borders of India, China and Bhutan, may appear as an attempt to ensure peace and tranquility on the border between India and China. But there is a deeper meaning of this development, which needs to be understood correctly. The Wuhan summit has to be viewed from that perspective. For, it was there that the two leaders met for the second time in a one-and-one setting to share ideas and thrash out certain issues affecting the bilateral ties. For, it was at Wuhan that the two leaders agreed to give peace and cooperation a serious chance.

Yet, the actual meaning of the Wuhan metaphor is different. It indicates that over time, thanks to the patience and persistence of Mr. Narendra Modi’s diplomatic initiatives, the Chinese leadership is showing willingness to consider India’s point of view. And this has not come out of any altruistic idea in the minds of the Chinese leadership, but out of a practical realisation of India’s growing multi-dimensional prowess including its willingness to stay put in terms of military option as well as an aid to diplomacy. Doka La face-off showed the world exactly that -- the Indian readiness to push even the military option when the need arose, no matter how powerful the other side could be. The face-off showed that the Indian leadership had become stronger in its idea of practical national interest as a sacrosanct area.

This had never happened before, since 1950s when the then Chinese Premier Mr. Chou En Li visited India. The Indian leadership then, and later, kept soft-pedalling and allowed the Chinese an unnecessary upper hand. Their overall diplomatic conduct betrayed their unfortunate admission that India’s military strength was something that necessitated compromises. That admission by the Indian leadership over time might have seemed practically and logically correct. In actuality, however, it was quite erroneous. For, diplomacy is an altogether different area needing an altogether different skill-sets, which the Indian leadership did not understand. It did succeed in avoiding in full-scale conflagration with China. But that did not serve any national purpose, did not promote national interests in a true sense for long decades. China kept needling India time and again, and browbeating her by brandishing military prowess.

All this has changed now, and was very clearly visible at Wuhan. In fact, the Wuhan summit was a step forward in India’s favour from the Ahmedabad meeting of the two leaders some time back. At Ahmedabad, there was an obvious show of camaraderie, but those who understood things also realised that still a long distance had to be covered in bilateral ties. And the Doka La face-off disturbed that process.

That was the reason why the two leaders decided to avoid repetition of a Doka La. This should be considered a feather in Mr. Modi’s cap. He acted and talked tough, refused to budge from national interest, and did not mind expressing willingness to push the military option. Such a response was coming for the first time from an Indian leader. We did have some very good Prime Ministers. But Mr. Modi is proving to be a different customer. He has changed the meaning of diplomacy in terms of unmitigated national interest.

Wuhan proved this point very well. There may still be serious gaps between the military prowesses of China and India. China may be enjoying an upper hand in global business as well. Yet, India also seems to realise rather correctly that over time, it has created better options for itself in terms of military strength and business opportunities. All those plus points demonstrated themselves in the approach of Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi -- not just at Wuhan but everywhere in the past four years. He is certainly riding high on a surging wave of India’s diplomacy whose tone and tenor he has changed successfully.

In the past seventy years, the world often recognised and respected India’s geo-political importance. Despite this, India’s own response to this sense of recognition was rather poor. For reasons that can be debated later, India often lived much below its own potential, thanks to the confusing notions of India’s leaders from time to time. For reasons not very easily understandable, Indian leaders kept trying to tell the world that they were sworn agents of peace and wanted to be recognised as that.

Mr. Narendra Modi also stresses that India has never invaded any other country in its long history. He also pushes the idea of universal brotherhood, based on Vedantic ideals. Yet, he also issues successfully the message of India’s willingness to go full distance to protect and preserve its national interest. Fortunately, the world, including China, has read this message correctly.

India needed exactly this -- the global recognition of its prowess, pronounced and unpronounced. This is the success of Mr. Narendra Modi in the arena of global diplomacy. At Wuhan, it got one more and authentic expression. From that point of view, this may be treated as a great moment in India’s diplomacy in recent years.
From now on, Indian diplomacy will have this new point of reference.