Galwan stand-off: Nationalism can lead to dangerous consequences

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DM Monitoring

After winning independence from the British in 1947, Indian nationalism has always found an unfailing vehicle in cricket, especially when India plays cricket with Pakistan.
If Imran Khan hit a six or took a wicket, it would be always a lesser six and a lesser wicket than, say, Sachin Tendulkar’s (Sachin played against Imran when he was still in his teens). The difference between the two sixes is nationalism. It adds more runs to the same stroke.
But outside sports, nationalism could prove to be injurious to health. Last week, following a confrontation between, China and India, at and around the rather fluid Line of Actual Control (LAC) that crosses the Galwan Valley the Galwan River flows from the higher reaches of Aksai Chin in the Himalayas down to Ladakh 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a confrontation with China.
In the weeks and even months building up to this confrontation, Indian media was flexing muscles and taunting China. If the 9 O’ clock news was any indication, Modi’s India was not only prepared for war up in the freezing northern border heights, but actually did not mind having one, never mind the coronavirus.
The clubbing, a rather primitive way of settling scores in modern military times, is because reportedly in some patrolling areas, soldiers from either country are not supposed to carry guns; but presumably, sticks or maces or stones are allowed. So, then, what would be the point? Never mind.
Indian reports at first said that in a historic effort to take back its territory from China, three of its soldiers were ‘martyred,’ and five Chinese soldiers were ‘slaughtered.’
Perspective of nationalism
We will merely note in passing that the terms used solely depend on which nation is seen as aggressor from a perspective of nationalism. And we must note, too, how the subjective reality of the issue changes with each nation’s perception.
In the weeks and even months building up to this confrontation, Indian media was flexing muscles and taunting China. If the 9 O’ clock news was any indication, Modi’s India was not only prepared for war up in the freezing northern border heights, but actually did not mind having one, never mind the coronavirus.
Perhaps the patriotic media were under the customary delusion induced by extreme nationalist fervour (as in the case of Germany in the 1930s) that a war economy — all sectors of the industry would be working at full capacity — was the way out of India’s woes, not to mention great TRP ratings.
Flattering self-perception
BJP leaders have been in the throes of a grand notion for some time now. That India is a nuclear power is central to this flattering self-perception. But so is China. Indeed, so is Pakistan.
That makes this part of the universe one of the most sensitive in terms of humanity’s destructive potential, and, indeed, argues against an excessive display of nationalism.
In addition to India’s size and population, a factor contributing to its collective delusional state seems to be its military personnel strength, which is roughly around 347,000 compared to China’s 270,000. But in every other department, jets, helicopters, ships, tanks, armoured vehicles, China is far, far ahead. Indeed, China’s defence budget at $225 billion is nearly five times that of India’s at $55 billion.
None of this seems to have an effect on India’s perception of reality. Jingoism flourishes. And often the psychosis of self-deception percolates from the top, unfortunately.
India’s ever combative home minister, Amit Shah, for instance, said in Parliament in August 2019, as he abrogated article 370 giving special autonomy to Kashmir (and bifurcating Jammu and Kashmir into separate entities of Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh) that Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and Aksai Chin (under the control of China), as integral parts respectively of Kashmir and the Union Territory of Ladakh, and that he (Shah) would give his life to defend or take back what he considered was Indian land.
These border-lines and claims have a complicated and conflicting history since British times. Territorial claims, in any case, are not easy to resolve because they invariably come with a political pay off, and whole governments could be thrown off power. When Shah made that rousing speech, it was good to hear.
But then it is always good to hear there are causes larger than one’s petty self. It gives one hope that one is not alone after all, affirming one’s faith in a collective cause. Except one is wrong. One still has to go out into the field and earn one’s bread. The wise thing under the circumstances would be to avoid further friction in the vexed border issues and focus on other, more pressing matters, of which there is no dearth, starting with the economy.
Only, if you are riding the nationalist tiger, it is not easy to get off. In the wake of the Galwan Valley confrontation, therefore, the BJP will find the beast bounding under them even faster and hungrier.
Soon after the Galwan incident, Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated that no Chinese transgression has happened. But if that was the case, how would one explain the death of 20 soldiers, and the release of 10 from Chinese custody? If he meant China has withdrawn post the battle, the credit would go to the enemy.
That India has not mentioned the number of Chinese casualties — if any — might be put down to a touch of diplomacy, but given its current state of relations with Pakistan, Nepal, and China, diplomacy appears not to be India’s overweening strength. Perhaps it is not entirely India’s fault. When Modi came to power for the first time in 2014, Xi Jinping was the first state guest. The photo ops then included a shared swing moment at Sabarmati in Gujarat, a state Modi had ruled as chief minister for over a decade.
In October 2019, the two leaders had another summit in Mahabalipuram, in Tamil Nadu. In between, in 2018, Modi visited China twice, proof that he was courting closer ties and investments.
But Modi’s hopes in China have slowly vaporised, just as it did in the case of Pandit Nehru (who was shattered by the Chinese invasion in 1962, when the People’s Liberation Army came up to the Brahmaputra River, and returned, choosing not to enter Calcutta), a man seen generally by the BJP as the cause of many of India’s developmental ills.
How odd that in China, Modi shares his sense of betrayal with one of his arch enemies. That is a very good reason why India should be nobody’s enemy.