New Delhi: Geopolitics is not event management. Since Narendra Modi does not know better, he will go on dealing with geopolitics as event management. The presence of ten ASEAN leaders in the Republic Day celebration is brilliant event management. It passes poorly for geopolitics.

Barring Singapore and to a lesser extent Malaysia, the remaining ASEAN states have little to no geopolitical heft. When you seek to align with weaker nations, you should know the score. Hitler was blindsided by Mussolini, a worthless leader of a geopolitically infirm country. It used to be said prior to the First World War that whoever aligned with Italy had their work cut out. It remained true of both the Great War and the Second World War. Hitler so often ignored Mussolini’s failings that beyond a point it was too late.

Modi wants closeness with ASEAN for a wrong set of reasons. He wants to build a united front against China in the Asia-Pacific region. The term Indo-Pacific is bogus. It is a chimera that should be discouraged for India’s well-being. To lead an alliance against a Great Power, you have to be a Great Power yourself. India is not a Great Power and it is not likely to be one in the near future. The era of Great Powers leading alliances is over. NATO is in a shambles as anyone can tell. Western Europe is determined to wrest an identity separate from Donald Trump’s America. The French president is moving heaven and earth to achieve this. He may or may not succeed. But the sentiment that drives him is important. Western Europe wants to strike out on its own. France and Germany are willing to offer Britain a watered down version of Brexit which may not be Brexit at all. Britain is wavering on Brexit because its special relationship with the United States is all but over.

With this being the fate of the most “natural” geopolitical alliance of the last century, how can India’s hopelessly artificial ASEAN gambit succeed? To be sure, pomp and pageantry will attend the various events Modi has lined up for ASEAN leaders. Besides limited defence partners like Singapore and Vietnam, most others will stay away from taking positions which will be construed as anti-China. Indeed, Singapore has made a point of praising and supporting BRI in Davos. Opposition to BRI has all but evaporated with India isolated with its negativity. The Chinese programme is touted the biggest infrastructure thrust of history and participating countries see huge potential for growth and development despite the downsides. How can India possibly compete against China in these circumstances?

Narendra Modi is squandering India’s energies trying to contain China. He is going against history. Since he is clueless about geopolitics, he cannot see the pitfalls and dangers ahead. ASEAN states realize India is a willing pawn in the strategic encirclement of China. Being a pawn and a leader are two completely different things. Should India become an ASEAN pawn against China? This is a geopolitical dwarfing of India that should be stoutly resisted. On the other hand, can India lead ASEAN against China? When the United States and Japan, singly or together, are incapable of that role, what chance does India have? India needs to concentrate energies inward to grow and develop at a pace prior to demonetization and a predatory GST scheme. That is not happening. Domestic investment has stagnated because big business is wary of the Modi government. Foreign investment is coming but in areas of foreign choice. It is not by and large going to manufacturing which India desperately needs to grow.

Narendra Modi has his priorities hopelessly mixed up. He is so taken up with event management that he cannot see beyond colour and celebration. Under him, India has become an unserious country. It will take years to unravel his blunders.