New Delhi: While Narendra Modi makes an event of launching a submarine, China is bloodlessly conquering the neighbourhood. This illustrates the vast gap between India and China’s understanding of geopolitics and their consequences. Modi has regressed India to the 19th century and earlier when geopolitics principally was about war and territorial gains. China has given geopolitics the equivalent of a postmodern spin to which the states surrounding India are falling like dominoes. If the old Domino Theory which inveigled the United States into the Vietnam War was bosh, China’s upgraded version is anything but. India is going the complete wrong way in addressing the China syndrome.

India and China are not going to war anytime soon. India under Modi may or may not have the sense to preserve peace but China wants it at any cost. China has no desire to take the path of other Great Powers. It knows the perils of imperial overstretch and will not over-extend itself militarily. Instead, it is employing geo-economics for rise and expansion and with considerable success. Having been profligate with military muscle-flexing without the ability to build an economy to sustain it, Russia virtually is in hock to China. The more relations with the United States and Western Europe worsen, the greater becomes the Kremlin’s dependence on China. China has thrown an economic lifeline to Russia in the form of a variant of OBOR. All this plus Establishment America’s animosity towards Russia has bound it to China. It will not counter Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea. Other variants of OBOR have similarly netted Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Burma, Sri Lanka and Maldives. This is geo-economic genius at work. The sooner India recognizes this, the better. Unless you know what the problem is, you cannot begin to get a solution.

The solution for India not just in respect of China but generally is to get its geo-economics right. Indians talk loosely about rivalling China. Loose talk is a favourite Indian pastime which is based on a sum total of nothing. The Modi government is famous for loose talk. We all know the adage, “speak softly and carry a big stick”. The Indian national mentality is to throw loud threats around while possessing no worthwhile stick to speak of. China makes no threats or none that are gross. From Modi to his minions, they are forever threatening this or that nation. Ignore the threats to Pakistan. They have entered the national lexicon. But what is one to make of India’s expressions of displeasure to Sri Lanka and the Maldives for acts that link them closer to China? Sri Lanka is admonished for not heeding to India’s concerns. That is rich considering that the Indian Ocean port taken over by China was first offered to India. And Maldives is told in far from diplomatic language that it has gone back on its commitment to “India First”. Yes, you heard right. Should Maldives look to its interests first (however misjudged they might be from India’s perspective) or India’s?

Geopolitics in the 21st century cannot be conducted with admonishments and threats. The United States is threatening North Korea with apocalypse. There is no evidence that Kim Jong-un is cowed. If China was not so adept in geo-economics with billions of dollars on hand to support its foreign ventures, it could not have succeeded with such bloodless expansion. India cannot -- and should not -- be reactive. Reaction is bad policy. A small part of China’s obsessive expansion is likely driven by what it calls the “one hundred years of humiliation”. It is a small part. Largely, China has grown for itself. The ambition of the Chinese channelled through the political leadership has powered its growth by leaps and bounds. By the same token, India has to grow for itself to satisfy the thirst of its entrepreneurial masses. It should not grow to rival China. If the idea solely or primarily is to rival China, India will be diverted to containing China which is not possible currently. The quest to rival China will also take India away from its own unique path of economic development and growth. Every nation-state is as different socially and politically as it is in its economic substance.

In sum, India has to become a geo-economic power to feel not so choked by China. The central principle still remains that India has to grow for itself. If India genuinely can create wealth for its people and considerable surplus for the neighbourhood, the geopolitics of the region will change. Admonishments and threats will be unnecessary. Unfortunately, the Narendra Modi government is sorely lacking in economic vision and talent. It has talent for such disasters as demonetization and high-tax GST. Furthermore, Modi gratuitously has insulted and demeaned the one man who holds the secret and magic for making India an economic Great Power, namely Manmohan Singh. It is beyond this writer’s conception how Manmohan Singh’s genius can be harnessed today since he belongs to a much slandered opposition party. If anyone can retrieve India from the present geopolitical muddle and give it a succinct roadmap, it is Manmohan Singh.