New Delhi: The Narendra Modi government is running around like a headless chicken in collective unable to come to grips with geopolitics. While the foreign policy establishment has swiftly plagiarized an American concept called “reset” to describe India and China’s summit meeting now underway, the reality is gross. After upping the ante on Doklam and gaining no reward except Chinese mistrust, belligerence and redoubled aggression from Pakistan, the pendulum has swung to the other extreme. China is being appeased by tighter restrictions placed on the activities of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan politicians in India. Narendra Modi’s meeting with Xi Jinping will yield nothing from China’s side although god knows what concessions Modi will make. Not only is China encircling India, it is turning South Asia hostile to this country, while simultaneously sucking the vitals of the Indian economy like a giant vampire squid with cheap exports that beat off Indian competition and spur joblessness.

China is not the only troubled area. Relations with Pakistan have turned so violent in peacetime that it is a small wonder that war hasn’t broken out. Narendra Modi and his national security team embraced muscular nationalism to challenge Pakistani terrorism. The foreign policy establishment was ordered to beat the terror drum anywhere and everywhere. In the United Nations, an Indian Foreign Service officer had the dubious distinction of calling Pakistan “terroristan” to wide acclaim at home and in the nationalistic media. (If the boot ever gets on the other feet, the pseudo-nationalists here would suffer apoplexy en masse.) Except that muscular anti-Pakistan policies are no longer successful just as jingoism on Doklam proved counterproductive and has been substituted with appeasement.

On every occasion that India has raised the stakes for Pakistan for interfering in Jammu and Kashmir, Pakistan, rather than backing down, has asserted itself with twice the ferocity. Pakistan has turned cross-border artillery duels into a political weapon concentrating fire on regions and sectors that are bound to hurt the majoritarian government of Narendra Modi. By now, the so-called “surgical strikes” have been plentifully avenged. Civilians and soldiers are dying in Jammu and Kashmir in unprecedented numbers. Recognizing that muscular policies have failed, the hawkish army chief is talking of a dialogue and political engagement. In the dark days of the 1990s when this writer covered Kashmir, the army leadership had unambiguously reached this conclusion. What prompted the Modi government to break from past policies and why is it signalling a hasty and panicky turnabout? Curses, like chickens, come home to roost.

Everywhere you turn to look it is the same story of failed geopolitics with Narendra Modi. To counter China, the quad with the United States in the lead was actively canvassed. Analysts, including this writer, said it would come to nothing, in the same way that the term Indo-Pacific was meaningless. Relations with the United States, meanwhile, have floundered on protectionism and India’s misplaced expectations that it would contain Pakistani terrorism. In the same declining trajectory, no sooner had India tom-tommed Chabahar than Iran welcomed China and Pakistan to use the port facilities as security partners. Still more depressingly, after privileging the United States over Russia only to reinforce the United States’ transactional behaviour, the Modi government has turned desperate to return relations with Russia to the old level. Having experienced India’s waywardness, Russia has felt no qualms about strengthening relations with Pakistan, which also serves its interests in Afghanistan, while being aligned too to the interests of its Second Cold War ally, China.

There are examples galore of how the Narendra Modi government has made a mess of geopolitics. Reasons are not far to seek. Modi has no background of foreign relations. His last job was that of chief minister of a small state. He has had no prior experience at the Centre. He is neither a thinker nor a strategist. He is anti-intellectual like the Sangh Parivar he comes from. He suffers from an inferiority complex vis-a-vis Jawaharlal Nehru who was all Modi can never be. Nehru was a nation-builder. In his magnificent design to build the nation, he made India Non-Aligned. It remains the best policy for India. Since Narendra Modi is a one-man ruler, however, no one can tell him to his face the truth about Nehru’s greatness and that he, Modi, has continuously blundered since assuming office. His autocracy may scare the Supreme Court and still the conscience of jurists. His complete lack of moral compass in the case of the Kathua outrage, his communalism and his megalomania may provoke only limited opposition in the country. But geopolitics is an unforgiving arena of freewheeling competition among dozens of power-hungry men like Narendra Modi. India’s utterly shallow, directionless and vacuous leadership has been exposed abroad.