New Delhi: One of the hardest rules and fundamentals of geopolitics is that power deferential cannot be easily bridged. Indeed, no sooner than ambitions of rise are linked to or even associated with power deferential, rise becomes even more contentious than it already is and concomitantly becomes harder to execute. India-China relations have fallen into this perverse mode from which rescue is possible only if the perceived challenger, India, advances unilateral confidence-building measures with its northern Great Power neighbour.

Relations between the two countries grew sour in the early years of the rebirth of both nations. India gained independence only two years before the revolutionary civil war in China ended in favour of communism and Mao Tse Tung. Indian histories of the period leading up to the 1962 war and a little beyond by and large blame China for the destroyed ties. The narratives in China of that fateful time are less readily accessible but doubtless nationalistically lump the major blame on Indian “barbarians”. The truth, as always, lies in between and this truth has not been accessed in all the decades since when relations have drifted from hostility to less hostility and once again to pronounced hostility. These aren’t how relationships are managed. India ought to know better. The onus always lies on democracies to break the barriers and reserves of totalitarian states by gaining confidences and penetrating into their ideological, institutional and leadership structures to capitalize on instruments and opportunities of peace and stability. In his time, Jawaharlal Nehru tried to do this but Indian state sovereignty was too youthful and immature to understand the complexity of China. States which have emerged intact from a revolutionary civil war (a civil war is categorized as a total war) are very hardened, suspicious of the outside world, quick to take umbrage, and need a long period of settling and cooling down. They could loosely be compared to molten lava. The Dalai Lama’s asylum in India and the Sino-Indian border war three years later took place when China was still in a molten state. Add to this Mao’s personal insecurities from revolutionary programmatic failures and you have a live bomb with a short fuse.

History is nearly always difficult to rewind but national interest sometimes compels endeavours in the direction of smoothening the rough edges of the past. A rapprochement between China and the Dalai Lama is long overdue and India should make such effort in this purpose as is possible without the suggestion or the appearance of interfering in China’s internal affairs. The Dalai Lama made a recent press statement to the effect that Nehru had counselled him to make up with China. On hindsight, it was the best advice that Nehru gave to the Tibetan spiritual leader, though his hands were tied at the same time in not being able to refuse the asylum plea. If the Tibet question is settled between China and the Dalai Lama, the mistrust and the suspicions between India and China will dramatically reduce. It is in India’s interest to advance this prospect. Geopolitical rivalry with China will damage India more than China. India needs peace and stability on its frontiers for at least a quarter century to grow and develop. Deng Xiaoping saw to it that China was left alone in peace and isolation to become a Great Power. Conditions of peace and stability are sine qua non for any state which desires to control its destiny even if it cannot become a Great Power. India simply cannot expect to be different. There are no shortcuts to success.

To be continued...

Read “India’s geopolitical crisis - 1” and “2” here and here.