New Delhi: If India has to grow and prosper in peace, relations with China have to be restored to pre-May 2014 levels. Relations prior to that phase were scarcely perfect. But they were manageable. Doklam represents a spectacular nadir in relations between the two countries comparable, in its strategic consequences, with the 1962 debacle. In the national interest, this writer will refrain from considering the geopolitical aspects of the Doklam crisis in any detail publicly. But a warning must be sent to the hyper-nationalists propped up by the ruling party in the television and social media: Stop the chest thumping. And to the Narendra Modi government, at the same time, there are three lines of advice: The writing is on the wall. Diplomatically resolve this crisis with China at the soonest. This is not the time or the place to be clever.

Countries are not always bestowed with the best geography; but it is what they make of them that count. The historical time and context in which they come into their own is also critical, as are leadership qualities and the politico-economic choices they make. Having won independence from Britain, the United States could have lost its way in the great and vast continent it inherited. Except that its founding fathers were exceptional visionaries, it adopted the Protestant Ethic by and large, and in its geopolitics, it strenuously eschewed the policies, like the balance of power, which had divided Europe and kept it at war. Like the few hours of night sleep are restorative, so America opted for periodic isolationism to discover and reinvent itself and to grow. It had spectacular geopolitical advantages. But it did not blow its chances like Imperial and Nazi Germany did.

There are also the similar advantages to consider that Great Britain and Japan possessed as nearly off-shore islands which each used to profit to become Great Powers, although Great Britain carried on longer in that role. In the case of Great Britain, it was the triple boon of the Industrial Revolution, a constitutional monarchy, and the mightiest navy of its time. These three advantages in due course made it a colonial power, the most far-reaching in the modern age. On the other hand, Japan burst into greatness like a meteor shower with the Meiji Restoration, but its militarism and violent and immoderate colonialism ended its Great Power status soon. So it is not enough to be conferred with geographical advantages. What you make of them, and over a considerable span of time, are the ultimate tests.

India became independent with mixed benefits of geography and other factors. With its peninsular form, it had tremendous potential to be a naval power. In the largeness of its national territory, it was once again gifted with enormous possibilities. The northern frontiers were guarded by the Himalayas. Concurrently, it inherited geopolitical disadvantages that had previously kept the British Indian Empire in a state of precarious balance. The Tibet-China question came to bedevil independent India with renewed ferocity. The Afghanistan tangle not only affected Pakistan in its contiguity but also India. Further driving the unrest in the north-west and by its token in the east was Partition whose unsettled questions conspired to break up one country to leave more interminable disputes in its wake.

The only strategic plan that was ever contrived to gain hold of this fraught inheritance, good, bad or indifferent, was Non-Alignment, and there has never been another since. With all its deficiencies, Non-Alignment served India’s early uncertain sovereignty and overstrained national survival passably until the 1962 debacle, whose shock and suddenness eventually killed its designer, Jawaharlal Nehru. The tragedy of this country is that not one of Prime Minister Nehru’s successors, including his geopolitically more successful daughter, ever committed time and effort to craft a successor grand strategy to Non-Alignment. China had Mao Tse Tung and Deng Xiaoping. Russia had Joseph Stalin in World War II. America had its brilliant founding fathers and such great Presidents as Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. India has never had a truly visionary Prime Minister after Nehru. That failure to bring Non-Alignment up-to-date has brought this country face-to-face with a crisis like Doklam. Its consequences, examined in all its dimensions, are best not publicized.

India’s only hope is to repair relations with China at the earliest, obtain a measure of balance and predictability in ties, and concentrate national energies thereafter in constructing a second edition of Non-Alignment. Another Doklam will be one too many for this country.