New Delhi: Reflecting its basic unsoundness, the Narendra Modi government has entirely mishandled relations with China. On one hand, for example, it attempts to portray Doklam as a personal victory for Modi. On the other, it frets about the persistent unfriendly signals from the People’s Liberation Army, which has refused to socialize with the Indian Army for the first time in a dozen years at the designated points on the India-China frontier on one another’s national days. Typical of the conspiratorial mentality of the Indian side, it suggests that the PLA alone is holding out from the general friendliness towards India post-Doklam exhibited by a few other wings of the Chinese government. This is then construed as the PLA’s singular unhappiness with Xi Jinping’s India policy. If you have policemen running geopolitics, this sort of witlessness is par for the course.

China is a serious power. India is not. China plans for the long term. Indian governments survive from one general election to another. The quality of leadership is widely variable. You might have a scholar for two terms. His successor could be a provincial who has not read one serious modern work on government, economics or foreign policy in his life. Not having outgrown internal colonialism either, the same as archrival Pakistan, India lurches from one geopolitical crisis to the next with little or no institutional capacity to absorb the lessons for the future.

India’s stock explanation for Chinese attitude and behaviour is that it constitutes the Middle Kingdom of its civilized self-image and seeks global hegemony. Even taking this explanation at face value, it does not follow that China will be able to bend the world to its will for all times to come. The power of states is no more cast in stone than it is of individuals. Everything is finite. What goes up will come down. The laws of nature and the cycles of history will not make exceptions for China. They have not made one for the United States which faces the most serious existential crisis in decades under Donald Trump.

But even assuming for a moment that China conducts itself geopolitically as a Middle Kingdom, is the Modi government’s response serious and mature? Since Modi does not have a geopolitical background, say, like Vladimir Putin has (who is also en passant very limited), and the Union cabinet is generally strategically illiterate, it stands to reason that he depends on the diplomatic and national security bureaucracies for guidance and policy. The bureaucracy is not the place to seek innovation and imagination. The bureaucracy is clueless about how to engage with China. It reverts time after time to the shop-worn formula of pleading with one or another Great Power to lean on China to counter the pressures on India. In the old days, it was Soviet Russia after its political and ideological split with China. Now, it is the United States. The trust that the Modi government places on Donald Trump’s reliability and steadfastness to take on China for India’s sake is so unqualified that it is frightening. The growing dependence on American arms for this flawed enterprise is as perilous.

The real strengths of countries cannot be hidden for long. Also, it is wise to be modest and indeed to downplay one’s achievements. The Indian economy, even in its better days, could not compare to the size, depth, diversity and employment generating potential of the Chinese economy, but there were officials endlessly bragging about the rivalrous nature of the two economies. With the Indian economy in a “tailspin”, braggadocio has temporarily gone out of fashion. Or take Doklam. It is neither victory nor defeat for India because China chose that outcome in view of the bigger crisis on another front represented by North Korea’s nuclear adventurism. But India, ever more lacking in care and caution under Narendra Modi, has declared victory in Doklam, and is surprised and hurt that China does not join in the fatuous celebration. When will we ever grow up as a country?

The ad hoc geopolitics of the Narendra Modi government will enmesh India deeper in crisis. The world is spinning away from its settled geopolitical orbit. The third nuclear age is upon us, with North Korea and Iran straining the system to almost breaking point to become atomic powers. If they succeed, it will constitute a blow to the United States’ stranglehold of geopolitics since the victory in the Cold War. The international order will never be the same, and power competition between middle and great states will reach an almost calamitous apogee before sanity and wisdom prevail and a new balance is gained. Powers which are absolutely convinced about their geopolitics and have planned and prepared for it will gain important and significant places in the new international balance. If India’s China policy is any measure of its geopolitics, it does not even know that it has a problem at hand.