New Delhi: Donald Trump’s shocking setback in the senate election in Alabama will raise fresh doubts about his presidency among Republicans and come as a shot in the arm for the Democratic Party. When US presidents run into trouble at home, they hope for easy conquests abroad and for the benefits to flow to domestic politics. It rarely does. Presidents like Richard Nixon were remarkably well-versed with foreign affairs but it failed to redeem their vexed presidencies. Besides, there was much to do in the world in those days. Cynically speaking the Cold War gave presidents from Harry Truman to George H. W. Bush plenty to do. With America in decline, all Donald Trump can do is arrest the slide, but he is precipitating the fall. Too old and crusty to change, the Alabama defeat to the Democrats will kill a large part of his fighting spirit. Since nothing fails like failure, the Republican Party would be less tolerant of him. With all his energies devoted to saving the presidency domestically, Donald Trump likely would have little time for the world. This is perhaps good news for China and Russia but less so for India since Narendra Modi so powerfully has identified and joined the country with the upstart and faltering US president.

A country’s geopolitics goes awry when it becomes confused and unsure about political objectives and desires quick and instant solutions to long-standing disputes against the flow of nature. Being self-obsessed, Modi sees India’s geopolitics as an extension of himself and is blind to the existence of equal and often more doughty foreign competitors. His ego adds to the ruinous consequences. Having staked everything on Nawaz Sharief, for example, he was unprepared to deal with the real power centre of Pakistan which is the army. The complexity of Pakistan escaped him and it does to this day. He has reduced Pakistan to one word: terrorism. Geopolitics does not condone a unidimensional approach. Pakistan is a key player in the realm of political Islam. It needs sophisticated extraction from it and benign containment and not the gauche approach of Modi. With Trump in political trouble, that is one distant and ineffective ally less for Modi ranged against Pakistan. The depth required of geopolitics seems beyond Narendra Modi’s capacity.

More than even Pakistan (though it does some taking), Modi’s superficial and combative geopolitics have worsened ties with China. Don’t be misled by the Chinese show of camaraderie during the recent Russia, India and China engagement. At the same time that its foreign minister was putting on his best face in New Delhi, the Chinese foreign ministry bluntly expressed its dissatisfaction about Doklam. This is choreography. Doklam is disputed between China and Bhutan. On what basis did Indian troops deploy there? Did Bhutan ask for help? Publicly not. If India’s assistance was privately sought, that is worse. It left the entire onus of stepping into foreign territory on India while Bhutan publicly preserved its posture of strained neutrality. It was not a win-win situation for either India or Bhutan while adding to China’s burgeoning resentment against India which this country can scarcely afford.

Rather than squarely tackle the future untenability of India’s recent action in Doklam, it is being given a nationalistic twist by Modi’s image builders. It is portrayed as India’s cold dish of revenge for the 1962 debacle. Nonsense. On territories directly disputed with China, India has every cause and justice to take defensive action but not on foreign land. Doklam is foreign territory. That a Chinese forward presence in Doklam threatens the Chicken’s Neck is undisputed. There are only two solutions for this. The first is to militarily overrun the threatening territory. It will invite war. The second is to firewall Chicken’s Neck with theatre nuclear weapons and contract lasting confidence-building measures with China. It is difficult but not impossible and the only reasonable recourse. Bhutan cannot forever screen China for India. It is a tiny state surviving by a slender thread.

Rather than address the China issue on a broad diplomatic front, the Modi government, typical of its jingoistic ways, tried to make common cause with Trump’s America against China. Trump is fickle and untrustworthy with no knowledge or understanding of geopolitics over and above the fact that the United States is a transactional Great Power. During the Cold War, there was no end to the problems faced by India from the United States. If Non-Alignment largely saved the day for India through the darkest era of the Cold War, it should automatically have been embraced by Modi. But loathing for Jawaharlal Nehru runs deep in the ruling party and has considerably distorted Modi’s approach to geopolitics. Since the fashion of the day was to insert into the South China Sea dispute, the Modi government eagerly jumped into the fray, and all that Trump’s United States had to do to encourage Modi’s blunder was to employ the meaningless term called “Indo-Pacific”. How is rapprochement with China and a border settlement to be achieved by intervening as a third party (and an uninvited one) in a dispute in its backyard? China is a 24-carat Great Power. It will not come under pressure from India’s “Indo-Pacific” gambit. Indeed, it will ruin the scope for settlement. Rather than understand and resolve the underlying causes for the dispute with China, the Modi government is exacerbating it.

Recent studies have directly implicated the 1959 asylum to the Dalai Lama for the 1962 war with Mao Tse Tung’s political insecurities adding to the fire. This was suggested by this writer and this magazine long ago. To this have now been added Doklam and the needless provocation of the Indo-Pacific project. Not one of the states of East Asia or Australia will come to India’s aid in the event of hostilities with China. Their geopolitics is not served to be on India’s side. Unless India gets realistic about China and the nature of the disputes with it, the country cannot get out of the geopolitical cul-de-sac that the Modi government has led it to. Russia has plainly said it is on China’s side in the South China Sea dispute and will have no truck with India against China. It has indeed canvassed for OBOR to India’s undisguised irritation.

Unless you are blind, the writing on the wall cannot be missed. India has to settle disputes bilaterally with China. The Dalai Lama and the Doklam questions have to be fully and finally addressed. The United States cannot bail out India. It is racing to the bottom and Donald Trump is fuelling the ride. India is on its own for better or for worse.