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Last Updated Tuesday October 22 2019 03:41 PM IST

In Lutyens' Delhi elite, a geopolitical lesson for Modi

S Unnikrishnan
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Barack Obama

A nameless Chinese official shouting at the powerful US national security adviser, the Philippines president calling Barack Obama a "son of a bitch." Interesting read but more importantly, interesting pointers to where the world is heading.

Also read: Philippines prez calls Obama 'SoB', US cancels meeting

These are not isolated, spur-of-the-moment occurrences. Rather a reflection of the ground truth that China is ascending and US power is on its downward arc.

Also read: Angry Chinese official blasts Obama adviser, aide at airport

These were not the first such instances and won't be the last. We will see more of these as a proud China asserts itself, and a world long under the shadow of a western military umbrella gets emboldened to assert itself.

Also check: Chanakya's script, not Nehru's blunders, should guide Modi-US tango

Russia, long written off, has played spoilsport with the US/western policy in the Mideast -- to the point, despite their military power, the US and its allies find their feet fettered in promoting the causes of their allies in Syria and Iraq.

The much-acclaimed Euromaidan pro-democracy movement in Ukraine, criticized at least by some as the west's ways to create footprints in Russia's backyard, is almost dead. And it is only a matter of time before Russia secures its security objectives there.

America may still boast of several naval fleets that can intervene anywhere in the world. But the fact is the US military is already overstretched and will find it difficult to respond to multiple simultaneous threats.

The Chinese have developed carrier-killer guided missiles that can severely limit the operational range of the US carrier-led fleets. The Russians have showcased what their military is capable of in Syria, surprising the west with their sophisticated weaponry and operational doctrines.

The United States and the west have allowed their capitalist economic systems to run riot and weaken their own economies. And their promotion of regimes that helped terror, and the later no-holds-barred military interventions in the Mideast have now stretched their militaries.

The US and the west are now falling back to building a network of loyal states to combat these threats – sort of eastern agents who will work against eastern superpowers. So they want to co-opt Vietnam and India into a security alliance against China.

This is more dangerous than what it sounds. Such an alliance can provoke China and help move the Russians -- India's traditional friends -- away from us. And in a real crisis, the US will find it hard-pressed to come to India's help (If history is any indication, the US will never support India. Worse, the US can align with our enemy in times of war, as it did with Pakistan several times; or send its military assets against India, as it did during the Bangladesh war.). China can lock down US military assets across the world by heightening tension at various hot spots. And India will be left to deal with the threat on its own.

And if Donald Trump wins the US presidential election, expect the US to disengage and retreat into glorious isolation. That would expose all eastern states aligned with the US to Chinese wrath faster than expected.

Interestingly, this situation is not much different from what is happening in Delhi. Prime minister Modi recently talked about the Lutyens' elite in a television interview and how they have disparaged non-Congress Indian leaders. These elites had created rarefied cliques that separated them from the Indians who don't know or follow western customs and mannerisms. And through their anglophile friends in the media, they have ridiculed and taunted popular leaders who did not follow a western lifestyle or mores.

The current global geo-political situation is much the same. The once-powerful elite are finding the ground slipping under their feet, and people are being bold enough to call a spade a spade. Remember, no one ever tried to defend Deve Gowda or Morarji Desai before Modi did, although the contempt of the anglophile Lutyens' elite to these leaders was very evident. Modi is not the first non-Congress prime minister in Delhi but he is different in that he is proud of his humble beginning. And he is aware of his power, much like China is asserting itself now. And he dared defend Desai and Gowda against these powerful elites.

By the way, it is said the root cause of the animosity between China and India can be traced to an event when India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, an anglophile himself, condescendingly introduced Chiang Kai-shek to a gathering of world leaders. The Chinese leader, proud of China's overthrow of colonial powers that had grabbed its land, was nowhere amused. The bilateral relations took a downhill ride from then on.

But successive Congress governments at the center have always looked to the west, ignoring the geopolitical and cultural realities of India. Until Jaswant Singh, the foreign minister in the Vajpayee government, introduced the Look-East policy. It was a great corrective step. But short-lived. Because the Manmohan Singh government that succeeded Vajpayee promptly put the policy in cold storage and went back to the Congress' traditional pro-west policy.

Modi knows the dangers of playing into the west's hands. He also has the difficult task of building up India's military assets, long-neglected, to deter an assertive China.

He has signed a military logistics pact with the United States, but he is also deepening ties with Japan and Vietnam, things that should have been done 50 years back. It is these ties that will come of use when it comes to taming the dragon. Sources say, the India-Russia relationship is also being nursed back to health after the UPA governments' destructive approach.

Change is the only permanent thing in this universe. And change is now sweeping the world, in ways several recent generations of humans aren't accustomed to. Power never stays with one country, or one civilization. The US is slowly yielding ground to China, the west to the east.

The rising powers in the east will kick around many more US presidents, as some later Mughal emperors were kicked around by the Marathas and the English.

And as the east gains power, India needs to ensure its interests are protected. Modi should view the United States and the west as he views the Lutyens' Delhi elite.
 

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