Is India trying to build an alliance with western bloc?
Dr. Yubaraj Sangroula
The recent military incidents between India and China at Galwan Valley and Pangong Lake in Aksai suggest some important trends in Asian international affairs. Regionally, the incidents suggest that ‘India is keen to strengthen its control over areas of disputed borders with Nepal, Pakistan and China, especially after its successful assertive move to repeal the Constitution’s Article 370 giving special status to Kashmir.’ India recently declared a road opened from Lipulekh, a stripe of Nepal’s land lying north-western border of Nepal, to China border, a way connecting Mansarovar Lake in Western Tibet. This road is constructed within certain part of Nepal’s territory, encroaching approximately 450 square miles inside Nepal. Nepal has had persistently urged India to give up occupation and immediately pull out its military force out of the territory. The people of Nepal have protested against the unbecoming activity of India for long time. In stark contrary to several efforts from the Government and people of Nepal vacate the Indian occupation of the territory, the Indian kept constructing the road towards Indo-Chinese border and recently, to a great surprise, the Indian Defense Minister declared the road opened. Immediately, the Commander-In-Chief of India, according to a tradition between two countries who is also an honorary General of Nepal, made very provocative remarks on Nepal’s urge to vacate the occupied land.
The north-western boundary of Nepal with India is historically laid down by over two hundred years’ older treaties between Nepal and British colonial ruler of India. India’s position is, however, quite odd in this regard. On the one hand, it has persistently been claiming that the McMahon line should be followed as a ‘border between India and China,’ but, with Nepal, it has emphatically been denying the same theory—it has denied to recognize the legitimacy of border line fixed by the treaties between Nepal and colonial British rule. India has seemingly practiced a paradoxical attitude with regards to borders with neighboring countries. Nepal’s border with India in the North-West Nepal is fixed explicitly and expressly by the Sugauli Treaty of 1916, signed by the governments of two countries in the aftermath of two years long devastating wars between Nepal and East India Company—a commercial entity plundering resources of Indian people. The border between Nepal and India at this point of time was specifically placed, first by Malaun Treaty of May 1815 and subsequently by Sugauli Treaty of 1816, at the Kali River that originates and flows from Limpiadhura, the place bordering Tibet. India has now advertently intruded inside the Kali River and occupied Nepal’s territory of Lipulekh and Kalapani forcefully. Very surprisingly, it has stationed its border security forces in this Nepal’s territory and now has constructed the road to connect China’s border leading to Kailash Mountain and Mansarovhar Lake. These actions of India violate UN Charter and international laws against aggression and peace.
There are plenty of documents and survey maps establishing an evidentiary fact that ‘the Kali River originating at Limpiadhura’ is the Western-Northern border of Nepal with India. India has not been able to dispel the evidentiary truth of these documents and survey maps. A letter of a British Official, namely Lord Moria, addressed to the J. Adam, dated June 1815, very clearly states the Kali River as the border between Nepal and India. This letter was corroborated by several correspondences between different officials of the British colonial government, including the one letter written by the Secret Committee at London. These entire evidence exhibit a very rude and hegemonic attitude on the part of the Government of India, and this reflects an attitude of ‘big-power’s arrogance.’
Amidst the uproars in Nepal against India’s acts of encroaching its territory and formally opening the road, in a time when both Nepal and India are fighting against global Covid-19 pandemic, the Galan Valley and Pangong Lake witness a military standoff and series of scuffles between China and India due to violation of the Line of Actual Control (the non-demarcated border) between China and India, as claimed by the Chinese authority at Beijing. Even though the two militaries held talks in early June seeking to defuse the tension, the deadly fight between Chinese and Indian soldiers occurred on June 15, 2020. This is definitely not something good for peace in the entire region. This unwanted clash occurred breaking more than four decades of tranquility along the Line of Actual Control. This incident of clash, as the China Daily writes on 19 May 2020, “once again after the Doklam face-off in 2017, reflects a steady erosion of the consensus that Beijing and New Delhi reached in the early 1990s－not allowing the border dispute to be the flashpoint of their ties and observing the LAC until a settlement is reached.” Prof. Han Hua, engaged in International Affairs Studies at Peking University, observes, “In the last decade, particularly after Narendra Modi became prime minister, India has made a series of moves to strengthen its position along the disputed borders with its neighbors－Pakistan, Nepal and China.”
This incident requires a brief flashback of many unfolding affairs in Pacific region in general and East Asia in particular. Some issues are unusually raising head forcing us to ask some questions. Is India now moving to the direction of the Indo-Pacific Strategy and going to join the proposal of Quadrilateral Alliance? This particular question arises in the very context of frequency of LAC scuffles in time when the World is facing a serious humanitarian problem. This question also raises a suspicion that the Western Power bloc, the US in particular, may be intending to proceed towards breaking the ‘existing power of balance,’ globally. If so is true, the Galan standoff or scuffle may be taken as an indication of India tilting to the Western Alliance with a purpose of aggressively containing or disturbing the peaceful rise of China. If this true, the strategy may bring an unimaginable disaster to the peace and tranquility of Asia. If India has chosen to rise as a power in Asia with the military back-up of the Western powers, a fresh cold war in the world will certainly prevail in full form and will badly affect the surrounding smaller nations from ensued implications. At least, the aggressive narratives of Indian jingoist media in favor of the Western strategy, such as Indo-pacific strategy against China, suggest that India is going through a kind of labor pain of transition in a way to drift towards the ‘Western hegemonic strategy, from which India had suffered 200 years long colonial plunder against its as well as entire Asian prosperity.’
The historical memories tell us that the division within the India power elites is a serious problem the Indian State system is facing since 1947. The India foreign policy and security strategy is grappling through a unique oddity since 1947, and still it has not been able to come out of the state of stark ambivalence or uncertainty. It has followed three different threads in outlook of its foreign policy and national security. As a matter of fact, the India’s foreign policy is bound to center mainly on its unending ambivalence of socio-economic and political orientation since its independence. This ambivalence causes serious fault lines in India’s relations with China and other neighboring countries. As we are aware, India is ceaselessly struggling with its indecisiveness to fix a precise and explicit destination or orientation in its foreign policy and strategy of security. W encounter basically three well-marked threads that are responsible creating oddity in ‘thinking and approach to international affairs, cooperation and participation among Indian think-tanks and political decision makers, which is a major source of hindrances for catching up the course of momentum and dynamism in its outlooks to the relations with neighbors.
The elite segment of Indian intellects takes China as threat to the Indian security system. This misperception of the Indian elitism is responsible for rapidly pushing India towards the US alliance.
(1) India is undecided yet on its foreign policy outlook as to whether it should grow as a prosperous country with its Asian identity or not. If the direction is towards “yes”, its orientation to this direction will definitely help it building better civilizational and cultural ties with Asian nations. If so, it will definitely bale to come out of traumas of two hundred years’ long plunder of colonialism and its sabotage of the socio-economic structure of its society. However, a formidable problem is seen in this regard. A significant size of the Indian power elites, which is able to maintain control over the State’s affairs and institutions since the time of colonial era, is benefiting from its widely open access to the advantages provide by the Western countries. Their wealth is stored in the Western countries; their children are able to get best education from prestigious universities in the US and other Western countries; and they have their intellect built in the Western thinking pattern itself. These elites are always active and committed to pull India towards the ‘Westernization and to the bonds of their Western peers.’ Against this power perspective of the elites, an orientation of India moving towards Asian cultural and civilizational connectivity seems not only difficult but also unlikely. As we have seen over a decade, Modi’s ‘Nationalism and Indianization’ drives have encountered strong defiance from Indian Diaspora, which has succeeded to maintain immense control over military, civil bureaucracy, political leadership. The Marxist and socialist political streams in India have suffered a hard blow, thus leaving the masses of poor people in added marginalization and unrepresented. It is disheartening to note that a negligible proportion of the population, 1 percent in total, wields 75 percent of the national wealth. The inequality gape is thus disastrously bigger. This elite section of the Indian populace considers India as closer and comfortable with the Western system of political liberalism, knowledge and interactions. Being influenced largely by the Western ‘binary opposition’ theory, the elite segment of Indian intellects takes China as threat to the Indian security system. This misperception of the Indian elitism is responsible for rapidly pushing India towards the US alliance. The Indian engagement in possibility of forming the “quadrilateral alliance” is a glaring example. And, this is a major factor behind incessant suspicion and lack of trust towards dependable cooperation between India and China. This segment of India power elitism is advertently is looking for chances to trigger a situation leading to ‘irreparable cracks’ in gradually improving relations between China and India. If this ‘thread of outlook in foreign policy and security’ succeeds then India will have detached itself from Asian fraternity. Definitely, this has been a stumbling block in fostering workable and dependable relation between China and India. The Galan Valley incident cannot be separated from this outlook.
(2) The second thread relates to another question: Should India chose to be aligned with the Western bloc for its economic prosperity and security? Is America is less threatening to Indian security than China? The possibility of India becoming an ally of the Western bloc or a member of the proposed Quad is unlikely, if looked from the factual and cultural premises. India’s ambivalence in this regard looks painfully paradoxical. During the Cold War era, India ventured to portray its identity as a ‘non-aligned’ country, Sunil Khilnani and others of the Centre for Policy Research have noted. However, as the world is fully aware, the non-aligned movement had faced serious challenges from the Western power bloc, the US in particular. Washington, in the wake of its deeply coveted imperial ambition for domination of the world, treated non-alignment doctrine extremely coolly, if not abhorrently. Most of the non-aligned movement leaders, such as Nasser and Sukarno, were deposed from power by the CIA. Nehru too was not liked by the US political elites. The non-alignment movement’s theory of right to self-determination was viewed by the Western capitalist countries as a formidable obstacle to their ambition of controlling the world resources and markets. American Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was vocally critical of the usefulness of the non-alignment as a doctrine in international affairs. Hence, he openly reproached India’s policy in 1955 saying that the non-aligned movement was, an “obsolete conception.”He said, “The non-aligned movement was a concept of neutrality and it was, except under very exceptional circumstances, an immoral and short-sighted conception,” John Lewis Gaddis has explained.
During 1950s, as noted by Harsh V. Panta and Julie M. Super, India was still not counted as a profound nation by the United States. Yet, America subsequently considered that India’s liberal democracy would be helpful in containing Chinese communism and assuaging western concerns in Asia. Albeit, the Western liking of India was not inspired by its profundity as a nation and long-lasting civilization—India was no more than an instrument of materializing the Western concerns about Asia. Unfortunately, India could not be sensitive to this Western design—it never attempted to understand that China’s communist system was not a ‘threat to its security.’ It could try to understand that China never intended to export its political ideology and system in India. In this Western politics of employing Indian against ‘Chinese communism and civilization’ does in fact flow the undercurrent wave of the ‘problem in relations between China and India.’ It has been one of the key fault lines in Indian foreign policy to deal with China as well as other small neighbors like Nepal. The Indian pro-west intellects, who dominate the think-tanks in India, and political leaders, who take politics a game of power-mongering, have always tended to see that the “north is violently Red;” they don’t see there is a kind of socialist system that has been able to lift millions of poor from poverty in very shorter period of time and is preaching for a doctrine of peaceful neighborly relations. They tend to look at Nepal exactly with same perception; they love to fancy that Nepal is ‘dancing at the hands of Red China.’ This illusion and fallacy is deeply rooted in the minds of pro-Western Indian intellects, leaders and media. The border dispute between Nepal and India is an outcome of the pervasive and ‘unending psyche of domination’ inherited by political elites of India as a legacy of British colonialism.
Discernibly, the Indo-Western relationship or so-called intellectual proximity is not firmly based on reciprocal importance of each other. While India perceives that the West is politically and intellectually closer to it than China, the necessity of India for the West, the US in particular, is not prompted by anything other than having an ally for containing Communist China. Intrusions in Nepal’s internal affairs from both the West and India are induced by this illusionary outlook. Understandably, India has been badly used by the West as a means to deter China not for the benefits of Indian people but for the domination of Asia by help of Indian support. It is obvious from this that India has persistently failed to evolve its systemic foreign policy and security strategy to strengthen its role as a prominent nation in Asian and global affairs in collaboration with China and other Asian nations. Rather, it has been invoking its domination over smaller nations like Nepal. It is explicable that Indo-Nepal relation is definitely impacted by the asymmetry of Indian foreign policy direction.
The diminished posture of India in internal affairs was humiliating and downplayed.
Once the British left, India was supposed to emerge a new nation with new policies and magnanimity towards its neighbors. I.K. Gujral, one of the PMs of India, tried to develop something pragmatic policies to this direction. But it was quickly scrubbed and removed out by his successors, thus clearing a way for additionally dominating attitude and policies against neighbors. As facts show, India’s independence in 1947 had to face a unique period of time marked by the onset of the Cold War. The identity of India being an important nation was ruined by two hundred years’ long colonial subjugation and, hence, India had very little international posture during that time—its role in international affairs was fully overshadowed by the Colonial regime. As a matter of fact, neither the Soviet Union nor the United States gave attention or interests to India during its independence. The United States paid a scant attention to the independence of India, write Sujeet Ganguly and Manjeet Pardasi. In that time, India, as a nation, had nothing but a history of colonial subjugation. Rajen Harshe writes, “The United States was virtually ignorant about India and had only few cultural, strategic or economic links with the nascent nation.” As a matter of fact, India was hardly in picture as a nation for the benefit of the US international affairs. The situation was no difference with the Soviet Union. The diminished posture of India in internal affairs was humiliating and downplayed. The nationalist China, on the other hand, occupied significant attention of the United States as well as the Soviet Union, thus opening a gate for the seat at the Security Council of the United Nation. Some Academics have argued that the sad state of affairs on India’s part, causing its extremely low profile in recognition of role in international affairs, had placed India globally and regionally at a disadvantage. This low-profile national psyche induced India to dominate its powerless neighbors, which continues even today.
The pro-Western attitude places Indian thinking at oddity with China, either. The Indian Westernized think tanks and political leadership, who are in absolute control of the State machinery and politics, are psychologically controlled by the Western power bloc and, therefore, they made to perceive that “The other major regional state—the People’s Republic of China (PRC)—poses a significant security threat to India. This perception is built first time by the colonial power after 1914, when the representatives of the Nationalist Government of China had boycotted the Simala Agreement. Later, this psychology was calibrated and strengthened by American strategy of anti-socialist politics. As Britain was unhappy to quit India, so was the US to lose its control in China. Anyway, the Western powers want strategic control in Asia and fear rise of Asia as an economic hub of the future. Conflict between China and India is, therefore, a desire of the US and its allies in order to destabilize Asia. Pulling India to this Western strategy through forming an alliance is a choice and desire of the Western power; so that it would be possible to defuse the prospect of Asian goal of economic prosperity. The present standoff in Galan Valley is a success of Western supporters in the India State system against ‘nationalist’ stand of PM Modi and his colleagues, though he is ruling amidst a great paradox. The incident underscores the strategy of ‘endorsing the doctrine of McMohan line.’
Behind all these problems and fallouts of the past is Nehru doctrine, who is known to have been the real architect of the post-independence foreign policy of India. With no doubt, he was an ardent believer on Western liberal values in politics. However, he was deeply skeptical of the United States, writes Sumit Ganguly, an Indian-American academic. He notes, “His skepticism was the consequence of his highly Anglicized personal and professional background.” His views toward the Soviet Union were more ambivalent, either. In conclusion, he inherited partly the British colonial legacy and partly the post-colonial nationalist sentiment. Consequently, the foreign policy of India plummeted into a quagmire of ambivalence. He neither could develop dependable relations with China—he was adamant in MaMohan line principle of border settlement—nor was he able to establish an independent influence in international affairs.
Acceptance of Dalai Lama with rights to launch as the Exile Government was irritable and back-stabbing action, with no doubt.
At this very point starts the ‘third thread of ambivalence.’ India was firmly involved as a dominating power in the subcontinent. It tried to prove its significance in international affairs through adopting anti-Panchasheel theory against powerless smaller neighbors, whereas he seemed, in international forum of the non-aligned movement, a champion of the doctrine of Panchaseel. Consequently, Nehru forced Bhutan to enter into a treaty, thereby placing the India control over foreign affairs of Bhutan. It secretly entered into a Peace and Friendship Treaty with Nepal in 1950—with the oligarchic Rana regime—and made it sure that it could have imminent influence over Nepal’s domestic affairs. Moreover, India accepted refuge for Dalai Lama and allowed to run an exile government from India, which during 1960s launched, in support of America, a rebellion of exiled Tibetans against China using Nepal’s territory. India forcefully annexed Kashmir but refused to recognize Tibet as a part of China before Tang dynasty. Acceptance of Dalai Lama with rights to launch as the Exile Government was irritable and back-stabbing action, with no doubt. For China it was a betrayal to the ‘trust—Hindichini bhaibhai—built between two countries, both of whom had terribly suffered from Western Colonial powers and Japanese imperialism.’ Against its preaching of the right to self-determination, the Indian political elites made all efforts to let ‘India rise as a dominating power’ in the sub-continent. However, it could choose, in other way round, a ‘thread of taking all neighbors,’ with full confidence and support, and adherence to the principle of sovereign equality. It could play key role in building an ambience for Peace in the region. This would have definitely given a bright posture to Indian identity as a post-colonial leader for right to self-determination of the third world countries. In contrary, the post Nehru era saw the massive modernization of military with expansionist ambition. In 1965, Sikkim was annexed to India, thus posing a serious threat to Bhutan and Nepal. As R.K. Yadav has written in his controversial book ‘R.A&W Mission, the Indian intelligence, in 1970s, began developing “a plan to annex Nepal”—at least its southern plain. Hence, South Asian nations were forced to gradually gaining closer ties with China as a strategy for survival.
In the light of this wider background, it is conceivable that a section of people involved in the Indian State machinery seems trying to ‘untie the thread of probability of India’s Asian integration’ in terms of civilization and economic cooperation. The Galan episode may be indicative of ‘India’s departure from BRICS to Indo-pacific strategy’—a disastrous move for India’s security and Asian identity. It will invite a cold war between West and East-minus India. Russia might be forced to rethink its relations with India—the likelihood of Russia going with India in favor of Indo-Pacific is unlikely. The flare-up of crisis against China will have an impact on India’s relation with Iran too. Hence, the episode should not only be viewed as an accidental happening at un-demarcated border; it may be a signal of India to untie the thread of its integration with Asian for a shared future. If so, it would be unfortunate for the entire continent.
A few discernible symptoms suggest that India is strengthening its position in borders with neighbors. It aggressive actions, along with remarks of Defense Minister and Commander-in-Chief, denialism for negotiation and Indian media’s aggressive jingoist yellow journalism are these few symptoms against Nepal. On the other hand, India has enlarged the size of armed forces and upgraded military equipment. It would be good for India to resolve all border disputes with neighbors as China did, except with Bhutan and India. No one at this juncture can believe that China is choosing war with any nation. It is also a discernible fact that China is overtly facing media attacks from the Western bloc—its rise is severely criticized and contested, and its political system is vilified, though the capitalism has doomed to combat the pandemic. It is necessary for Indian politicians to realize that both countries are progressive economies and are able to evolve their rising stake in the international affairs. As a matter of fact, any obliteration of the relation between them by such border clashes will certainly derail the performance of their economies. To recall, the two countries before colonial and imperialistic plunder had been the largest economies of the world. They represent the oldest civilizations of the globe. Their cooperation in economic development is thus indispensable to realize the dream of the era of Asian prosperity. The Indian masses must understand this history—they should not be victims of historical amnesia.
Any attempt on the part of India to ‘build a military alliance with the US’ would not only pose threats to the security of China, but also to the entire Asian tranquility and peace.
Any attempt on the part of India to ‘build a military alliance with the US’ would not only pose threats to the security of China, but also to the entire Asian tranquility and peace. The 21st century should be an era of the ‘East to flourish peace and humanity’ in order to wipe out the inhuman consequence of the 19th and 20th century Western colonialism and imperialism.’ As the largest nation in South Asia in economy, population and territory as well as military strength, India must evolve as a responsible nation by giving up any arrogant or colonial legacy-based attitude to the neighbors. India must promptly withdraw from Nepal’s North-Western occupied territory. India must behave in accordance with international law principle of sovereign equality. It is firmly desirable that Beijing and New Delhi initiate a process to establish a crisis management mechanism, so that such disputes would be addressed without inhuman conflicts. Both of them must follow the spirit demonstrated by the two informal meetings between President Xi Jinping and Modi in 2018 and 2019. These meeting offer strategic guidelines for the two countries, Prof. Han Hua rightly suggests. India should also be prepared to establish similar High Level mechanism to resolve the border disputes between Nepal and India. India should review its past and be prepared not to behave with neighbors with colonial-era domination. Nepal has certain prime responsibility to its citizens. The Nepalese leaders must stop visiting Delhi to form their political lucks. Nepal must cease the practice of allowing its citizens getting conscripted in the Indian Military and other security forces. Those who are in regular service should be called back and merged into Nepalese army. The borders of Nepal now must be regulated. The People’s Republic of China also has to make reform in its policy to Nepal. The implicit practice of China to urge Nepal seeking approval of India for establishing Himalayan BRI corridor should be discontinued. Nepal is an independent nation and as such it is competent to develop an independent relation with China. The misperception of some Chinese intellectuals taking ‘India as South Asia’ should also come to an end. They must deepen their study of South Asia and understand that ‘civilizations of Nepal and Bhutan’ are not offshoots of the greater Indian civilization. South Asia and China must not suffer from distrust and misconceptions.
The writer is a professor of International Law at Kathmandu School of Law.
Published on 23 June 2020