Although Bharatiyata! Is mostly concerned with India, it is important to compare it with neighbours and competitors. To this end, examining India and China together is interesting, especially because their journeys into the future will run so much more closely together in the political, economic and military fields from now on.
One particular way in which the two countries can be held up to the light, as it were, to see how they differ, is in their weaknesses. What are their Achilles’ heels, psychologically speaking, and how might these affect them in macro terms?
Every country has its own unique weakness, almost as each person has a neurosis that cannot be cured. It will determine how a country behaves and the path it takes. China’s weakness, or anxiety, is quite widely accepted as coming from its troubled history, one of conflict and bloodshed between dozens of different ethnic groups and interlopers over thousands of years. There was the violent rise and bloody fall of dynasty after dynasty in a ceaseless tide of struggle and mayhem during which, nevertheless, a great civilisation managed to survive and grow.
It could be argued all countries that forged themselves into nations look back on such a past, yet China’s vast contested territory exposes it mentally to the test of holding the nation together. Its unique historical circumstances likewise mean the challenge and strain is particularly demanding on the Chinese governmental psyche.
Out of China’s eternal weakness – its internal fragility – has arisen the stern and autocratic centralisation and unquestionable power of the Communist Party, a civic cult that ruthlessly punishes and casts out heretics on behalf of the faithful.
The government of China might liberalise markets and allow its people to prosper, but the true freedoms of expression and action found in a democracy will never be permitted because they are anathema to China itself; are in fact anti-Chinese. They promise misrule.
In March 2014 senior PLA strategist Major-General Qiao Liang gave an astonishingly frank interview in which he baldly stated the official view of China’s future:
Ultimately China has two core interests. First, the ruling status of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cannot be rivaled. Second, the revival of China cannot be interrupted. Only these two are core interests; anything else is not.
China’s fear is of chaos and social disintegration.
The response to this fear – centralised power and rigid orthodoxy – has at last made China prosperous and increasingly powerful; but just like a neurosis, it is always capable of causing a breakdown when the pressure on the system becomes too great, and the brittleness and latent brutality break through.
For these reasons watching what is happening in China at the moment is the most fascinating show on earth.
What about India? What is India’s defining weakness and therefore the most powerful element in its exciting new destiny?
To begin with, India’s weakness is far more a mystery than China’s because it is not related to a history of bloody internal conflict and power-seeking but instead to elusive mysticism and impacted spirituality in the context of repeated invasions and occupations. India is a much less war-like nation than China (for which it has suffered almost endlessly over the past millennium), and yet like China its weakness has also brought forth strength – but a strength that remains a danger to itself.
The form of strength that India possesses is resilience. Where China is expert at the ruthless exercise of power, India is expert at bearing and surviving the exercise of power by others. Surviving, perhaps, but by no means prospering.
India’s fear is that change will destroy its ability to suffer and survive; therefore India fears change.
The fact that in India change is so widely seen as a threat explains the legacy Gandhi bestowed – of simplicity, humbleness and destitution for millions – and the multi-decade tenure at the helm of government by the Congress Party, which always strove to ensure that development in India was kept to an absolute minimum; and that if it ever escaped their control, those in charge would soon bring the economy to a halt again.
To understand this is to begin to fathom the paradox in India of the Pakistan-worshipping secular politician and the India-hating Hindu student, of which more in a later post.
To conceive that the essence of being a good Hindu is, for some (especially those who regard themselves as modern, liberal and ‘above’ religion), to oppose progress that threatens the way things are, is to begin to understand a phenomenon whereby denouncing national self-interest is felt as a special sort of piety. Fake, narcissistic, self-serving piety, perhaps, but dangerous to India all the same.
Bearing this in mind it is no surprise that Modi’s government, in pressing forward with a programme of development – development which always disproportionately benefits the poor – faces concentrated headwinds generated by the vested interests of the status quo, with the accusation that Modi is destroying ‘their’ India.