Had Nehru waded into Doklam

Updated September 05, 2017


Suppose Nehru was around today and he, instead of Modi, had gone into Doklam to challenge China — after his handpicked army chief boasted of winning on two and a half fronts, simultaneously. Suppose Nehru had then withdrawn without offering an explanation for either move. He would be thrown to the wolves, as indeed had happened when he slipped up in 1962.

The Doklam issue, Dong Lang for the Chinese, has been explained at the highest levels by the Chinese. The Indian side has been celebrating an apparent victory, claiming that the military challenge had successfully stalled Chinese plans to build a road on the territory claimed by Bhutan. Why does China speak through the foreign minister and India through ubiquitous unnamed sources? The prime minister would have much to gain, if he were to confirm the reasons for India’s celebration.

On June 18, according to the Chinese spokesperson: “The Indian border troops illegally crossed the well-delimited China-India border in the Sikkim Sector into China’s Dong Lang area. China has lodged representations with the Indian side many times through diplomatic channels, made the facts and truth of this situation known to the international community, clarified China’s solemn position and explicit demands, and urged India to immediately pull back its border troops to India’s side. In the meantime, the Chinese military has taken effective countermeasures to ensure the territorial sovereignty and legitimate rights and interests of the state. At about 2:30 pm of 28 August, the Indian side withdrew all its border personnel and equipment that were illegally on the Chinese territory to the Indian side. The Chinese personnel onsite have verified this situation. China will continue fulfilling its sovereign rights to safeguard territorial sovereignty in compliance with the stipulations of the border-related historical treaty.”

There was the kind of democracy in India whereby the prime minister could be put to public scrutiny by all and sundry, with or without a valid cause.

Why has no one from India’s celebrated allies in the West spoken out in Delhi’s defence while the Chinese say they have explained their version to the international community? The Chinese foreign minister tells India to learn its lessons from the stand-off, but there is no response from any named official in Delhi. Where is the Indian version of the events?

Delhi was the first to announce the withdrawal, when the foreign ministry briefly said: “In recent weeks, India and China have maintained diplomatic communication in respect of the incident at Doklam. During these communications, we were able to express our views and convey our concerns and interests. On this basis, expeditious disengagement of border personnel at the face-off site at Doklam has been agreed to and is ongoing.” How would Nehru be treated for allowing such a statement?

Think about Nehru if he had demonetised big currency notes, taking out 86 per cent of cash from the economy at a three-hour notice. The move inevitably boomeranged, taking a huge toll on the economy. Nehru’s government would struggle to survive the disaster. That’s the least it would do.

Suppose the entire amount save 1pc came back to the bank? Trillions in 100- and 500-rupee denomination were demonetised over claims it would disrupt terrorism, cripple the black economy, make India a cashless society. Now 99pc of the demonetised money is with the central bank. It would ordinarily indicate that either much of the black money had been laundered, or there was no black money at all. Nehru wouldn’t be allowed to sleep in peace for this capital crime. People died, lost their jobs, could not buy or sell anything, or pay salaries or receive their wages. The list of horrors is endless.

Suppose scores of children were to die, a cluster this week and another lot the next, because there was no oxygen supply in the hospitals. Nehru’s son-in-law would be the first to slam the government. And suppose Nehru’s party ruled the erring state and came up with cock-and-bull explanations, or no explanations at all? Modi’s party, if it could, would make mincemeat of the first prime minister. It is another matter that they could not take on his daughter who ran rings round them and mocked their lack of spunk.

One train accident and Nehru’s railway minister quit. There have been so many tragedies with trains recently. Modi’s railway minister offered to quit, which was rare, but it was seen as infra dig for his macho and invincible government to admit responsibility. So the minister stays. He would perhaps be readjusted in a cabinet reshuffle being suggested, to dodge the subject of the mounting failures.

There are important facts to glean here. There was the kind of democracy in India whereby the prime minister could be put to public scrutiny by all and sundry, with or without a valid cause.

Compare this with the luck of those who dare to differ with Narendra Modi’s self-regarding views about himself. The few vocal critics that remain are condemned as anti-India, anti-Hindu, pro-Pakistan and so forth. Ergo: abusing the Nehru-Gandhi family is pro-Hindu, pro-India, anti-Pakistan. Criticism of Modi is just the opposite. They say his charisma is hypnotic. Nehru too had charisma, but he wrote good books that adorn libraries of international universities. They say Modi is deliberately anti-intellectual and they want it to be seen as a compliment. The “Hard work, not Harvard” jibe at Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen is famous and notorious, depending on one’s loyalties. In our era of faltering god men, it is difficult to see how mesmeric charisma and oratorical skills on their own constitute a compliment.

The score is well known. Narendra Modi’s first innings has been a failure. Yet the Congress and the left have asked him to apologise for the demonetisation disaster. Elsewhere, the prime minister would be asked to go. Does the opposition not want the government to fall? Is it scared of elections? Nehru wasn’t.

The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.

Published in Dawn, September 5th, 2017