George Fernandes with Arun Nehru (C)
George Fernandes with Arun Nehru (C) | Praveen Jain/ThePrint
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India’s foreign and strategic policy is obsessively focused on Pakistan. But the latest incident along the Line of Actual Control is just one more proof why our focus should have always been on China first — our primary competitor and adversary. Successive governments, whether led by the Congress or the BJP, kept the Pakistan bogey at the centre of their South Asian policymaking, ignoring consistent reminders from India’s Socialist leaders to shift the attention towards the bigger threat, China.

None were taken seriously. And now we have a nuclear power in our neighbourhood that we mostly remain clueless about on how to deal with, even as new challenges — from economic to territorial — continue to arise, the latest being the Ladakh incursion. 

So, who are these leaders who warned India about China’s enormous financial and military might — even as it was growing and hadn’t quite reached the state it has today — but were ignored at every turn?   


Also read: India learnt the wrong lesson from 1962 China war. Modi govt must be more open


The farsighted politicians

A firebrand Socialist leader, Ram Manohar Lohia (1910-1967) was one of the few voices who would repeatedly caution Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru about China, especially when the euphoria around “Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai” (India and China are brothers) was developing after China’s annexation of Tibet in 1950. Lohia wanted a confederation of India and Pakistan — and had even signed a joint statement with Deen Dayal Upadhyaya in April 1964 — to counterbalance the might of China, whose aggression deeply bothered him. He had told Nehru that China’s annexation of Tibet would have serious implications for India because the ‘buffer’ was now gone.

His warnings were ignored. Despite annexation of Tibet, and China showing its expansionist policies regarding North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) and Ladakh, Nehru welcomed Chou En Lai, China’s first Premier, in 1956. En Lai visited India again in 1960. And then 1962 happened. 

Between 1962 and 2020, at least two Socialist leaders — George Fernandes and Mulayam Singh Yadav, both of whom at some point wore the hat of defence minister — had said categorically that India should have a China-centric foreign policy. 

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Mulayam Singh Yadav, former Samajwadi Party president, would repeat his warnings about “dishonest” China in several speeches in the Lok Sabha, saying the neighbouring country would never “mend its ways” and always look to create troubles for India.  

Similarly, Samata Party founder George Fernandes, who was defence minister in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government, had described China as the “potential threat number one”, calling it India’s “error” to recognise Tibet as part of China. In an interview with journalist Karan Thapar soon after taking charge of the defence ministry in 1998, Fernandes said that “underplaying the situation across the Himalayas is not in national interest; in fact, it can create a lot of problems for us in the near future”. He also said in Indian politics, “there is reluctance to face the reality that China’s intentions need to be questioned”.  

Both Mulayam Singh Yadav and George Fernandes wanted India to recalibrate its military and foreign policy accordingly.


Also read: Modi govt and military leaders have soldiers’ blood on hands. PM’s dilemma now same as Nehru


Pakistan or China?

Compared to Pakistan’s economic and military might, which even in the worst case can only inflict limited harm on India, China’s enormous financial and military strength means it will always remain a bigger challenge. Moreover, the contemporary and medieval history provide ample evidence about China’s expansionist policies, which are playing out in Ladakh once again.

And just as past governments ignored the Socialist leaders’ China-centric concerns, the BJP government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears further away from that position, mainly because its politics — and thus policies — is shaped by Hindu-Muslim binary, which Pakistan fulfils far more effectively than any other design or method possibly could.

But such an approach not only manifests in advancing the legacy of ignoring critical voices, it also takes our Asia policy away from the China threat and closer to scenarios where we are backstabbed by Beijing.

There is no denying that India’s inimical relation with Pakistan has had a huge role to play, shaped as this relation is by both the events of the past and present. During the later days of freedom struggle, the Congress and the Muslim League had turned bitter towards each other — a legacy that continued during Partition, entered the Kashmir conflict and shaped future India-Pakistan ties. And with the two countries always at war — overt, covert or ideological — it became a natural corollary that both Pakistan and India tried to align with China. 

That is the genesis of the warmth and thaw in India-China relationship. But history bears testimony to how that thaw was short-lived. China showed its true colours, and India lost a large swath of land in the eastern theatre in 1962. The Galwan River Valley, which is part of the Eastern Ladakh, was successfully held on to at the time. 


Also read: India can’t free-ride others to limit China. It needs to lead the containment strategy


Sleeping with the enemy

Even as border skirmishes and stand-offs with China grew, coupled with Beijing’s friendship with Islamabad, Indian prime ministers didn’t respond to internal voices sounding the alarm bell. 

Vajpayee visited China in 1979 — the first high-level contact between the two countries after the 1962 war. This visit and the follow-up actions shaped India’s China policy for several decades.

Over the past six years, PM Modi has met Chinese President Xi Jinping as many as on 18 occasions. The bilateral trade between the two countries has soared to new heights, and Chinese investment in India increased from Rs 12,000 crore in 2014 to Rs 60,000 crore in 2017, which is currently estimated at close to Rs 2 lakh crore (including planned investment). Images of Modi-Xi camaraderie — whether over a cup of tea or coconut water or a swing — attempted to drive India’s China policy all through the PM’s tenure.    

But all of that came to nought on the intervening night of 15-16 June 2020 at Galwan Valley, where 20 Indian soldiers, including a colonel, died a brutal death at the hands of Chinese soldiers. That’s the reality that neither the outdated ‘Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai’ philosophy nor the ‘jhoola diplomacy’ can hide.

The one thing that can bring a change — and reduce the intensity of ‘shock’ India experiences every time China shows its real face — is linked to direct realisation of what Ram Manohar Lohia, Mulayam Singh Yadav and George Fernandes had said long ago. It’s time India made a course correction and turned its foreign policy gaze primarily towards China. Nothing less would do.

The author is the former managing editor of India Today Hindi magazine, and has authored books on media and sociology. Views are personal.

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22 Comments Share Your Views

22 COMMENTS

  1. Photo ops gained more prominence than tactical foreign policy.Talks with Cahina will take us nowhere.Follow Mao’s dictum of “Power grows out of the barrel of agun and Cahina will respect and be more circumspect in its dealings

  2. What about Sitaram Yechury, Prakash Karat, Brinda Karat and JNU commie brigade? All of them supported China’s win against India in 1962 directly and cheered China living in India? They are more loyal to their masters in politburo than the country they live in. Where do Indian communists stand is a question we all need to ask? Already they are reduced to nothing in India because of their ambivalent political stand in many of the issues affecting the people in India.

  3. Like wise how Pakistan is building more nukes against India conventional might India should do same against china I don’t understand why India spends billions dollars in aid to countries like Afghanistan Mongolia Burma Africa first of all we should protect our country mahatma Gandhi peace ideology doesn’t work in world where only the fittest and most brutal survive when our bewakuf politician will wake up China in future might be aiming for himachal utthrakhand just imagine what will happen if china controls the river ganga kindly my country men wake up simply enjoying nude pics of immoral Bollywood will not work

  4. I say GeorgeFfernandes and Mulayam only talked pray what they did as Defence Ministers to tailor our FOREIGN POLICY towards China? We always become wise after the EVENT.

  5. learn from history south Asia did do develop for its won sake. any development is always expansionary Britisher captured India for trade, Mughals captured for trade and China is expanding for trade,, WW II was basically trade war as Britishers did not open market for rising industrial powers
    all expanding industry require military power Military power means expansion… large armies are not for defense but offense … China signals should have been read treaty of Versailles should have shown peace can not bought by surrendering

  6. These leaders are known to tolerate the intolerant ideology driving Pakistan against us it is natural that they would deflect towards China.

  7. I am yet to seriously read this piece. I write this only to object to equating LOHIA with Mulayam–in every respect. Because of my family background and it’s history of being revolutionaries, I had personally known Logis from my childhood and I feel chagrined at that less recognised statesman being mentioned in the same breath with one who from scratch became a billionaire, claiming himself as a socialist!
    But, I am in general agreement as regards the assessment of China is concerned.

  8. China is a bigger threat. That is why Vajpayee declared India a nuclear state and conducted nuclear tests. What are these three talking about?

  9. Absolutely. How can we be so dumb over so many decades regardless of who the person and party has been in power. How could we let Tibet happen? In fact how could also the world stand by as mute spectators? Collectively we have allowed China to become a Frankenstein.

  10. “And now we have a nuclear power in our neighbourhood that we mostly remain clueless about on how to deal with, ”
    China has a NBomb from 1964 not in 2020. Also China was in the neighbourhood forever…

    Sometimes facts are inconvenient to rhetoric …

  11. Of course, China being a more powerful country is a bigger threat to us but I don’t understand this urge among liberals to give a clean chit to Pakistan.

    Pakistan is a rogue state, a country whose foundation was laid on hating India and its Hindu majority. Indian Liberals like their chief deity Nehru have always been blind to Hindu-Muslim tensions unless it is for minority appeasement or vote bank politics.

    Pakistan is as serious a threat to India as China is. LAC has seen action only just now, LOC has been on fire since 1947. Pakistan will ride anybody’s back to harm India, be it China, US or Arabs.

    Deal with China but don’t be complacent about the Jihadi Republic of Pakistan.

  12. CASTIEST and communal groupings are long known to describe themselves as socialist. They have controlled media and education for long. Their story of INDIA starts with mughals and ends with family. These anti HINDU forces are now being ignored and their communal and CASTIEST rhetoric hardly matters to the majority today.

  13. WELL WRITTEN AND REVEALS ONLY THE TRUTH,
    Indian army had announced that “no indians are missing”, and now army personal are released from CHINA ?
    I thing something is fishy, and our army seems to be always under ” deep slumber” and only wakes up when either “pakistan terrorists” attack, or CHINA attacks and devastates ? and by that time some poor innocent soldiers
    Our diplomacy also seems not working . Following is the proof.
    There exists LAC ( line of actual control), on our side as well as china’s side. And there is ” no man’s land ” in between, which is common to both countries , or no country can act on it ?
    Now India is constructing its border road alongside of its LAC, well within its territory , parallel to LAC on our side. And China is constructing road across the ” no man’s land ” , cutting across it and towards butting it to the indian side LAC.
    So the diplomacy work is to reveal this fact to the world , and world bodies, that what CHINA does is ” abnormal ” I strongly thing that this part is found wanting.

    India is constructing road along the line of actual control, without disturbing the other side of LAC.

    Our political system has always been in slumber. The chinese side had been all along active in the borders, otherwise how they could build up such structures, roads and armoury on the ” no man’s land ” ??
    I have strong view that our MEA is found wanting heavily, on such an importanat issue.

    REMEMBER china was against our joining the ” UNSC “, as permanant member, and always helping our ” born-enemy” PAKISTAN, and was be-friending all our neighbours , and mainly supporting terror against INDIA, the great democracy.
    So india must SHOW GRIT, and oppose china ” tooth and nail ”

    To start with INDIA must do the following earnestly.
    1. DBO must be made operational round the year by arranging permanant lighting and other required facilities.
    2. Gilgit baltistan MUST be kept under our control, which is most effective, even if china controls GALWAN NALLAH.
    3. Military post must be established on the left side hillock of GALWAN, so that india can be watchful of and supervising CHINA, if in case they permanantly occupy the galwan nallah.
    4. convince and get help from all countries that matter including RUSSIA, as china’s actions on the border is most aggressive following no norms.
    5. Have a bold face, and never ” give-up “

  14. All the named 3 people are not socialist but communist who have supported both China and Russia but come out of hiding and being paid by Congress.

    • have you listened to MS yadavs speech in the Parliament attached in the article? Whatever their ideologies might be, BUT the fact remains India has been unnecessarily cosying upto China.It is not a winners mentality. India needs to depend either on itself or on support from investments from other countries other than China if it wants to be ahead of China. Google up the EU Vietnam deal and then you would understand what a winners mindset is. DO note that Vietnam made China bite the dust. And Vietnam is slowly making sure it does that again , this time with the biggest asset that China has, the economy.
      India needs to talk less now and do more. And so do every citizen of this country. Talk less. Do more.

      `

    • This kind of filthy mentality prevented us to think beyond limitation,so read,understand,then comment.pl. forgive me if I am harsh.

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