RSS Chief May Seem Naive On China – But We Must Take Him Seriously

Here’s why Bhagwat was so careful to talk about the long historical & cultural ties between India & its neighbours. 

Published
Opinion
5 min read
Image of RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat – and India & China flags – used for representational purposes.
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RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat is no stranger to making bombastic statements. Two years ago, he had claimed that the Sangh could ‘prepare military personnel in just three days, what would take the Indian Army 6-7 months to do’. Now, in his annual Vijay Dashami speech, he claims that India’s pushback against China’s encroachments in Ladakh ‘stunned’ (saham) and ‘jolted’ (dhakka laga) the dragon. Not only that, because India stood up (tan ke khada ho gaya) against China, other countries which are victims of the latter’s ‘expansionist attitude’ (vistaarvaadi swabhaav), also gathered the courage to ‘scold’ (daantna shuroo kiya) it.

But, Bhagwat warned that the fact that China’s plans were upset by India, makes it unpredictable. That is why India needs to be alert and prepared for any eventuality.

In fact, the only way to defeat China’s ‘demonic aspirations’ is to keep ‘rising above China’ economically, strategically and diplomatically, ‘continuously’ (“humko yeh karte rahna padega”).

Global Economy’s Dependence on China

Those who have followed the RSS’s vision, know that the Sangh does not think of short-term politics. Its strategies and tactics are all directed towards the longue durée. So, it would be naïve to think that Bhagwat believes India can overtake China overnight. He too knows well that China has built its might and influence over four decades now.

Just compare our economies. The best way to do this is to look at each country’s GDP in ‘Purchasing Power Parity’ (PPP) dollars, since that will give us a sense of the total amount of goods and services that each country can buy at their GDP level.

The IMF predicts that in 2020, China’s economy will account for over 19 percent of the world’s total GDP in PPP terms, while India will account for less than 7 percent.

In terms of GDP per person, China’s per-capita income will be 2.7 times that of India’s this year, and for the next five years to come.

More importantly, the global economy is heavily dependent on China – both as a producer and a consumer. China is known as the world’s factory as it produces nearly a quarter of all manufactured goods produced across the globe. It is also the biggest consumer of crude oil, metals, ores, and other commodities.

The developed world depends on China for inputs for its factories and cheap consumer products for its retail stores.

African and Latin American countries depend on it as the biggest buyers of the commodities they produce. Finally, several smaller Asian countries, which have grown quickly on the back of outsourced manufacturing, depend on Chinese companies for subcontracts.

How China Has Bound India’s Neighbours In Key Economic Ties

China’s strong presence in the subcontinent is driven largely by its economic might, the most important of which is the Belt and Road Initiative that was launched in 2013. Under this scheme China has invested heavily in building infrastructure in Pakistan. China has a strong presence in Sri Lanka, even owning some key ports there. It has actively funded projects Bangladesh, including a billion-dollar loan offer to maintain the water level of the Teesta river in dry seasons. China also has a USD 100-billion investment plan in Myanmar to develop infrastructure along the China-Myanmar Economic Corridor. China has a dominant presence in Nepal as well.

Nearly 90 percent of all FDI in Nepal comes from China, and the country has also got a USD 500 million financial aid in 2019, when Xi Jinping visited Kathmandu. In other words, China has bound India’s neighbours in crucial economic ties.

China’s Military Prowess & How It’s ‘Surpassed’ US In 3 Areas

The second key reason for China’s clout in the region is because of its military prowess. China is a key military ally of Pakistan. It recently sold a couple of submarines to Bangladesh. China armed Sri Lanka during the last offensive against the LTTE, and backed it in the UN Security Council. In the past few years, China has given about USD 18 million worth of arms and security equipment to the Sri Lankan security forces to counter renewed counter-insurgency.

The latest annual report by the US department of defence admits that China has surpassed the US in three key areas – the strength of its navy, the number and types of land-based missiles it has and its air-defence system. The report also suggests that China is planning to open bases in Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Singapore and several African countries to expand its active military presence across the globe. China already has one permanent overseas base in Djibouti, which allows it to oversee its investments across Africa.

How India Can Drum Up Anti-China Sentiments

However, there is a flip-side to China’s overwhelming dominance in the region that it is well aware of. There is a growing sense in several countries that China is a neo-Imperialist power, which intervenes in local politics and bends their national security policies in its favour.

This can open up a diplomatic space for India to drum up anti-China nationalist sentiments. That is why Mohan Bhagwat was so careful to talk about the long historical and cultural ties between India and its neighbours. Of course, Pakistan stands excluded.

Bhagwat referred to Myanmar as ‘Brahmadesh’, something that Amit Shah and Yogi Adityanath have done in the recent past. This term asserts that Myanmar and India have a common heritage, and it has been used approvingly by the Myanmar Times recently.

The crucial concession appears to be in the case of Bangladesh, which Bhagwat includes in the category of “countries that are more or less similar to us in nature and character”. By accepting that Bangladesh is a country with “thousands of years of relations with us,” Bhagwat is effectively accepting the legitimacy of a linguistic nation that broke away from its other half that still lies within India.

This compromise that has the potential to disrupt the Sangh’s ideas of Akhand Bharat, are being done to create a political ground for a regional diplomatic alliance against China.

If Bhagwat and the RSS’s long-term vision seems like a fantasy today, one should only remind oneself of the long-term targets the Chinese leadership set for itself from the time when Deng Xiaoping liberalised China’s economy.

Even now, China’s goals to become a ‘world class’ military are set for 2049, the centenary of the Chinese revolution. The totalitarian vision that Bhagwat shares with the Chinese leadership thinks in such terms. The liberal mind often finds it difficult to take it seriously, only to be proven wrong a few decades later.

(The author was Senior Managing Editor, NDTV India & NDTV Profit. He now runs the independent YouTube channelDesi Democracy’. He tweets @AunindyoC. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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