At the predictable risk of being branded as an “anti-national” by BJP supporters, I am compelled by the latest eruption of tension between India and China over our unresolved boundary dispute to affirm two inescapable truths. One, without India-Pakistan-China dialogue and cooperation, India cannot resolve the longstanding issues with its two large neighbours. Two, without peaceful and good-neighbourly relations with China and Pakistan, neither India nor the rest of South Asia can rise to their full potential of prosperity, progress and greatness.
These truths are self-evident. Yet, they will be snubbed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s supporters, whose conception of nationalism is premised, internally, on hatred towards Muslims, and, externally, on projecting Pakistan and China as our arch enemies. In a polarised society, such jingoism may yield electoral dividends to the BJP. However, it cannot help the PM smoothly manage India’s relations with Beijing and Islamabad, as has become recurrently evident during his six years in office. Much less can he succeed in finding lasting solutions to the border disputes that have beleaguered these two ties almost since India’s independence. A great leader is one who changes the course of history. Apply this test to Modi, and it appears that, despite his massive parliamentary mandate, he will have little transformative gains to show on these two principal challenges to his foreign policy.