When Li comes calling

India needs to develop a national understanding about what to expect, and aim for, in its relationship with China

Even without the focus of the summit, India-China relations demand a more serious consideration than the intemperate reactions provoked by the preceding contretemps. That virtual hysteria, reminiscent of our self-defeating pressures of 1962, should not be allowed to distract from genuine public anxiety. We need to develop a national understanding, if not a national consensus, about what to expect and aim for. Democracies need public education and some sureness about their capability. Depsang produced neither.

What exactly happened, what it signifies, who provoked whom or conceded what — theories abound, but resemble tea-leaf readings. Whatever it all means apropos China, it is painfully telling about the ways in which the Indian state handles its affairs. The state is not just government; Parliament, political parties, the media and the public opinion it greatly shapes, and of course the permanent apparatus of the administration, are all part of it. All have long been making it impossible to conduct even our most important affairs with seriousness, let alone dignity. Vainglorious declamations about war merely reflect immaturity. A former defence minister calls China our sole enemy and Pakistan no threat, as though Pakistan has not, inter alia, been China's eager agent; for him to declare that "if there is to be a war, so let it be"

is frighteningly irresponsible. The Trinamool Congress joins the attack, despite single-handedly strengthening China's position around us by harming our relations with Bangladesh, while Tamil Nadu ruins our relations with Sri Lanka. All parties prefer cheap jibes to constructive debate, while the media inflates and exceeds their effusions. Not one leader saw fit to suggest that, our security environment being an overriding national priority, all parties should get together to work out urgent improvements. Our descent to such pettiness is what makes us so unprepared for the challenges facing us.

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