Eli 'Ugly' Wallach's iconic line about shooting when you have to shoot instead of talking, could be the perfect advice for the Chinese media currently railing against India.
For the past few weeks, the media, essentially the Chinese government's mouthpiece, has been threatening India with dire consequences if its army doesn't withdraw from the Doka La region. The chorus has been led by Global Times, Chinese version of some hyper-nationalist TV channels in India. The tabloid has warned of a repeat of 1962, called Indian external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj a "liar" and prophesied an escalation of military conflict if India doesn't back off.
Past week, it argued that the Chinese government will go to any extent to fulfill the wish of its people that not an inch of its territory be lost. "This is the sacred wish and request of the Chinese people. The Chinese government will not breach the fundamental will of the people and the PLA will not let the Chinese people down."
The Chinese media's rhetoric and bluster is essentially an encore of the blabbering by hyper-nationalist TV channels in India on Pakistan. Like the nationalist media in India, it is trying to push the Chinese government into a corner where there is very little room left for a peaceful or a face-saving solution. By drumming up a war hysteria, and predicting its outcome — "India's loss of face and total disgrace"— the Chinese is goading the country's leadership to take military action and, by inference, making the lack of military initiative look like an act of unnecessary hesitation and restraint.
The problem with this 'bluster and threats' policy is that it could ultimately make China look silly, even a bit pusillanimous. If India refuses to back down and withdraw its forces, China would be embarrassed by its inability to walk its war talk. For, both countries just don't seem ready for a military escalation of the stand-off, or an all-out war being demanded by the Chinese media.
The reason behind the unviability of a military conflict is simple: Both countries know the balance of power doesn't favour any one side. Also, the stockpiles of nuclear weapons maintained by both sides make war look like an exercise in mutual madness.
The Chinese media's threat that the People's Liberation Army could walk across any region on the Line of Actual Control and hit India's Achilles Heel (read Kashmir) just doesn't carry much weight. In spite of the PLAs numerical strength — 2.2 million compared to India's 1.2 million — the war would certainly not be decided on the ground. The rugged terrain along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) would ensure that both sides remain locked in a long and difficult battle that would not be decided by numbers but the ability to deal with the geography of the war theatre.
India's defence minister Arun Jaitley has already pointed out that India is no longer the India of 1962. Since the humiliation by the Chinese army in the 1962 war, a lot has changed to bring about a semblance of parity among the two neighbours.
Experts argue, India's Agni and Prithvi missiles can hit almost any Chinese city. The large fleets of Sukhoi, Mirage and MiG-29 fighters are competitive, if not superior, to China's air force. And India has the edge in the water, with its navy having the capability to blockade China and cut its supply lines. India, obviously, is not a pushover, a country that can be humiliated in the war fantasies of Chinese tabloids.
India, of course, can't risk a war either. One, China would be a formidable adversary because of its ballistic missiles and a stockpile of nukes that is believed to double the size of India's. Two, there is a realistic chance of India facing a war on two fronts because China's regional stooge Pakistan would see in a confrontation the possibility of harassing India.
But, the biggest reason India won't start (or prefer) a war is political. Unlike dictatorships, countries run by democratically-elected governments are unanswerable to people. With parliamentary elections on the horizon, Narendra Modi's government will certainly not risk a war it is not confident of winning. Also, the economic burden of a conflict would deter Modi from any misadventure in the run-up to the elections.
The arrayed pieces on the chessboard point at the futility of a military conflict and, thus, also of war-hysteria.
The Indian side, contrary to the jingoism it embraces when talking about Pakistan, knows that the only solution to the stand-off could be diplomatic. It has, therefore, treated the conflict with much more maturity, cutting out the rabble-rousing usually reserved for Pakistan. India has merely pointed out at its security concerns over China's presence in the Doka La region and argued for a diplomatic solution.
It has, thus, left for itself more options on the table. And also avoided getting into a trap where it has to mouth rhetoric it can't live up to. Like Wallach in the Good, Bad and Ugly, it has so far not made the mistake of talking about shooting.
India will not back-off easily from Doka La, especially after the bluster and boasts mouthed by Chinese media. Just as it had dug its heels on the LAC during the conflict in 1986 for several years, India would play the game of diplomacy, brinkmanship and attrition.
As the game plays out, the Chinese media should grab some popcorn and watch some of the iconic scenes of Good, Bad and Ugly. It will calm their nerves and also let the government deal with the Doklam stand-off without worrying about the "sacred wish" of its people.
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Updated Date: Jul 24, 2017 16:06:37 IST