The Great Game Folio: A Modi Twist

A fortnightly column on the high politics of the Af-Pak region, the fulcrum of global power play in India’s neighbourhood.

Written by C. Raja Mohan | Updated: June 7, 2014 6:10 am
If China is ready to help India reintegrate the subcontinent, why is India resorting to delaying tactics? (Source: Reuters) If China is ready to help India reintegrate the subcontinent, why is India resorting to delaying tactics? (Source: Reuters)

As the new government in New Delhi begins its engagement with China by receiving the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi must give a strategic twist to the Great Game tradition that animates India’s foreign policy. Under the Raj, the Great Game was about ensuring the geopolitical unity of the subcontinent and preventing other powers from meddling in the region’s internal affairs. The Partition, the Cold War and progressive economic isolation complicated Delhi’s efforts to sustain the Great Game legacy in the decades after Independence.

The steady expansion of the Indian economy and the slow accretion of military capabilities in recent years have improved Delhi’s ability to shape the subcontinent’s strategic environment. But there are new challenges too, and none more important than the rise of China. The scale of this challenge on India’s land frontiers to the north and the maritime frontier to the south is unlike anything modern India had to deal with in the past. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, threats from European powers like France, Russia and Germany dominated security planning under the Raj. After Independence, India bristled at Western involvement in India’s neighbourhood, for example, the US’s military cooperation with Pakistan.

Unlike Western powers, which are geographically distant and whose interest in the subcontinent is episodic, China is right next door and has long pushed for a greater role south of the Great Himalayas. It is also the world’s second-largest economy.

As the West weakens and withdraws from India’s neighborhood and China becomes the most important external power in the subcontinent, there is no way Modi can play the Great Game by the old rules. Instead, he must devise new ways of sustaining India’s natural primacy in the subcontinent. Central to Delhi’s new strategic imagination must be the transformation of India’s own relations with its neighbours. An India that can’t stop quarrelling its with smaller neighbours only paves the way for an ever-larger Chinese role in the subcontinent. Modi may have had a sense of this when he invited India’s South Asian neighbours to his swearing-in ceremony.

Art of Jujitsu

Equally important is India’s need to come to terms with the reality of Chinese economic power. Whether it likes it or not, India can’t really keep China out of the subcontinent. Instead of resisting China’s growing economic weight, Delhi must turn it to India’s advantage.

One way of doing so is to discard the current inhibitions about China’s investments and leverage Beijing’s economic power to accelerate India’s economic growth. For another, Delhi must stop whining about Beijing’s mega projects in India’s neighbourhood — from ports in Gwadar (Pakistan) and Hambantota (Sri Lanka) to oil and gas pipelines in Myanmar.

China’s capacity to develop infrastructure projects is extraordinary and there is little point in fretting about it. The most recent among Chinese projects in the region is the agreement to build the orange line of the Lahore metro. During her visit to China this week, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is seeking support for the building of a deep sea port at Sonadia island on Bangladesh’s southeastern coast. Hasina is sensitive to India’s concerns about letting China build this port, but is eager to get on with the $10 billion project that will transform the upper Bay of Bengal. She has proposed the creation of a consortium of companies from Bangladesh, China and India to develop the Sonadia port. Beijing has signalled its readiness to work with India on this project. It is time India backed the consortium approach to regional infrastructure development and worked with all external powers, including China.

Southern Silk Road

When he meets Modi next week, Foreign Minsiter Wang will certainly talk about the Chinese proposal to revive the Southern Silk Road that once connected the eastern subcontinent with southwestern China through Myanmar. As China sought support for developing the BCIM corridor (Bangladesh, China, India and Myanamar), the UPA government ducked the proposal by suggesting a joint four-nation study of the project.

If China is ready to help India reintegrate the subcontinent, why is India resorting to delaying tactics? The answer is simple: because Delhi has been afraid of amending the rules of the Great Game. Modi can change that by offering full-fledged support for the development of the BCIM corridor.

The writer is a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation and a contributing editor for ‘The Indian Express’

For all the latest Opinion News, download Indian Express App

More From C. Raja Mohan
  1. S
    Sid Harth
    Jun 7, 2014 at 8:40 pm
    Revival[8]As per January 2014. Punjab Government has decided to restart the project. Construction of orange line will be started in November 2014 and estimated completion time is 27 months.[9] The cost is $1.6 billion. 6.5 km of the track will be underground.[10] Major areas that will be covered by orange line:[11]Punjab project: La rapid transit scheme being revived By Anwer SumraPublished: May 12, 2011LAHROE:After shelving the monorail-based m transit system, the Punjab government intends to re-open the La Rapid M Transit System (LRMTS).The policy shift came after Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, was ured by the Chinese government and investors during his recent visit to China that they would invest in the LRMTS project, The Express Tribune has learnt.Back in 2005, the Transport Department had carried out a feasibility study to develop a m transit network in La.The Asian Development Bank (ADB) provided Rs1 billion in July 2007 for a study for the project.The construction was expected to start by June 2008. If all went well the civil works would be completed by the end of 2010. The 97-kilometre rail network was to be bounded in the east by Gajjumata and to the west by Shahdara station.The Transport Department commissioned an international company, SYSTRA, to conduct the feasibility report and outline an engineering design.The company was paid a large sum of money for this job. According to an FIR registered, officials embezzled a total of Rs400 million during this period. The project, however, was later shelved as the Punjab government said they first needed to scrutinise the corruption and only then could they analyse its reconstruction the 2010-2011 financial budget, the Punjab government allocated Rs5.2 billion for the project.However, following the historic flood and re-appropriation in its wake the project was shelved again June 2010, a delegation of M/s SCOMI international, Malaysia Project Support Service Asia (PSSA) called on the chief minister and gave a presentation on the monorail-based M Transit System along Ferozepur Road.The CM asked the delegation to get back to him with a detailed proposal, supported by a financial plan January this year, SCOMI representatives made another presentation for the entire 97-kilometre project. It proposed an agreement on design-construct-operate-and-transfer (DCOT) basis.They informed the CM that the project would cost $1.15 billion.M/s COPICARD, a USA-based consortium offered to finance the project’s infrastructure. The rolling stock would be provided by SCOMI. The Project Support Service Asia would also select an operator to run the system. The project could be launched within three months, and completed in 36 months.For its part, the consortium demanded three urances from the Punjab government: the timely provision of land, sovereign guarantee to secure the project finance and the number of riders as projected in the feasibility study.While addressing a press conference at the 7-Club Road, the chief minister disclosed that an agreement had been signed between the Punjab government and the Chinese government for the LRMTS project to be completed at a cost of $1.7 billion. He said that work on the mega project would begin this year and would be completed in a cost-effective manner.Now, the Punjab government has once again changed its plans, owing to lack of efficient planning and its, failure to win the confidence of foreign investors, an official said.The shift in policy was made without estimating its cost and repercussions on the government’s working and image. The government should hold all concerned officials responsible for this failure and take action against them, the official added.Published in The Express Tribune, May 12th, 2011....and I am Sid Harth
    1. S
      Sid Harth
      Jun 7, 2014 at 8:36 pm
      The La Metro or La Rapid M Transit System (LRMTS) (Urdu: لاہور میٹرو‎) was a light rail transit system designed for La, the second largest city of stan. First proposed in 1991, funding was not secured and in 2012, it was abandoned in favour of the more cost–effective La Metro Bus System by the Punjab government which opened in February 2013....and I am Sid Harth
      1. G
        Jun 7, 2014 at 7:23 am
        we will play the 'big game' but on our terms, at our time.we won't be following china like a dog.
        1. P
          Jun 7, 2014 at 3:40 pm
          The three comments by "Rena Sowiyal" have nothing to do with the above article and is obvious that they have been posted by someone who does not share in the vision of India that many of us aspire to but are posted to create mischief.
          1. A
            Jun 8, 2014 at 12:49 am
            You better give up. Nobody cares. one more puppy under the rear wheel. Indian media and intellectuals can forgive murders but not corruption.
            1. Load More Comments