cross-border issues

Narendra Modi may have been surgical with Pakistan, but can he be clinical with China?

The surgical strikes may have made India proud, but will people accept capitulation at the hands of Islamabad's Beijing bodyguard?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has had an odd history with Beijing.

As chief minister of Gujarat, he was said to be a close friend of China's, visiting the country a couple of times and securing Chinese investment. Later, when he became prime minister, one of Modi's earliest interactions with a leader outside the neighbourhood saw him strolling along the banks of the Sabarmati with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Yet, over the course of 2016 this relationship has begun to crumble.

First India turned its bid for membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group into a core item on is foreign policy agenda, only to be stonewalled by Beijing in June. China also was the only country in the 15-member United Nations Security Council to object twice to India's efforts at declaring terror group Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar a UN-designated terrorist. This weekend, at the BRICS summit, it became even clearer that Beijing will continue to shield Pakistan from New Delhi's attempts to label it a global sponsor of terrorism.

"We oppose terrorism of all forms," said China's Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, after Modi referred to Pakistan as the "mothership" of terrorists at the Brics summit. "[But] we are also against linking terrorism to any specific country, ethnic group or religion. Both India and Pakistan are victims of terrorism. The international community should respect the enormous efforts and sacrifices made by Pakistan in fighting terrorism."

Goan grumbles

The Brics summit – which brings together the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – was supposed to be another platform where New Delhi could build on its effort to globally isolate Pakistan after the Uri attack last month saw 19 Indian soldiers killed by cross-border militants. The summit-concluding statement, labeled the Goa Declaration, was supposed to include a strong message that could only be read as a rebuke to Pakistan.

Instead, the declaration sticks to broad platitudes about terrorism but doesn't mention the "cross-border" kind.

"We strongly condemn the recent several attacks, against some BRICS countries, including that in India. We strongly condemn terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and stressed that there can be no justification whatsoever for any acts of terrorism, whether based upon ideological, religious, political, racial, ethnic or any other reasons."

Somewhat pointedly, and despite India's efforts, the declaration includes references to Islamic State and a Syrian terror outfit, but not Jaish-e-Mohammad. “I guess it doesn’t concern all the BRICS countries,” said Amar Sinha, India's chief negotiator at the summit. "Perhaps, that’s why we couldn’t get a consensus on naming these groups."

To make things worse, Chinese Premier Xi Jinping used his time at the Brics summit to suggest that terror could be addressed through a political solution (read: Kashmir) and China's foreign ministry later reiterated its stand that both India and Pakistan are victims of terrorism. These positions diverge sharply from New Delhi's effort to single out the Pakistani establishment as a sponsor of terrorism, one that uses the Kashmir conflict as a fig leaf.

Surgical strikes 

When the Indian Army said it had carried out "surgical strikes" along the Line of Control last month, delivering "significant casualties" to militants in the process, it gave the Modi administration a shot in the arm. Uri had left many feeling helpless, since it was yet another attack by cross-border militants that couldn't be responded to with military retaliation for fear of escalating conflict.

The announcement of the strikes changed all of that, giving both the government and its supporter base the feeling that India had managed to break out of a vicious cycle, even as Pakistan denied any major incident. What this means for the long-term equation at the LoC remains to be seen, but the strikes certainly addressed a feeling of despondency in the polity as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party's seemingly trigger-happy base. More than anything, ahead of important assembly elections next year, the strikes represented a major domestic victory.

Indians don't hate China nearly as much as they do Pakistan. A Pew Research survey in 2014 found that only 15% of Indians had a positive view of Pakistan, while as many as 30% viewed China favourably.

That's probably a good thing for the Indian government, because while the surgical strikes may have shored up its anti-Pakistan credentials, taking on Beijing would be much harder.

For one, India needs Chinese cash, which is why Modi has been wooing Beijing even as his nationalist base spreads messages about boycotting goods from China. Second, India is already heavily dependent on Chinese products, and attempting to pivot away from them would cause much pain to Indian industry.

Thirdly and most importantly, China and India are simply not comparable. Although they're often spoken of in the same breath as being Asia's two populous fast-growing economies, China's Gross Domestic Product is almost five times India's figure. China's sphere of influence and trade ties reach all over the globe – including India's own backyard. And the Chinese military is far larger and much more advanced than India's, despite (or actually prompting) New Delhi's status as the world's biggest arms importer.

Bhai bhai

China may not be allowing militants to use its territory, but its own Army frequently provokes India by crossing the disputed border and maintains that much of Arunachal Pradesh is "south Tibet." Despite India claiming Pakistan-occupied Kashmir as its own territory, China is building a massive economic corridor through it.

As Carnegie India Director C Raja Mohan puts it, "India must move away from from the idea of parity with China to finding ways to cope with the consequences of the growing gap in material capabilities." The government seems to recognise this. Despite what could be counted as blatant pushback from China, both at the NSG and over Masood Azhar, New Delhi has refrained from blaming Beijing or using the kind of rhetoric that appeals to nationalistic sentiments.

Yet it is not easy to ride the patriotic tiger.

The government, hoping to not unnecessarily antagonise Beijing, has stayed away from #BoycottChina but the feeling is evidently popular. And the more signs emerge of China protecting an unrepentant Pakistan, the harder New Delhi, or at least the BJP, will find it not to respond – especially ahead of Uttar Pradesh elections. Caste, religion and plenty else will take centre stage there of course, but if surgical strikes are to be the selling point, then following those up with capitulation at the hands of Islamabad's Beijing bodyguard will not assuage a charged crowd.

In a year's time, China will be the hosting the BRICS summit. How New Delhi's relationship with Beijing progresses between now and then will give us a much more definitive sense of whether Modi's bold decision to carry out, and then vocally announce the surgical strikes was part of a new pro-active neighbourhood strategy that goes beyond just pre-election chest thumping.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.