The Big Story: More light, less heat

For six weeks now, the two largest countries on earth have been eyeball to eyeball on the Bhutan border. It started when China began to build a road on the Doklam plateau – which New Delhi and Thimpu claim is part of Bhutan but Beijing sees as part of China. Alarmed, New Delhi rushed troops to the region and stopped construction. The road, if built, would give the Chinese Army quick access to the Siliguri “chicken’s neck”, a 20-km wide strip of land that connects West Bengal – and the Indian mainland – to northeast India.

This, in turn, set off China which reacted with aggression, even threatening India with force. The People’s Daily, the Communist Party newspaper, reminded India about the 1962 War and its defeat.

In the face of this belligerence, India has reacted with surprising tranquility. The Modi government has made clear that it believes that calm, measured diplomacy will solve the issue.

These positions are, of course, driven by ground realities. As former Indian diplomat Kanwal Sibal points out, the “expanding power gap” between China and India is responsible for China’s belligerence. On the other hand, India’s internal social-economic weaknesses – its economy is reeling from demonetisation and communal relations are strained – means New Delhi cannot afford conflict.

Thus jingoism has been absent from India’s discourse with China – in spite of Beijing’s unfair attempts at bullying India in trying to change the status quo. Union ministers continue to visit China, trade ties remain strong, film stars are still advertising Chinese consumer goods and even the proposed Vallabhbhai Patel statue in Gujarat continues to be made in China without any hassle.

Television news channels – often at the forefront of jingoism– are also quiet, allowing the government room to breathe.

This remarkable lack of jingoism with respect to China is excellent and needs to be adopted with Pakistan. Too often, jingoism ties the hands of India’s diplomats and generals, making them take maximalist positions to the detriment of national interest. Any jingoism here over Doklam would have forced India’s hand at a time when lying low is the best course of action.

In stead, with Pakistan, India tends to whip up passions that are often useful to garner votes or television ratings – but end up harming the national interest. Local politicians – such as Narendra Modi himself during his time as Gujarat chief minister – have attacked the Union government for being – in this view – weak on Pakistan. This, in turn, means that any peace overtures that Modi made as prime minister came with high risk. While Modi entered office with a bid to make peace with Pakistan – he even visited Nawaz Sharif’s house – his own history as a hawk was partly responsible for ensuring that, in the end, the whole matter ended up in bitter confrontation.

When it comes to dealing with its western border, India needs to take a lesson from the patience that it applies in the north. That will serve India’s national interest much better than pointless sabre rattling.

The Big Scroll

  • India’s standoff with China is not about helping Bhutan – but in its own national interest, argues Manoj Joshi.
  • Does the shrillness of the Chinese media on Doklam crisis indicate that Beijing is rattled, asks Harsh V Pant.
  • By focusing on China’s English media, Indian analysts are misreading Beijing, says Rajiv Ranjan.
  • Not optimistic about prospects of an early settlement, says Ashok K Kantha, ex India envoy to China, in this interview to Saikat Datta.

Subscribe to “The Daily Fix” by either downloading Scroll’s Android app or opting for it to be delivered to your mailbox. For the rest of the day’s headlines click here.

If you have any concerns about our coverage of particular issues, please write to the Readers’ Editor at


  • Doklam, Gipmochi, Gyemochen: It’s hard making cartographic sense of a geopolitical quagmire, writes Manoj Joshi in the Wire.
  • Is this the end of the road for Mayawati, asks Sudha Pai in the Indian Express.
  • That West Bengal and Kerala feature so prominently in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s political narrative should come as no surprise. These are the only two large states left in India where the BJP is still a marginal political party, argues Rajdeep Sardesai in the Hindustan Times.


Don’t Miss

“Nothing has changed since the protests”: Mridula Chari reports on why Indian farmers are still getting low prices for their crops.

Singh pointed to systemic reasons for the prolonged depression in potato prices. One was demonetisation, which led several farmers to keep their produce in storage for longer until liquidity returned to the market. Another was a doubling in production at the end of the summer. The third reason is that potato exports have been limited since the Union government curtailed trade with Pakistan.