Skip to main content

The New Great Game OR The Battle for India - Part 1

I am sure most of the visitors here know/read about the 'Great Game'. For those who have not come across this term ( or not read Rudyard Kipling's Kim), here's a brief description:

In the 19th Century, Russia and England played the 'Great Game' over Afghanistan and Central Asia. England, which already ruled over the sub-continent, and had significant influence in West Asia and China, Afghanistan was the spot to be controlled to maintain its supremacy. Russia with its expansionist mindset, controlled large swathes of Central Asia, and saw Afghanistan as the entry into the riches of the sub-continent. Both countries had their spies every where. And they supported the Afghan tribes in wars/skirmishes against each other. Kipling famously called it the 'Great Game'.

In the late 20th century till date, this Great Game has continued in Afghanistan - with different players. The USA and its allies have replaced Ol' England, and the Taliban and Al Qaeda have replaced Russia. The game continues, because the rich natural resources of the Central Asian republics (fossil fuel energy sources) are at stake, not to speak of the signficance of Afghanistan's geo-political location - proximity to Russia, China, Pakistan and of course, India.

Here's my theory then: The Great Game may no longer refer to Afghanistan. It could or should possibly refer to India.

And hence, the battle for India.

The opponents: The USA and China.

The US has a lot of advantages in this game. Apart from being the dominant military, economic and cultural power of the World, today's aspirant and urban India is culturally much closer to America, than it has ever been to China (through all the ages). India is backoffice to a very large number of American MNCs. We love Hollywood, and aspire for Green Cards. And there is the Ek-Do-Teen factor (the 123 agreement related to civilian nuclear cooperation) in the offing.

What cards does China have? Let us clutch at some 'perceived' straws.

For one, China's proximity to India gives it enormous leverage in terms of a capacity to make India happy or sad. China can make India happy on various fronts - by agreeing to settle the border issues peacefully, by staying neutral if not siding with India on the issues with Pakistan, by working towards a massive increase in bilateral trade so that both countries can do a planned exit from an export-oriented growth model (much to the chagrin of US, I must add), and a few other areas.

China has also thrown the red carpet (pun intended) to India's IT majors. All the top 4 Indian IT service providers have a China story now.Chinese companies are building power plants in India, and setting up manufacturing plants for telecom equipment and so on. Importantly, China is consuming a lot of the iron and steel produced by India.

China also seems to control the Communist Part of India (Marxist)- CPM very neatly. In the last 2-3 years, CPM leaders have made dozens of visits to Beijing. And the statements from official Chinese spokespersons and Messrs. Karat and Yechury on the nuclear deal issue, read as if they were written by the same person (They probably were). They have at least one mainstream English daily rooting for them - the horrendously misnamed 'The Hindu' and its sister publication - 'The Front Line'.

China is so serious about wooing India (or keeping India in its sphere of influence) that they are investing a large amount of money in learning Cricket. Yes, Cricket ! Apparently, China has started a program to train 500 (or is it 5,000?) school level coaches in Cricket. They want to have a proper league by 2010. And they want to play in the World Cup by 2015. They probably will want to win it in 2027.

So, there definitely is a battle going on here. The US wants to see India become a strong power and act as a check against China. China eventually would want to see India as a satellite state, and as first line of defence in its march to super power dom.

How is this likely to play out? What choices do we Indians have?

Note: I usually just want to blog about India and its developmental issues. But I am plainly irritated by the behaviour of the Left and the BJP regarding this nuclear deal with US. A mid term poll looks likely, unless China decides otherwise and forces the CPM to continue to back Congress till end of the term, or a better time for the elections.

As all these issues, especially energy security and the structure and dynamics of the polity have a lot of implications for the developmental journey, I am forced to think through these issues.

Will try to post some more thoughts on this in the coming weeks.