Modi’s worst nightmare: Clash with China

by Zohaib Altaf

India knows it can’t compete

On December 12, the news of the clash between Chinese and Indian soldiers broke. The recent clash happened in the Tawang sector of India’s Arunachal Pradesh on December 9. According to the Indian Army, soldiers from both sides sustained injuries during the clash. However, the matter did not get prolonged, and local commanders of the Indian Army held a meeting with their Chinese counterparts. The most conspicuous element in this news was that the Indian Foreign and Defence Ministries declined even to comment on the situation. When it comes to China, the Indian government, even Prime Minister Narendra Modi, remains dead silent.

India does not try to threaten China as it tries to threaten Pakistan and adopt an escalatory and offensive posture. The Indian leadership remained silent even on the incident where 20 soldiers died. It showed that Modi feared China because they understood that the Indian Army was not ready to face China. Secondly, facing China will puncture Modi’s narrative of a strong nationalistic leader providing security. It will threaten Modi’s rule because even though the Indian economy is booming, it’s not presenting an accurate picture of the whole of India.

India’s army is unable to face China and its army. After 2020, India reoriented six of its army divisions from its northern borders with Pakistan to Chinese borders. This force was reoriented to stop any embarrassment or loss of territory. To pursue its aggressive agenda, India had already increased its defence spending 50 percent. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), the Indian defence budget increased from $49.6 billion in 2011 to $76.6 billion last year. It passed the UK and Russia to become the third largest spender on the military. However, this defence spending could not show substantial results due to corruption in the Indian Army. 

In 2012, India’s army chief Gen VK Singh was offered a bribe and revealed that a lobbyist offered him a hefty bribe for the approbation of a deal. A middle man always existed in defence deals, and India’s defence contracts were always mired in corruption. Moreover, in March 2021, the news broke of corruption in the recruitment process of the Indian army. Many officers from different ranks accepted bribes from the candidates coming for a cull. In addition, in 2019, a significant general was involved in a corruption case.

Furthermore, corruption cases emerged in a housing project for the military. The previous Indian Army Chief, Gen Bipin Rawat, acknowledges this corruption in a military housing project. In August 2022, Lt Col Rahul Pawar was injunctively authorizing 7-8 percent, and Subedar Major Pardeep Kumar asked for 45-55 percent of the total value of contracts awarded to contractors Dinesh Kumar and Pritpal Singh. In May 2022, a lieutenant colonel of the Indian army and his five other partners were involved in corruption in procurement of rations for the armed forces. With these corruption cases in the army and defence procurement, India’s weapon indigenization process has become a disaster.

Hence, poor economic performance, corruption in the Army and failure of the indigenization initiative leaves Modi to sell his image of a nationalistic leader tough on security to the public. Any clash with China completely exposes this strongman image of Modi and can become a challenge to his rule in India.

India is striving to indigenize the military industry, but its domestic industry has empty slogans to show. They are unable to provide the vweapons systems that are required to compete with China. The Indian Air Force was even unable to compete with the Pakistan Air Force. It lost an aeroplane, and a pilot was apprehended in Pakistan. By 2023, the IAF will have 30 squadrons; however, according to the IAF itself, it requires 42 squadrons to safeguard India. 

The Indian defence industry is unable to engender quality products. Recently, India’s helicopters, indigenously built in India, have crashed many times. Consequently, facing China can expose a hollow version of the nationalistic vision of the Indian Prime Minister, and the people can fixate on his domestic susceptibilities because, despite the pomp and show of the Indian economy, it is not authentically growing for the impoverished people.

Many commentators point out that India’s economic magnification and India’s GDP remained huge factors in India. Indian GDP faced contraction after the pandemic. Relative to 2019, India’s GDP is just 7.6 per cent larger, while China’s GDP is 13.1 perCent larger and 4.6 percent in the USA, which has slow economic growth. Furthermore, India’s annual growth rate over the past three years is just 2.5 percent. Like the debacle of defence indigenization, the promulgation of incipient projects has decelerated after the growth of the post-pandemic bounce.

In integration, there needs to be more evidence that foreign firms are genuinely locating their business in India. Overall, foreign direct investment is stagnant in India. Many firms that commenced investment in India had many unsuccessful experiences. Firms such as Google, Walmart, General Motors, and Amazon are examples. Amazon commenced closing three ventures in India. With these economic realities, economic indicators withal remained poor in India.

India has an indigent education system. In 2018, a few rural children in India in class fifth could not read or write. More than a third of children under the age of five were stunted. Other human development indicators additionally worsened in Modi’s era. There is massive inequality in India. The top ten per cent gets 57 percent of the national income.

Hence, poor economic performance, corruption in the Army and failure of the indigenization initiative leaves Modi to sell his image of a nationalistic leader tough on security to the public. Any clash with China completely exposes this strongman image of Modi and can become a challenge to his rule in India.

Zohaib Altaf

The writer is Research Officer at CISS, AJK. He tweets @zohaib24hdj

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Center for International Strategic Studies AJK, King Abdullah Campus Chatter kalas Muzaffarabad, Azad Jammu and Kashmir