Is there a Gujrati Way of Statecraft?

PM Modi is a disappointment only because he is the only hope': Authors  Rajeev Mantri, Harsh Madhusu- The New Indian Express
[PM Narendra Modi inaugurating the gigantic statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, near the Sardar Sarovar dam]

I ask this question because many of us see the dots but don’t connect them. Aakar Patel, a Gujrati and sometime India head of Amnesty International, did in an article after the 2014 general elections about four Gujrati leaders who have — for good or ill — shaped India and its politics. He wittily summed up the Gujju Maha-Four and posed his own question thus: “One hundred years ago, a Gujarati man arrived from South Africa to save Indians from the British. Some years after that a Gujarati man arrived from London to save Muslims from Hindus. Some years after that a Gujarati man arrived to save India from disintegration. This year a Gujarati man arrived to save India from corruption, underdevelopment, lack of hygiene and other stuff. The question is: Why do you people need so much saving? And why must Gujarati Man always have to do it?” considering his state constitutes only 5% of the country’s population. (https://www.livemint.com/Leisure/9bPcjodNrxhX8bZaj7q2wK/An-introduction-to-the-Gujarati-man.html)

Aakar Patel was, of course, referring respectively to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Vallabhbhai Patel, and Narendra Modi. His mock-serious query, however, raises an interesting issue of whether there is, in fact, an identifiably Gujrati way of statecraft, just as there’s supposedly a distinctly British way of diplomacy, and of war, or an American way of conducting international relations, or even a Pakistani way of war. Patel identifies the Gujrati trait of showing no talent for war or things military which he attributes to the fact that the last time Gujratis actively took up arms was against the invading Afghan looter Allauddin Khilji and then in a losing effort in 1297 AD. “Useless at fighting, Gujarati Man”, he writes, “has forgotten the smell of freedom, so long has he been under the thumb of Afghan, Mughal, Maratha and Englishman.”

While all the fighting spirit was thus leached out of Gujratis and other Indians in a system of peace imposed by elements external to the state when not foreign to the subcontinent, the natives of Gujrat did what other Indians didn’t do as well — channel the violence and competitiveness natural to homo sapiens into business and politics, until now when the Gujrati brand of business and politics reflects unmatched cunning, ruthlessness and amorality — qualities which if yoked to advancing national security, for instance, would have done the country a lot of good. Instead, Gujratis in particular became productive camp followers of the British in their colonizing efforts in Africa, opening up the African hinterland to petty commerce with their “dukus” and earning the eternal hostility of black Africans as exploiters (which is evident to this day in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda). The Maha-Four characterised these Gujrati qualities in their politicking on the national scene.

This Gujrati behaviour was, however, unlike that of the other people in what was pre-1947 India, who seemed so beaten down and sapped of will the British were surprised at just how easy it all was, how owing to very little resistance from the locals, they had taken over India. When not in a triumphalist vein attributing the acquisition of this territorial jewel in their crown to the manifest destiny of an all-conquering race, the British pointed to the “cowardice” of “the Hindoo” — an agnostic description, incidentally, to cover all the peoples of India — Hindu, Muslim and others alike, as the reason for their success.

Robert Orme, the historian who as secretary to Robert Clive travelled with him on his military campaigns in the Gangetic Plains wrote after the Battle of Plassey (1757) that brought down Sirajudaulla, Nawab of Bengal, and laid the foundations of the British Raj, that the Indian was the “most enervated inhabitant of the globe [who] shudders at the sight of blood, and is of a pusillanimity only to be excused and accounted for by the great delicacy of his configuration.” It was an impression reinforced by the vegetarianism practised by many Hindus, which is also of paramount social concern in Gujrat. Except, the passivity and pacifism displayed by the Indian populace was only for the firangi because Indians, whenever permitted to do so, happily cut each other’s throat, driven by localised animus that curiously spared the British during the Raj. It was a short step from there for Rudyard Kipling by the end of the 19th Century to commend colonialism and to enjoin the US to carry the “White man’s burden” until then supposedly borne manfully by Britain, of bringing order to much of the world peopled by “lawless breeds”.

So, what has this bit of social-colonial and imperial history got to do with with Gujrati statecraft? Every thing!

Central to the Gujrati mindset is “dhanda” — business — and the pursuit of personal profit. By its very nature, it involves genuflecting before the powerful and compromising and conciliating with them and, generally, avoiding activities disruptive of good relations, like tension-mongering, violence and war. In this context, posturing is permitted, not so taking matters to a breakdown of ties. And should things not work out, to consider use of force but only against the weak.

Judging the main actions of each of the first three among the Gujju Maha-Four by the above metric reveals that (1) the three freedom movement leaders — Gandhi, Jinnah (until the 1920s) and Patel were, like all members of the Indian National Congress, collaborators with the British who did not believe in, nor advocate, the violent overthrow of the Raj but were committed to winning freedom legally, through “Constitutional means”, i.e., by working within the limits dictated by the British, (2) Patel, ever the practical Gujrati, pushed for Partition based on his experience of Muslim League ministers making the Nehru-led Interim government (1946-47) non-functional, this even as Gandhi, typically sent mixed signals about conceding Pakistan (and Jawaharlal Nehru opposed it); (3) Patel, unlike Nehru, also supported the giving of Jammu and Kashmir to Pakistan in return for Jinnah accepting Junagarh and Hyderabad in India, and was for a complete exchange of populations to enable India and Pakistan to emerge as wholly Hindu and Muslim respectively, which proposal was negatived by Nehru, and (4) Gandhi, Patel and Jinnah all trusted the English enough to want continued close association with Britain after independence despite Britain’s horrific colonial record — an intolerably demeaning system of racial apartheid, its long standing policy of sharpening Hindu-Muslim differences eventuating in the bloody partitioning of the country, and sustained looting of India and transfer to Britain of unimaginable wealth that, in current value, amounts to some $47 TRILLION according to recent calculations by the Columbia University economist Utsa Patnaik.

A similar pattern of behaviour fueled by the same dhanda imperative informs Modi’s actions and policies. Consider this: Very like Gandhi, Jinnah and Patel, Modi is very mindful of appeasing the powerful, taking care not to upset or alienate either the US or China, and reluctant to respond aggressively to even the direst provocation offered by them.

Thus, notwithstanding the American record of over 60 years of subterfuge, sabotage and stratgems that, in the main, sought to “balance” India in South Asia by conventionally arming Pakistan, and to keep India non-weapons nuclear, failing in which aim and for the sake of restoring “balance”, approving China’s transfer of nuclear weapon and missile technologies and design expertise to Islamabad, and the fact that the US pressured the Congress party regime of Manmohan Singh to refrain from reacting to the seaborne strike on Mumbai by Pakistan ISI-sponsored terrorists, Modi trusts America to do right by India.

Modi, from day one in office, courted the US, going out of his way to accommodate Washington by aligning Indian policies with US strategic interests. He signed the three “foundational accords” — LEMOA, COMCASA, BECA, for instance, that could result in US armed forces utilizing Indian bases for military operations in the Indo-Pacific — the reason why his Congress party predecessor Manmohan Singh refrained from doing so because he felt it was politically risky.

And Modi very early bought into Xi Jinping’s transparently bogus line of a concert of India and China for the greater good of Asia. This was to be cemented by the airy promises Xi made in Wuhan and reiterated at the Mammallapuram summit of tens of billions of dollars worth Chinese infrastructure investment funds to turn India into another version of Shanghai. A Prime Minister would have to be particularly naive and gullible or, as is more likely, predisposed to act in this way, to fall for this Chinese approach. But Modi fell for it.

His belief in the value of friendship with China is such that he has persisted with the policy of not demanding recognition of “One India” inclusive of all of Jammu & Kashmir for recommitting to the “One China, two systems” that Beijing has flogged, and with the “No tit- for-tat” policy — of not responding in kind, even if belatedly, to Beijing’s proliferating nuclear bombs and missiles to Pakistan by speedily onpassing nuclear warheaded medium and short range missiles and other armaments to countries on China’s border — Vietnam, Indoensia and Philippines. And, two years into the Chinese absorbing 1,000 sq kms of manifestly Indian territory in the Depsang Plains adjoining the Karakorum Pass in eastern Ladakh and the construction of “villages” on disputed territory in Arunachal Pradesh and in the trijunction area with Bhutan, he remains unwilling to even admit the Chinese PLA have annexed Indian land. And, far from instructing the army to vacate the Chinese military presence from Ladakh by any and all means and at whatever cost, he has, in effect, formalized the Chinese claim lines on the Pangong Tso by coupling the withdrawal of PLA units from terrain features — Fingers 3 and 4 — on the northern shore of the lake, with the retreat of Indian SFF units from the Kailash Range, thereby losing India a major foothold and the last vestiges of negotiating leverage with China.

So, OK, Modi is a realist about Indian military capabilities and aware of the difficulty of forcibly removing the PLA from Indian real estate. But why did he have to walk the extra mile to second Beijing’s stated position that its army had not intruded into Indian territory even an inch by, in fact. claiming “Koi andar ghus ke nahin aya hai”? In any case, one can see why Xi desires rapprochement with Modi’s India (on Chinese terms, of course).

Meanwhile, our esteemed foreign minister S Jaishankar, conforming to the PM’s policy proclivities, mouthed inanities such as his contention that Sino-Indian relations were going “through a bad patch”, as though the dispute with China is some small clubhouse disagreement at the Delhi Gymkhana about which the Indian government does not need to be disagreeable. And, that Beijing has understood the message he has been trying to send since the Galwan encounter first came to light in May 2020 that the restoration of territorial status quo ante is the precondition for resumption of normal relations, as if China cares two hoots for the return of normalcy because even a supposedly strained relationship has not hurt annual Chinese exports to India, which remain in excess of $70 billion. So, what’s the incentive for China to pullback its forces from the sizeable area it has grabbed? In other words, Jaishankar’s self-proclaimed clear messaging has not registered on Beijing.

And as regards the US, Jaishankar has assumed the role of America’s bullhorn in the region. Addressing a Bloomberg economic event November 19, unprecedentedly for India’s foreign minister, he justified the US posture, calling the reality of a strategically receding America, post-military defeat in Afghanistan, “ridiculous” and advising the audience “not to confuse” the ongoing global “rebalancing” with USA’s “decline”. He sounded verily like an earnest junior public relations staffer at the US Embassy! This was ineffably sad both because of the optics and because of substance, considering US President Joe Biden and the newly designated “Helmsman”, Xi, had decided in their November 15 virtual summit “to chart a more positive course” as reported by the US Institute for Peace. Meaning, Washington is prepared to cut a seperate deal with Beijing, leaving its Asian allies and strategic partners, including India, to scurry around to secure their own interests the best they can!

Then again, if you don’t acknowledge a problem, it doesn’t exist!

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan, Africa, asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific, Asian geopolitics, China, China military, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Geopolitics, geopolitics/geostrategy, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian Politics, Indo-Pacific, MEA/foreign policy, Missiles, Nuclear Weapons, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Pakistan nuclear forces, society, South Asia, South East Asia, Special Forces, Strategic Relations with South East Asia & Far East, Strategic Relations with the US & West, Terrorism, United States, US., Vietnam, Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Is there a Gujrati Way of Statecraft?

  1. Gaurav Tyagi says:

    Modi belongs to ‘Taeli’ (Oil Selling Caste) in other words he is a ‘Baniyaa’. He added his caste into the OBC category after becoming the CM of Gujarat in order to let his fellow caste brethren’s enjoy the benefits of reservations.

    President Xi Jinping announced on Monday several major initiatives to boost economic cooperation between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including striving to import $150 billion worth of agricultural products from ASEAN countries over the next five years.

    To boost cooperation in technology, Xi also said that China will support a program for 300 young scientists from ASEAN to come to China for exchanges in the next five years.

    ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. China and the bloc established dialogue relations in 1991.

    Over the past three decades, China-ASEAN trade has jumped from less than $8 billion to $684.6 billion.

    In 2009, China overtook Japan and the EU, and it then became the first and largest trading partner of ASEAN for 12 consecutive years.

    A few excerpts from the following article;

    https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202111/1239573.shtml

    I have visited a few of these Southeast Asian countries and have mentioned on various occasions that none of these nations will ever initiate a military confrontation with China.

  2. Amit says:

    Sir, what about the role of Gujral, Manmohan Singh and Vajpayee in this pusillanimous, and/or defensive Indian posture? This kind of defensive thinking is ingrained in India. At least the Chinese ‘hid their strength and bid their time’ – so people swallowed the numerous humiliations along the way. Pakistan which is 1/10th of Indian economy double times the US and plays the game with impunity (though they have their own problems – after all they live in the Indus Valley!) India talks big and does little.

    Frankly, I think it’s more than just the Gujju mindset. I may not agree with many of your ideas about the US (though I support more Indian aggression with the US), but completely concur with Indian defensive behaviour. But a 1000 years of such behaviour maybe hard to overcome in a few decades.

    • Sure, these restraints are ingrained and institutionalised as I have argued in my book — ‘Why India is Not a great Power (Yet)’. This post is merely a takeoff on Aakar Patel’s piece on “the Gujrati man” as leader.

  3. By email: From Joydeep Sircar
    Wed, 24 Nov at 12:00 pm
    Excellent analysis! Gutless Modi in Delhi finds a kindred spirit in the Geriatric in the White House.

  4. Raj says:

    You seem to say Modi is a cowardly gujju instead
    We need a tough Rajput like yogi Adityanath? 😀

    • Raj@– I nowhere mentioned “cowardice” and do not want to comment on the Rajput/Thakur angle but suffice here to point out that the martially attuned Hindu kingdoms of Rajputana comprised the swordarm of the Mughals (Maharaja Jai Singh of Jaipur was commander of Akbar’s armies, etc.) and later contributed mightily to the British propping up their Raj by force.

  5. Sankar says:

    In all fairness to Modi, I find one trait of him is missing here: he has resurrected the great image of Shyamaprasad in the Indian political arena from the forgotten past. Without Shyamaprasad Kashmir would have been surely lost to India by now. In the early days of India’s independence, Indian citizens had to carry passports like all foreigners to enter (Indian) Kashmir. Shyamaprasad protested against such a measure, but Nehru had turned it down in the parliament. Shyamaprasad then gatecrashed in Kashmir without his passport and was arrested by Sheikh Abdullah and imprisoned. He died in the prison; no postmortem was done on his body. Nehru informed the parliament that he had been told that nothing untoward happened in the prison. The members accepted that assurance. But the constraint of carrying a passport for Indians had to be lifted.

    Another great historical event in the struggle for India’s independence owes to Aurobindo Ghosh He and his supporters were imprisoned in the Andaman Islands by the British and were condemned to die. But they made a miraculous escape. Later on, Aurobindo took refuge with the French and spent his life in Pondicherry. Subhas Bose also escaped to Andamans and declared Indian independence there. The great credit for Modi is that he has revived those memories and brought in the picture who gave the real struggle for independence. Modi has proposed, to my information, that Bose is to be regarded as the first Prime Minister of “independent” India – not Nehru.

    In sum, I do not think Modi will give up Kashmir without a fight. But his capitulation to China is unacceptable for sure.

  6. Gram Massla says:

    The last thousand years of incessant conquest have left Indians bereft of confidence, swagger and the zest for independent thinking. Conquerors breed contempt; one may argue that it is a necessary ingredient for lording over the conquered. After Hastings in 1066 the Norman French practiced strict apartheid over the conquered Saxons for at least a hundred years. Ditto for the Turkic conquerors of India. In the present day the persistent and continuous self flagellation one sees in the chronicles of politics written by many Indians may perhaps reflect the ingrained propensity to grovel in order to survive in the past and the self hate it produced. There is no doubt that the tough and confident Indian soldiers retaliated against the Chinese at Galwan where fragile PLA necks were snapped like twigs. Confidence in a nation begins with its armed forces and the Indian army has a proven fighting force. There is a good chance that the PLA will not be able to sustain any lengthy bout of violence along the border with untried and untested soldiers of the one child policy as the CCP cannot and will not sustain heavy casualties. 1962 is a distant memory and to young Indians a part of history. All the CCP posturing, at the Indian border and the SCS, is carefully choreographed to ensure that real violence will not take place, akin to a strutting peacock. All bark and no bite.

    • Gaurav Tyagi says:

      @Gram Massla- Don’t go overboard with your praise of Indian army. These colonial slaves fought for the British for a salary of 1-2 rupees monthly. One should wonder why they didn’t pick up the arms against the British occupation.

      They have only managed to beat Pakistan in wars. A nation which shares the same heritage and geographic land with India till the partition.

      Modern day warfare is based on technology. While there’s no doubt that PLA lost more soldiers than the Indian army during last year clashes at the border but in military operations success/failure is not counted by casualties but by achieving strategic objectives.

      China managed to capture Indian land so, they prevailed over the Indian army. An important point worth pondering over is how come PLA managed to encroach so deep into the Indian territory?

      Was it just carelessness on part of Indian forces or they deliberately let the PLA infiltrate?

    • Amit says:

      @Gram Masala,
      I agree with your assessment that the Indian Armed forces are competent. My dad was an IAF 65 and 71 war veteran and I grew up hearing stories of the feats of the Air Force pilots in the 71 war. The quality of IAF pilots was among the best even at that time.

      Another point I can vouch for is the camaraderie and excellent bonding within the armed forces. I grew up in Air Force camps all over India, and I can vouch for this. I don’t think any of that culture has changed. That kind of camaraderie and bonding is probably unmatched globally. India does well on this front and I don’t doubt the articles that are written about this in the media.

      Those who diss the Indian Armed forces don’t know what they are talking about. Where India needs to improve is on the political side – have more will to project military might and be more bold with policy decisions. A counter intrusion on the Tibetan border here and bringing down an H-6 bomber through EW there would send a good signal to China.

      • Sankar says:

        @Amit-
        I beg to disagree with you when you say “Indian Armed forces are competent”. In fact, it depends on the criterion of “competency” you set. I would like to measure it by the outcome of a war the army has fought. In the 1971 war campaign, it is true that they brought down the Pak army in the eastern sector – that performance was surely excellent, but that was to be expected since Pak had no possibility of reinforcing their troops in the east being cut off from their source. In the western sector, it is debatable how good was India’s performance. In my reading of records, it was pretty hopeless. India lost the strategic Chamb sector in the west to Pak due to the complete failure of intelligence as well as military actions as has been pointed out by some retd. Generals in their writings in IDR.

        In the air battle following Balakot “surgical strike”, the IAF got a bloody nose. Their interceptor MiG-21 was shot down by a Pak F-16(most likely). The claim by IAF that the MiG pilot also shot down a Pak fighter is laughable. Pak has shown to the world that the four seeker heads on the MIG’s four missiles were intact after it had crashed on the ground. Hence, no missile was fired by the Indian pilot – Basta!

        Amazingly, the Gujju propaganda machinery was working at full steam to prove the great “anti-terror” campaign success under Modi’s leadership. In sum, Gaurav’s position in the context makes much sense.

  7. Sankar says:

    As a diversion, the title here ‘Is there a Gujrati Way of Statecraft?” has been well appropriately amplified in the following link:
    https://theprint.in/opinion/ajit-doval-was-my-batchmate-but-his-understanding-of-constitution-civil-society-is-flawed/771459/

    To quote from there:
    “… Ajit Doval was appointed as the NSA by PM Modi in 2014. A former Director of the Intelligence Bureau, he is known to be one of PM Modi’s “closest confidantes” according to Mander, who claims that after his retirement, he headed the Vivekananda Foundation, which has a strong affiliation Hindutva ideology, and has become one of the main recruiting grounds for senior appointments in the Prime Minister’s Office.”

    And here:
    “As would be seen among Doval’s predecessors … it would be good if, even at this late stage, Doval follows the footpath of his predecessors. If he has any special ‘fourth-generation warfare’ skills, he better apply them against the big guns ‘occupying’ territories within India, instead of targeting the civil society.”

    • Amit says:

      @Sankar,

      I agree that outcomes are what matter in the end, but matters of incompetence are more nuanced. By the outcome yardstick, Indian armed forces beat back Pak forces in Kargil. Even after being in a bad position initially. Yes, there were intelligence failures, but do you think Indian armed forces were incompetent?

      What about the taking of Siachen? ‘71 outcome was also favourable. Sumdorong Cho? Nathu La? Every war will have battles won and lost. Will you call them incompetent based on that? On Balakot, frankly I don’t know what to believe. There is so much disinformation going around. But would you call Gp. Capt. Abhinanndan’s performance incompetent? Would you say the Indian Army’s performance in the Uri surgical strike was incompetent? What about the anti terror activities of the Indian Army and the CRPF in J&K? Are they being incompetent?

      The Germans too did well in many battles for several years in WW2, though they lost the war. Would you say the Germans were incompetent? Will you call the Pak Armed forces incompetent even though they have lost wars? I know the Indian Armed Forces don’t do that. There can be honour even in losing a war. It’s how you lose that matters.

      No. In India it is poor political decision making and lack of boldness in those decisions that is the bigger problem. And proper equipping of the Armed Forces. Not saying that Indian Armed forces cannot improve. But calling them incompetent is going a bit too far and ignoring facts.

  8. Vivek says:

    what is your view on news of modi govt under US pressure freeing strategic oil reserve. Is that right decision?

  9. whatsintanyway says:

    Nobody beats Gujju and Marwadis in Business they have defeated the Jews in Belgium and are dominating the Hotel business in US. But I have never seen a Gujju regiment. I think somewhere down the line the danda converted to dandiya. On the other hand all that Vegetarian – Timidity correlation went down with Hitler. The guy was pure vegetarian and ripped the British empire into shreds(mostly indirectly). The fear was so much into the psyche that Margaret Thatcher didn’t like the idea of German reunification.
    We were quite rich for most of our history, so much so that we tried outsourcing our administration to few foreign parties but that turned out to be a bummer.

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