Enter the Dragon, Exit the Tiger
Back in 1976, there was a Bruce Lee blockbuster, Exit the Dragon, Enter the Tiger. Over four decades on, tables have seemed to have turned in this region’s geopolitical scenario. Movies aside, reality in the South Asian political power play sees the distinct entrance of the Dragon (China) and exit of the Tiger (India).
The fire which this dragon breathes is not one of combustion, though, but of development, infrastructure, economic cooperation, a highway that promises to travel to the four corners of the earth. The tiger, on the other hand, in a show of bravado of the defeated, was in a desperate bid to display its fangs, claws and make is roar heard. Realising that its roar has grown feeble and that the other animals of the forest have the dragon to protect them, the tiger is now trying to be the benevolent beast of the neighbourhood. But it seems a little too late. No one is duped by a wolf in sheep’s clothing anymore.
Fables and fairytales aside, it looks like the curtains are drawing on India’s grand plans as a regional superpower. And China, which had been slowly and surely inching its way through the region and beyond, has accelerated its advances. The changes in the South Asian political equations are out in the open. The bottom line is, India has lost its loyal and/or forced following of its neighbours and China, hitherto the inscrutable and unknown power behind the Great Wall, is now the new power on the block.
Unlike India, it has not taken up the arm-twisting neighbourhood bully tactics, but has simply put its money where its mouth is. “You want development? You got it!” is its message to the neighbourhood. And unlike Western powers, with equal ambitions of dominance, it does not lay down conditions of so-called democracy, human rights and all that jargon with the West loves to spew out. It wants allies that can deliver the ‘goods’ and is willing to pay for it.
The West may decry China for its dubious track record in human rights and the manner in which it discards democracy. Their way to get back at China and its growing global influence, is to create as many irritants as possible. The protests in Hong Kong, their righteous tears for the Muslim Uighurs, their cries of the Chinese ‘debts traps’ are all part of their vitriolic campaign against China. Yet the world has seen enough of hypocrisy of these so-called civilised countries.
Where was their sympathy for Muslims when they annihilated innocent men, women and children in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and beyond? What about the debt traps of the World Bank, IMF and the likes? Or do pin stripped suits made such extortion ‘halal’? Where was their concern for human rights when it came to Guantanamo Bay, to George Floyd, to the rampant racism and innumerable other incidents that strip bare the façade of their ‘holier-than-thou’ hypocrisy?
India has been happy to be the US B-Team in the region, its broker, its agent. The question is, will the US be happy with the continuous failures of its South Asian agent? Instead of consolidating US interests in the region, along with its own, it is losing all its cards, one after the other, even its trump card Bangladesh. Trump can hardly be happy with his Modi gamble.
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Over-confident, India took too much for granted. Before its own eyes it sees that Sri Lanka is no longer bitter about the Hambantota port experience with China. It had imagined Sri Lanka would welcome India with open arms to construct another deep sea port there, but no nod from Sri Lanka. Nepal had been almost servile in its service to India, but one are those days. It has redrawn its map and thumbed its nose at the Big Brother. Pakistan, nothing needs to be said more about India’s nuclear-powered foe. India’s crass handling of the Kashmir issue, by abolishing the region’s special status, has given Pakistan further fodder to malign India in the international arena. Bhutan too seems to have lost that blind subservience. Maldives may be on the way, time will tell.
And the Bangladesh-India relations are the talk of the town. India’s last fortress of loyal following is crumbling as Bangladesh clearly looks East, turning a cold shoulder for the first time towards India. Wily Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has played a shrewd balancing act and her juggling seems to be paying off as India makes all sorts of desperate moves to cling on to this last bastion which seems to be ‘betraying’ them. Bangladesh will celebrate its 50th year of independence next year and the people are asking, “Will we be finally really independent, independent of Indian aggression that had bogged us down for the past five decades?”
The general question that looms large in the regional and international arena is, has the South Asian geopolitical scene taken a radical turn? Will China’s Belt and Road initiative dominate over the US Indo-Pacific strategy that India has been trying so hard to promote? Has the dragon’s fire finally turned the tiger’s aspirations to ashes?