What happens when an anthropologist-turned-historian with a passion for cricket writes on foreign affairs? It is often a recipe for disaster. For, his work would invariably be presumptuous in nature, high on invoking moralistic values, low on real-life content. Things turn complicated, if not outright chaotic, when that eminent anthropologist-cum-historian is also obsessed with an ideology, say Nehruism.
Now, that would be the most terrifying scenario: For, he would gloss over the ethical, moral bloopers of the dispensation he is favourably disposed towards, but won’t show the same courtesy to those on the other side of the ideological divide. So, on the issue of Mao’s China invading Tibet in 1950, he remained unperturbed, with his moral compass unmoved even at the sight of Nehru’s India providing rice to the invading PLA soldiers in Tibet. But he finds himself “dismayed by the pusillanimity of” the Narendra Modi government for “its refusal to condemn the invasion and its silence in the face of Russian atrocities”. Now that’s called having the cake and eating it too.
Ramachandra Guha would still have redeemed himself had he stopped there. In his geostrategic ignorance, intellectual haughtiness and ideological stubbornness, he — in his new article, “Why India’s refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is hypocritical” — took a stand that ranges from being outright stupid and ludicrous to innately dangerous.
First thing first: Unlike what Guha would like us to believe, it was a tough decision for India not to bend backwards to please the West and instead pursue an independent foreign policy of criticising the Russian invasion of Ukraine and yet stopping short of the dubious Western design to corner Russia. Thanks to the proactive and assertive diplomacy led with aplomb by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, India could turn a crisis into an opportunity. Foreign policy, after all, is all about promoting national interest and not looking for high moral ground. But then one can understand why it’s so difficult for a ‘Nehruphile’ to understand and appreciate it.
Guha begins the article by saying how bloody the Ukraine war has become, “with perhaps 20,000 Russian soldiers killed in the fighting and probably twice as many Ukrainian men in uniform”. He then informs the reader that the “economy of Ukraine has been ravaged; once the conflict ends, it shall take decades to restore it to its past position”.
No one in his sane mind would deny these facts. Where one would disagree with him is on his analysis of the war and India’s role in all this. So, Guha, as he claims, is “horrified by the barbarism of the Russian military, its obliteration of the physical infrastructure of entire cities, its bombings of hospitals and civilian shelters, its assaults on Ukrainian women”. But then, which war is fought with human rights intact, Mr Guha? (I think the last such war was fought in 1191 AD and for that Prithviraj Chauhan came out looking horribly stupid a year later!) If anything, the Russians can be accused of going a bit soft on Ukraine. How else can one explain the recent Vogue photo shoot of the Zelenskyys at their palatial house and not in some heavily guarded bunker, even if one ignores the visits of several European Heads of States to Kyiv in the last two months?
Guha then blames Vladimir Putin for the war, showcasing either his strategic naivety or ideological obscenity. He writes, “Anyone with any sense could now see that the war was being conducted by Putin not to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO, but to teach the Ukrainians a lesson for not bending to his will. The Russian president was possessed of a maniacal delusion that he was a modern-day incarnation of a medieval emperor, unifying Russia and all its neighbours into one nation beholden to one all-powerful Leader.”
The Ukraine war, in reality, was seen to be coming for more than a decade now. Without being apologetic about Putin, who is without doubt an authoritarian leader, it can be said that Russia this time was actually pushed into the action by the US-led NATO’s eastward movement. Russia had protested in 1999 when Poland, Hungary and Czech Republic moved away from the Russian orbit to join NATO. Again, it showed its unhappiness in 2004 when seven Central and Eastern European nations such as Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia entered the Western military club. But Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008 was a clear indicator that Putin would go to any length to prevent Georgia and Ukraine from joining NATO. Ukraine joining NATO would have brought the Western guns and missiles to the Russian borders.
No country would want an enemy nation in its immediate neighbourhood. Remember, how India reacts every time China sets up a military base in its neighbourhood. Or, how the US reacted to the Soviet missiles stationed in Cuba in the early 1960s, bringing the world almost on the cusp of a nuclear war. If the US could have the luxury of the 1823 Monroe Doctrine, which prohibited European powers from interfering in the Americas and which was invoked as recently as in 2008 by then President Barack Obama, the others, including Russia, expected similar courtesy. As John J Mearsheimer writes in his recent essay, ‘Why the Ukraine crisis is the West’s fault’: “Imagine the outrage in Washington if China built an impressive military alliance and tried to include Canada and Mexico in it.”
One could still have ignored Guha’s article as a work of misplaced naivety and ideological obsession, but then he compared Kashmir and Nagaland with Ukraine and made an outright dangerous comment. “Perhaps the ruling party’s ideologues fear that if we stress the fact that Ukrainians have the right to be a free nation, then some people might make the same sort of case for the Kashmiris or the Nagas,” he writes.
Guha, deliberately or otherwise, got his facts completely wrong. Ukraine is an independent country, while Kashmir and Nagaland are an integral part of India. One wonders how the support for Ukraine would have made “the same sort of case for the Kashmiris or the Nagas”. It’s an argument of a delusional mind, pretending to be a liberal but innately seeking the break-up of India — the only democracy that can claim to be the home of all religions and ethnicities; the land that has history of giving refuge to religious minorities from across the world.
He, in that way, is no different from several communist intellectuals in the 1940s who provided cover fire to the idea of Pakistan, which was fundamentally an Islamist project. It’s an age-old toolkit aimed at disintegrating India. Such dubious minds play both ways: First, they would invoke India to be the land of diversities, and then they would push for the separation of those very diverse elements from India. The underlying emotion is nothing but hatred for the very idea of civilisational India.
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