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Modi's strongman image kept him from admitting China incursion: Rahul

The PM has been rather muted, avoiding naming the country even after the LAC violation
Rahul Gandhi

Sanjay K. Jha   |   New Delhi   |   Published 21.07.20, 03:58 AM

Rahul Gandhi has contended that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s obsession with his strongman image may have compelled him to deny the brazen intrusion into Ladakh and handed China a strategic advantage.

“If he allows the Chinese to understand that they can manipulate him because of his image, the Indian Prime Minister will no longer be worth anything for India,” the Congress leader said in a video message on Monday.

Modi has been rather muted on China, avoiding naming the country even after Chinese troops killed 20 Indian soldiers in Ladakh.

In a video message on Friday, Rahul had argued that China had chosen to act with such aggression because India’s economy and its relations with other countries, which were its strengths and offered it protection, had weakened under the Modi government. On Monday, he went into the much more complex issue of the dichotomy between Modi’s image and the reality, and argued this was being exploited by China.

“The Prime Minister fabricated a fake strongman image to come to power. It was his biggest strength. It is now India’s biggest weakness,” he said in a tweet accompanying the video.

In the 2014 election campaign, Modi had built the “56-inch” narrative, describing then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as weak and offering himself as a strong leader who could stare down any country that dared eye Indian territory.

Rahul said in the video: “What is China’s strategic and tactical game plan? It is simply not a border issue. (The) Chinese don’t do anything without thinking about it strategically. In their mind they have mapped out the world and they are trying to shape the world. That’s the scale of what they are doing. That’s what Gwadar is, that is what Belt and Road is. It is a restructuring of the planet. So when you are thinking about the Chinese you have to understand that that is the level at which they are thinking.”

He continued: “Now at the tactical level, they’re trying to improve their position. Whether it is Galwan, whether it’s Demchok or whether it is Pangong Lake. The idea is to position themselves. They are disturbed by our highway, they want to make our highway redundant, and if they are thinking larger scale, they want to do something with Pakistan in Kashmir. So it is not simply a border issue. It is a border issue designed to put pressure on the Prime Minister of India.”

The Congress leader then linked China’s strategy to its understanding of Modi’s personality.

“They are thinking of putting pressure in a very particular way. And what they are doing is that they are attacking his image. They understand that in order for Mr Narendra Modi to be an effective politician, in order for Mr Narendra Modi to survive as a politician, he has to protect the idea of ‘chhappan (56) inch’,” Rahul said.

“And this is the real idea the Chinese are attacking. They are basically telling Mr Narendra Modi that if you do not do what we say, we will destroy the idea of Mr Narendra Modi as a strong leader. Now the question is, how will Mr Narendra Modi react? Will he take them on? Will he take on the challenge and say, ‘Absolutely not, I am the Prime Minister of India; I do not care about my image; I’m going to take you on?’ Or will he succumb to them?”

The Modi government’s subdued response to the Chinese intrusion — in sharp contrast to its combative posturing on Pakistan — has dismayed many retired generals and security experts, who have argued that by not speaking out strongly, India has allowed China to get away with occupation of its territory.

Rahul said: “The worry I have so far is that the Prime Minister has succumbed. The worry I have is, the Chinese are sitting in our territory today and the Prime Minister has said publicly they are not, which to me tells me that he is worried about his image and defending his image.”


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