Taming the madman by Bilal Anwar

Modi appears to follow a dangerous strategy of testing the opposition's limits through escalation

Richard Nixon the late US president, systematically used simulating madness as a foreign policy strategy during the Vietnam war to instill, uncertainty and doubts in his adversaries. The practice was aptly termed as the “Madman Doctrine”, which was deliberately conveyed and used against the Soviet and Vietnamese leadership, in a bid to subdue the resistance. The doctrine worked in essence by casting doubts over rationality of the president’s decision making, giving an impression to the adversary that irrational military choices might await them, if the madman was rubbed the wrong way.

Enter Modi. An analysis of the Indian Premier’s decision-making history might suggest that his portfolio fits the bill in being termed a madman.

But can he really be called as such?

Let’s look at the facts. In 2002, Modi, the then chief minister of Gujrat allegedly allowed “cow vigilantes”, to lynch more than a thousand Muslims in cold blood. Sanjiv Bhatt, a senior police officer from the time in a sworn statement to the state’s supreme court alleged the leader let the massacres take their course while stating, “Hindus should be allowed to vent their anger”.

In the foreign policy realm, the leader in an attempt to create a new normal with Pakistan, ordered a so-called pre-emptive non-military strike inside the state’s territory. The attack came in response to the Pulwama incident which had killed at least 40 Indian troops in IOK. The aggressive unilateral step could’ve ended up having disastrous implications for the region and beyond. Moreover, the act not only being challenging to the delicate regional deterrence stability also provoked the nuclear opposition to respond militarily.

According to the rational actor model, states and their leadership act rationally in line with their state interests. However, considering Modi’s erratic tendencies and flaming rhetoric had brought us to the brink of a nuclear war, points to the contrary.

What, then do we make of his foreign policy decisions?

Enter Galwan: On June 20, the Galwan Valley saw a serious altercation between Indian and Chinese troops, claiming the lives of at least 20 Indian soldiers. The scuffle not only inducing casualties to the Indian forces saw the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) move across on the Indian side’s perception of Line of Actual Control (LAC) in different areas of eastern Ladakh. The statements in response, from Modi appeared one of complete denial and contrary to what was being reported; a classical Indian strategy as we’ve learned from our own experience. In an all parties conference the PM proclaimed, “neither did anyone enter Indian territory nor has any of its posts taken.”

Modi sarkar over the next few days was seen scrambling to reach a consensus on de-escalation and disengagement, sending the madman diplomacy packing for good. The triggered rationality in Modi’s response towards Beijing not only, revealed the leader’s bluff to keep an assertive persona, but also a fractured will to retaliate in the face of an eminent hard threat.

Modi appears to follow a dangerous strategy of testing the opposition’s limits through escalation, while allowing room to deescalate, if things appear to be going south.

The attempt at establishing a new normal with Pakistan seems part of the same strategy. But, continued threats of escalation and warmongering in our case might be due to a flaw in our own responses, while dealing with the Indian threat. Reassessing our response of diplomatic leniency while signaling strength and assertiveness, might prove a better strategy at dissuading the aggressor from future misadventures. Pacifism may be ideal but, pairing it with pragmatism in the presence of a rival ready to test your extremes, may be the right choice.

Afterall, taking one from the Chinese book might work as they did “tame the madman”.



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