India – the world’s largest democracy will hold its national elections in May this year when more than an billion people are expected to vote a new government into power. Coming quick on the heels of a government change in China too, Inchin Closer delves into how these new governments will deal with our age old sweet and sour relations.
India has predominately 3 major political parties vying for the hot seat to lead the nation – the veteran Congress Party reigned by Sonia Gandhi a surname which resonates warmly in Beijing, the Bharatiya Janata Party controlled by Narendra Modi whose streak of progress in Gujarat has endeared Beijing and the new entrant Arvind Kejriwal of the Aam Admi Party or common man’s party who stands tall against corruption and like President Xi Jinping wants to clean up the system.
The Indian elections are being keenly watched by China especially since President Xi Jinping plans to visit India later this year and recently expressed to Indian Ambassador Ashok Kantha that its his historic mission to strengthen ties with India. The party that is voted into power will carry the mantle for the next five years and will mark its imprint in sino-indian relations for years to come. Below Inchin Closer looks at what the major contenders have done till date vis a vis China, and what China anticipates of each party.
The Congress party has strong links with Beijing’s political elite, the Gandhi’s are warmly welcomed in China – this was clearly visible during the Beijing Olympics when personal invites were sent in. Further, both India’s outgoing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as well as Shiv Shankar Menon India’s national security adviser will be missed by the Middle Kingdom who is a little on edge as they will have to rebuild ties within critical ministries if new ministers are sworn in. As anyone who has worked in East Asia knows, developing and nurturing relationships is important and the Congress has succeeded here, obtaining the faith and trust of the Chinese politbureau.
Having being in power for a majority of the time since Independence, the Congress has proved over time to be a strong ally by China’s side on issues of regional and international importance. While this has created a cozy camaraderie between the two countries, trade between India and China has seen a yawning deficit over the past five years (see Trade deficit between China and India balloons). Therefore, while the Congress might not have driven trade ties with China, Beijing would be happy to keep things status qup.
On the other hand, the BJP is a golden egg of opportunity for Beijing. China granted Narendra Modi – accused in India of mass massacres during the Gujarat riots in 2003 a visa to visit China when America shut her doors on him. As a goodwill response, Modi created fertile ground for Chinese companies to grow in his home state Gujarat which contributed to the prosperity he now quotes during election campaigns. While expectations are that Modi will do to the rest of India what he’s shown in Gujarat are high, his performance within the Indian bureaucratic system is yet to be seen.
A pro China voice, the BJP’s previous Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is also heralded as strengthening ties between our two countries. During Vajpayee’s tenure from 1999 – 2004 as the first Indian Prime Minister to visit China in 10 years he not only eased border tensions between the two nations but also catapulted trade and economic ties between India and China. A similar expectation awaits Mr. Modi, who amongst many of his close confidantes has Smriti Irani an astute woman who speaks basic Mandarin.
Whichever political party gains control over India for the next five years, neither will be able to ignore China. As India’s largest trading partner and most important neighbour, relations with the Middle Kingdom will need to be maintained if not improved. The Indian government will need to step up and prove her worth – in the economic, political and international realm.