The taxi driver and the dragon

Shubha Srinivasan | Updated on March 12, 2018 Published on May 27, 2013

Indians know the value of land; they understand encroachment.

The taxi driver in Mumbai was amazed by the number of policemen on the roads. The lack of traffic was surprising as well. He turned around and asked me if any VIP was in town. I informed him that the new Chinese Premier, Le Keqiang, had arrived. I seriously thought that to be the end of the conversation.

What would a poor taxi driver in Mumbai know about border disputes and deeper foreign policy implications of the visit?

To the contrary, the taxi driver began by saying that the Chinese constantly underestimate the resilience of the average Indian. The Chinese premier should be made to ride our trains and endure the full force of the regular Mumbai traffic to understand that we struggle for our survival and existence and emerge triumphant on a daily basis, he said.

The driver then questioned the timing of the visit. Who would visit a country two weeks after border tensions; does the premier understand politics, wondered the taxi driver. Look at how our politicians navigate expertly through all the scams and know exactly when to step on the gas or remove their foot from the pedal. The conversation had developed serious potential.

The motherland

The average Indian values his land; it’s the most important thing to him, provides an intense connection to his motherland. Ask anyone in Mumbai, we know the value of land and how to inch our way forward towards more available land. He clearly identified China as an expert encroacher. And, encroachment is an act of expertise in most slums, he said.

Individuals and community engaged in land grab are identified and isolated within their earlier perimeter. How is this any different from China approaching India Inc with a large delegation of Chinese businessmen to prevent further isolation from its neighbours who have banded together – America, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Japan and South Korea and Taiwan?

India is closely watching China’s ties with Pakistan and North Korea. Indian ties with Myanmar are closely noticed by China. The taxi driver said in a moment of acute patriotic fervour that “countries like China and Pakistan should be closely monitored. They will take an inch while retreating two steps”.

Island grab

Going down Marine Drive, we discussed China’s naval ambitions. The driver informed me that China grabs all these small islands around Japan, and India could be next. One never knows. Such an eye-opener to know that the average Indian worries about national security and how an incident on the border can dramatically our lives.

With the driver providing so much gyan, I was obliged to share my own two cents’ worth. I shared nuggets of information about how the United States Department of Defense had coined the phrase “string of pearls” to describe China’s naval and military ambitions from the Chinese Mainland to Port Sudan -- much like the popular name “queen’s necklace” is used to describe Marine Drive. (Moving beyond the conversation) China describes this stronghold in vital geopolitical interests in the Asia-Pacific region as a peaceful approach to protect its interests. This has raised eyebrows in the region and most countries have tightened their security strategy in defending their borders, creating a state of heightened watchfulness.

Mumbai-China bhai-bhai

Mumbaikars do not have anything against the Chinese people in general. The taxi driver vehemently stated that Indians and Chinese were brothers. Our people are alike in outlook, philosophy and approach to things. They share similar family values, history, culture and value systems. Indians and Chinese work very hard, he said, apart from sharing a common fascination for learning English.

Daniel Bell, author of China’s new Confucianism, strongly advocates that China should move from its stance of hard nationalism where the focus was on nation-building and establishing itself as superpower, towards soft nationalism. There are over 35 registered Indian companies based in China like TCS, Infosys, Raymond, Reliance Industries, Essar, Jindal, and banks pharmaceutical companies, to name a few. However, Indian companies do not get fair market access in China, stated a newly-appointed CEO in the pharmaceutical sector.

While the joint statement signed by the two countries proposed to work towards greater access to Indian products, India was cool to Chinese overtures of friendship, given the backdrop of border tensions.

India has displayed a preference towards engagement with the United States and its allies. The taxi driver wisely commented on the badly timed visit: “China has no sense of timing and rushes out like the dragon while India is a swarming beehive with a decided agenda.”

(The author works at the National CSR Hub, Tata Institute of Social Sciences.)

Published on May 27, 2013
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