Delhi sends neighbours the wrong signal


All over the world, a country’s own national interest shapes its foreign policy, so why is there a role reversal in the case of India? Are we back to the Jawaharlal Nehru era of eyeing China with rose-tinted glasses?
All over the world, a country’s own national interest shapes its foreign policy, so why is there a role reversal in the case of India? Are we back to the Jawaharlal Nehru era of eyeing China with rose-tinted glasses?
I’m not in the habit of commenting wantonly on matters of high national policy, but certain news reports in the media compel me to do so. It’s a situation pertaining to the “sovereignty of India” and the fundamental rights guaranteed to all citizens under Article 19 of the Constitution. As per Article 19 (1), all citizens “have the right to (a) freedom of speech and expression; (b) assemble peaceably and without arms; and (d) move freely throughout the territory of India”.
There do exist certain conditions pertaining to the clauses referred to above. Thus clarifies Article 19 (2)(3)(4)(5): that “nothing… shall prevent the State from making any law” …for imposing “reasonable restrictions … in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India”. Interestingly, the words “sovereignty and integrity of India” were not there in the original version of the Constitution in 1950. These were inserted only by the 16th Amendment Act 1963 with effect from October 6, 1963, in the wake of the Chinese invasion of India (a year earlier) on Saturday, October 20, 1962. Quite an irony? Indeed. Not today, though.
This is because today the issue has taken a full circle and reached China, the country for which the words “sovereignty and integrity of India” were inserted through an amendment in the Constitution in 1963. What a beautifully-scripted Constitution Indians have given to themselves – the citizens of India! “Freedom of speech and expression; to assemble peaceably and without arms and to move freely throughout the territory of India”? And yet the time appears to have come when the fear of China has put the sovereignty of the Indian Constitution under severe strain.
A state document (in the public domain) today calls for an assessment and analysis. It would be appropriate to see it in the light of the citizens’ fundamental rights rather than through the prism of foreigners’ interests, be it a friend or a foe.
According to the news reports, in a note to the Cabinet Secretary, India’s new foreign secretary has said that this was a “very sensitive time”; and has asked that “senior leaders” and “government functionaries” of both the Central and state governments stay away from events planned in March and in early April by the “Tibetan leadership in India”, as it is “not desirable”.
It is surprising to note that the foreign secretary issues a “classified advisory to all Central as well as state ministries and departments against accepting any invitation or participating in the proposed commemorative events” on the grounds that “the proposed period will be very sensitive time in the context of India’s relations with China. Participation by senior leaders or government functionaries, either from the Central government or a state government, is not desirable, and should be discouraged”. Doesn’t it show the entry of the Chinese bogey deep inside India’s internal polity? All over the world, a country’s own national interest shapes its foreign policy, so why is there a role reversal in the case of India? Are we back to the Jawaharlal Nehru era of eyeing China with rose-tinted glasses?
Assuming that India’s leaders and government functionaries, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, and Kathiawar to Kohima, actually abide by the advisory in letter and spirit, what follows? Are we sure that China will reciprocate our extraordinary friendly gesture and stop making all outrageous claims pertaining to India? Such as cease referring to Arunachal Pradesh as “South Tibet”? Will China be super-sensitive to understand India’s position, in land and in sea? Will it stop instigating various actors in the east and Northeast who it has traditionally funded for their fissiparous activities? Will China ever leave J&K? Will China return the land it forcibly captured in 1950s? Will China take note of the bilateral trade imbalance? Will China stop its bid to destabilise the Indian Ocean region? Are these not “sensitive issues” for India? Can diplomatic goodwill be a one-way traffic? And that too to India’s unilateral disadvantage?
Regretfully, we Indians tend to blame (though somewhat correctly) the nonaligned Nehru’s China policy of the 1950s as he seems to have been too enamoured of Communist China and its leadership. Indeed, Nehru’s views were a visible mismatch with those of Sardar Patel in 1950 when Tibet was being destroyed by Beijing. We all know what happened thereafter. Nehru belatedly realised the danger from the Himalayas, leading to the fugitive Dalai Lama’s escape from inevitable death. The Dalai Lama never turned to the path of Osama bin Laden in order to take revenge. He can never do so, even in his dreams. VasudhaivaKutumbakam is our favourite quote in all walks of life.
A somewhat ironical instance comes to mind. We all know Afghanistan is the terrain of terror, war and violence — which stand poles apart from India’s high profile “doctrine of non-violence and hospitality”. Yet the Afghan Pashtuns, in accordance with their code of conduct, even today, follow it to save a fugitive who has taken refuge under them.
The reference to the Pashtuns is to make a point. By openly, and suddenly, reversing its Tibet policy, what signal will India send to its smaller neighbours that have looked up to New Delhi to be its friend, philosopher and guide ever since August 1947, even before Red China’s birth (in October 1949). Do we gain, or, do we lose prestige, power, influence and self-respect across South Asia —- from Male to Myanmar, Colombo to Kathmandu, and Kabul to Dhaka to Thimphu?
High-profile dignitaries from Jordan and Vietnam were in India recently for bilateral talks. How will they take this news? Vietnam has issues with China. Vietnam also has diplomatic relations with China. But should any nation regulate, or put restrictions, on the fundamental rights of its own citizens for the sake of pleasing a neighbouring nation that doesn’t play the game of diplomacy by the rulebook?
As I understand, these clearly amount to “reasonable restrictions on the exercise of fundamental rights” under Article 19. Ironically, there doesn’t appear to be any genuine cause of concern as these are entirely internal issues within our country. There is no way the State should put curbs, however “reasonable” they may be, for pacifying, mollifying or appeasing a foreign nation which does not even bother to heed our sensitivities. (This despite the fact that the Tibetans have silently and gracefully retreated.) As it is, there will be no end to more such “compulsions” in future. India, quite correctly, did not participate in last year’s high-profile BRI/OBOR launch in Beijing over “PoK sovereignty”. How then can India compromise with the internal movement of its own citizens within India’s sovereign territory? That is simply not correct. Aren’t we going overboard, one-way, over China’s sensitivities, and compromising with our own political independence, and undermining our sovereignty?