In an unusually candid exchange, China raised with India “some artificial obstacles” that the Indian establishment and sections of the media create for the development of defence ties between the two countries, through their “irresponsible, unfounded remarks”. This is hot stuff — and it must be taken seriously. Top Chinese officials speak with great deliberation — even in an aside.
So, China finally openly joins India’s other neighbours in a chorus of opinion. Ask not only the Pakistani diplomats in Chanakyapuri, but their Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi or Nepalese counterparts and you will come across the collective voice, which China now seems to share.
Apropos this extraordinary exchange with China’s National Defence Minister Liang Guanglie, our America-trained Minister of State for Defence Pallam Raju who is considered an articulate politician, seemed to have been lost for words. He responded in an arcane manner — that India is a democracy, our media is “active”, blah, blah. But this defensive plea won’t wash. The Chinese would know by now that in our vibrant democracy and free media, no one in the Indian establishment, especially Raju’s ministry, will ever think of expressing an unkind thought about, say, Israel, which they visit often.
The fact is, Indian establishment is primarily the opinion-maker in our country when it comes to foreign policy. Our wishy-washy protestations about India being a free country of a billion highly-opinionated people, et al, won’t persuade anyone. Therefore, when it comes to public cogitations about India’s highly sensitive foreign policy issues, the establishment ought to be discreet about orchestrating media opinion in the country.
The defence ministry and external affairs ministry can learn a lot from our so-called ’security establishment’ in this delicate art of public diplomacy . Look at the panache behind today’s report signalling to Pakistan that our leadership has indeed noticed and we will reciprocate their pullback from a negative mindset in conducting relations with India! The security establishment appears to be way ahead in sophistication.
Let me illustrate the point. Amazingly, no one from the defence or foreign policy establishment showed the agility (or integrity) to step in and cry halt to the tirades that China’s PLA cadres are secretly quartered in Pakistan’s Northern Areas — while Indian officials were candid enough to admit privately over a glass of whiskey that the famous Selig Harrison story was all baloney.
Even then, this week, when the last round of Siachen talks failed, our establishment found a new reason to explain away the failure by saying India henceforth also needs to factor in the PLA ‘presence’ on Pakistani territory. Such sophistry misleads public opinion and eventually makes it more difficult for any incumbent government in Delhi to sell to the country a genuine normalisation with China and Pakistan — whenever we diligently begin working for such normalisation.
General Liang was right to raise the issue with Raju, as we do need to comprehend that there is a big picture of Sino-Indian relationship through the 21st century and an attitude of nit-picking doesn’t go along with that big picture. There are all sorts of vested interests in our country that want this relationship to get derailed. If there is any doubt, ask our “time-tested” Russian friends who would have an honest independent opinion. They too are increasingly feeling the heat of the vibrant Indian ‘democracy’.
Why does all this happen? Let me put it this way. It wouldn’t have happened under Jaswant Singh’s stewardship of MOD or MEA. It happens when ministerial authority weakens, and as Yeats put it, “the centre cannot hold”. Or, it happens when small men occupy big positions in the establishment. Raju was wrong in advising Liang that this was all about ‘democracy’. I think he knew it himself.