Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s gaffe in caricaturing Bangladesh as a potentially Islamist, ‘pro-ISI’, ‘anti-India’ nation has met with an appropriate response of outrage from Dacca. Now it seems Pakistan’s turn is coming to tell off Dr. Singh and the ‘Mohali spirit’ may just wither away. The former prime minister Nawaz Sharif has contested the advice given by PM to Pakistan to forget about Kashmir and concentrate instead on its internal turmoil. Maybe the next in turn will be the Buddhist clergy in Sri Lanka to take exception to the PM pointing finger at Sinhala chauvinism as the stumbling block to a settlement of the Tamil problem . Or, it can be a reassertion by Tamil Nadu chief minister Jayalalithaa that she didn’t mean to indulge in doublespeak on the Sri Lankan Tamil problem - passing a resolution in the state assembly and then meeting Dr. Singh and telling him privately that she didn’t mean a word of what the resolution stated.
Indeed, almost everyone in China these days is busy with the celebrations over the 90th anniversary of the communist party and probably no one had time to read about PM’s advice not to believe in the statistics that Beijing dishes out and that the Chinese political system is “opaque”. But China will take note and it will hold in its memory what a poor opinion the erudite Indian PM really holds about that country. The issue is not whether Jamaat-i-Islami commands the allegiance of over 25% Bangladeshis - as PM has been led to believe; or whether Sinhala chauvinism isn’t indeed a fact of life; or even whether Pakistan has ever had any locus standii on Kashmir problem; or, leave alone, whether China’s word can be trusted. What emerges from PM’s press interaction is something else: His gaffe on Bangladesh is not an isolated case. He should never have spoken in the manner in which he did on any of India’s neighbouring countries. What he said smacks of hubris and we know PM is a modest man. So, this uncharacteristic indulgence in patronising remarks about neighbouring countries leapt straight out of the briefings offered by his aides.
Dacca, Colombo, Islamabad and Beijing would draw conclusions. They would have a better idea of the thought-processes that go on in the sequestered ‘Chanakyan’ mind, while professing goodwill. Our diplomacy gets hit. Surprisingly, none of PM’s aides who were present at the press interaction thought it fit to pass on a chit to him to remind him he was blithely blurting out things strictly meant for background information. They should know PM is a 78-year old man who works 18 hours a day and it is not humanly possible for him to be as alert as the prime minister of a country of a billion people ought to be. Maybe, when they brief PM for the next media interaction (hopefully, there will be another one), they should divulge to him only anodyne details so that the business of the Indian state isn’t impaired. ‘Yes, Prime Minister’.