The Indian columnists have begun openly writing what some of us at least might have secretly suspected all along for the past one week - and didn’t want to say publicly. The great all-world Buddhist enclave in Delhi this week which ship-wrecked the India-China border talks between Special Representatives Shiv Shankar Menon of India and Dai Bingguo of China was, after all, a government-of-India affair.
Now, hold on to your chair if I say something more: The Buddhist meet was actually the brainchild of India’s spymasters. Now, take a deep, long breath, but don’t gasp: MEA was the spymasters’s comrade-in-arms, the enterprise’s co-sponsor.
Can you comprehend the gravity of the stupidity? India has delegated Lord Buddha to the spooks and small-time bureaucrats. It is sacrilege. Millions of Buddhist followers of Sri Lanka, Thailand, South Korea and Japan will be horrified. Panditji, if I recall correctly, once wrote that Buddha was the “finest flower” of the Indian civilisation. He indeed used words to that effect. What depravity we have come to now that we celebrate the 2600th anniversary of Buddha’s ‘Enlightenment’ in this fashion under the patronage of spooks!
But, other issues also arise. First, I can’t comprehend the agenda in the minds of our spymasters and China hands. If it is to juxtappose Buddhism with China - like US did in the cold war era by pitting socialism against Islam - it isn’t going to work. China is actually claiming the Buddhist heritage with greater elan than India. Its Lumbini project in Nepal will put India to shame. With all these years of exclusive friendship with Nepal, Delhi failed to anticipate that there could be some day a Himalayan puncture to its pretensions as the inheritor of Buddha’s legacy. More so, now even Amartya Sen seems exasperated with the muddle-headed way we are going about putting up the Nalanda University in Bihar.
Second, conceivably, the ill-fated enterprise was launched with PMO’s knowledge and concurrence. After all, President Pratibha Patil and PM Manmohan Singh were invited to the inaugural ceremony. Now, that brings us to Menon. Was he in the loop? It must be one of the macabre jokes of India’s diplomatic history if he was party to sabotaging his own talks with Dai. I fervently hope he stuck to file work and insisted on being kept in the dark.
Third, it is now onward virtually impossible for us to whip up anti-China propaganda and then claim India is a free society and the government has nothing to do with the cacophony. Perhaps, Beijing never quite believed the government’s protestation all along, but now onward the stance would only look plain dissimulation. In short, we ‘lost’ the much-needed cloud cover for staging anti-China propaganda.
If a popular TV channel tomorrow features another high-pitch bout of China-bashing, Beijing might even suspect that the anchorperson is in the secret pay of the spooks. In short, it is a ’systemic’ loss, since propaganda has its proper uses in diplomacy against adversarial powers and it needs to be handled in a sophisticated way. Debasing propaganda with crudity is simply appalling.
Fourth, even if a minor point, it was inappropriate to have dragged Dalai Lama into this ’spookish’ venture. He wouldn’t probably like to be known in this way. Patil and Manmohan Singh did the right thing by dissociating when they got wind of the state of play. But, Dalai Lama being an excessively polite man, probably didn’t want to embarrass his hosts. Do not overplay the ‘Dalai Lama card’.
Finally, all this brings us to a huge issue: ‘What is our China policy?’ This ridiculous mishap wouldn’t have occured if we indeed had a China policy. I think it is time to rescue it from our spooks and ’China hands’. China is a rising power, which the world community takes very, very seriously - including the United States, by the way. In particular, China will ever remain India’s next-door neighbour and India has many serious, intractable disputes to settle with that country.
India shouldn’t trivialise its relationship with China, because this relationship is going to be in the very first circle of India’s foreign policy for many decades to come. Do away with this roller-coaster ride passing for India’s celebrated ‘competitition-cum-cooperation’ policy toward China. There is indeed sufficient space available for India and China to live side by side, to get rid of their curse of poverty and to develop.
What India needs is a predictable normalisation with China, which would give clarity to the country’s external environment and help it focus on the core issues of growth and development. It should be a continuous process.
So, what do we do now to clean up the debris? PM should use the ‘hot line’ he has with Beijing to good purpose. There is need to put a call through to Wen Jiabao and get the SRs’ meeting back on track. Good that Beijing didn’t over-react to the insult. Rescue the China policy from the ‘China hands’ in the Indian establishment. Ask the spooks to stick to their job and not to pretend they have become the CIA.