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"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

India lacks gumption

January 5, 2011

January 02, 2011 12:37:36 AM

SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY, Daily Pioneer, Sunday

New Delhi’s willing-to-wound-afraid-to-strike attitude towards Beijing
doesn't suggest a robust candidate for the world's high table

A recent lunch at one of our Raj Bhavans exposed an anomaly that might
be more than ceremonial. When the Rajyapal ushered in the Dalai Lama,
all of us dutifully stood up for Jana Mana Gana. Listening to the
familiar strains, I wondered what the Tibetan national anthem which I
expected to follow sounded like. But lo and behold! no Tibetan national
anthem was played. India’s anthem over, we formed a line to be received
by His Holiness.

This intriguing breach of protocol reflected a confusion that, one
hopes, will be cleared in the New Year. It indicated an anomalous
self-view and an inability to shape a realistic foreign policy to
realise India’s national aims. The routine was especially curious
because a senior official from New Delhi had told me earlier that the
Dalai Lama enjoys the status of a visiting head of state. If so, his
national anthem should have been played immediately after the host
country’s. That norm is followed at national day celebrations in New
Delhi and State capitals.

It is possible — though unlikely — that the Tibetan administration
doesn’t have a national anthem. Or that though it has one, the Dalai
Lama has decided that it need not be played when it should so that New
Delhi isn’t embarrassed. But both seem unlikely since the Dalai Lama has
a standard and flies it. In fact, the Dharamsala administration has all
the trappings of statehood, and will soon even boast an elected Prime
Minister. Watching the start of the process in Brussels some months ago,
it occurred to me that while territorial Tibet might be a vassal of the
People’s Republic of China, the exiled administration, with
representatives in major world capitals, is acquiring all the trappings
of a virtual state.

The staggered elections also reveal the extent to which even the
diaspora is subject to diplomatic vicissitudes. The seizure of Tibetan
ballot boxes in Nepal received extensive coverage; apparently, similar
restrictive measures in Bhutan passed unnoticed. Since the actions in
both countries are attributed to Chinese pressure rather than indigenous
sentiment, Kathmandu and Thimphu cannot be blamed too much. Small
landlocked countries like Nepal and Bhutan cannot logically be expected
to defy a bigger neighbour without some assurance of alternative
support. India alone could have offered countervailing reassurance, but
obviously did not.

What does this say of External Affairs Ministry thinking? What does it
portend for the future? The questions acquire additional relevance in
the light of the controversy over the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to the
dissident Chinese writer, Mr Liu Xiaobo. The 19 countries that boycotted
the Oslo ceremony are at par with the 23 countries that still recognise
Taiwan as China. Both groups have decided that it pays them most to be
on a particular side. But India on the cusp of change is not quite the
Caribbean state of St Vincent and the Grenadines which has maintained
unbroken diplomatic ties with Taiwan for 25 years. Nor is it Pakistan
which boycotted the Oslo ceremony because it needs China to bolster the
anti-India position that has become almost its only raison d’etre.

A country that prides itself on being the world’s largest democracy,
which has formidable scientific and technological achievements to its
credit and makes no secret (which is tactical foolishness) of its great
power aspirations, need not succumb to pressure. Nor need it go out of
its way to strike moral positions. India has shown realism over Myanmar
and Palestine, setting aside previous positions based on idealism that
offered no political dividend. But that adherence to the old adage about
countries having permanent interests and not permanent friends will not
in itself realise India’s goal unless vigorous steps are also
immediately taken to address domestic abuses.

It did not need the WikiLeaks secret US State Department documents to
tell us that the “police and security forces are overworked and hampered
by bad police practices, including widespread use of torture in
interrogations, rampant corruption, poor training, and a general
inability to conduct solid forensic investigations”. Indeed, a Uttar
Pradesh judge long ago denounced the State’s police force as the largest
group of uniformed criminals in the country.

No wonder the American memorandum is so scathing. “India’s security
forces also regularly cut corners to avoid working through India’s
lagging justice system, which has approximately 13 judges per million
people. Thus, Indian police officials often do not respond to our
requests for information about attacks or about offers of support
because they are covering up poor practices, rather than rejecting our
help outright.” Surprisingly, there was no mention of ramshackle
courtrooms, dilatory court officials, exploitative lawyers and — as is
now emerging — venal judges even at the highest levels.

Police inefficiency and worse can be blamed on State Governments, but
the Americans are equally sceptical about India’s armed forces,
dismissing the so-called ‘Cold Start Doctrine’ — a rapid, short and
limited reprisal attack against Pakistan — as a “mixture of myth and
reality”. Ambassador Timothy Roemer does not think India’s armed forces
would ever be able to carry out such an operation, and that it’s
theoretical existence only gives psychological comfort to the authors in
Delhi. “The value of the doctrine to the Government of India may lie
more in the plan’s existence than in any real-world application.”

Mr Roemer’s reason for analysing India’s effectiveness or otherwise is
to find reasons for the Government’s reluctance wholeheartedly to throw
in its lot with American strategic measures. That is not of paramount
interest to Indians. What matters far more to us is that a weak Army,
Navy and Air Force, a corrupt and ineffective police and a dilatory and
costly judiciary means that the ordinary Indian is without protection in
his own country.

Add to that the diplomatic wobbling evident in promises that the Dalai
Lama will not be allowed to indulge in politics and claims that he does
not run a Government in exile. If New Delhi really doesn’t want the
Tibetans, let it unambiguously say so and deport the lot. If the only
reason for accommodating them is humanitarian, that, too, could be made
explicit. But the willing-to-wound-afraid-to-strike attitude that the
national anthem episode illustrated didn’t suggest a robust candidate
for the world’s high table. It indicated a country that is afraid of its
own shadow as it steps diffidently into 2011.
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