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Mainstream, VOL LI, No 20, May 4, 2013

On Sarabjit’s Death, Chinese Intransigence


Saturday 4 May 2013, by SC


As we go to press, the body of Sarabjit Singh, the Indian death-row convict who spent 22 years in a Pakistani prison before he was brutally injured in the Kot Lakhpat Jail six days ago on April 26 (he died late last night in Lahore’s Jinnah Hospital having succumbed to his grievolts injuries in the skull and brain in particular), has reached Amritsar by air after all the bureaucratic procedural delays and is due to be taken to his ancestral village for the last rites.

The barbaric attack on Sarabjit in the Lahore prison—which many suspect was instigated by Pakistan’s authorities running one of the country’s security agencies—and his subsequent demise in Jinnah Hospital as a consequence of the injuries he sustained have definitely hurt India-Pakistan relations in general and, as External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid aptly noted, dealt a body blow in particular to the growing people-to-people friendship and mutually beneficial interaction between the two countries. This is far more serious than what the Opposition parties, notably the BJP, are saying—blaming the Manmohan Singh dispensation for its pusillanimity on this score that has resulted in such a daring assault. One, of course, cannot ignore the latter accusation for there is a lot of strength in the charge against the Union Government’s behaviour in this regard. Buf if the peoples of the two states lose faith in bilateral ties and become hostages in the hands of the hardboiled jingoists on both sides, South Asian peace and cooperation will be at stake and become the first and biggest casualty thus adversely affecting regional amity. From that angle alone such a development needs to be unequivocally denounced.

The assault on Sarabjit is all the more suspicious since death-row convicts are kept apart from other prisoners and provided high security. However, as one of Sarabjit’s jail inmates disclosed, the jihadi elements in prison engage in similar attacks on fellow prisoners and the jail authorities choose to look the other way. In this specific case observers feel that there was every likelihood of Sarabjit being attacked by such elements in prison acting at the behest of the Pakistani agencies (Sarabjit himself had, in his letters to relatives, expressed fears of such a possibility.)

The question that arises is: why? Following the execution of Kasab in Mumbai and more so after the hanging of Afzal Guru in New Delhi, jingoists with the jihadi mindset became overactive under official Pakistani instigation to avenge those killings. And it is being suspected that Sarabjit became the victim of such a heinous conspiracy which was also intended to carry out the extra-judicial murder of a death-row convict, obviously the product of a prejudiced mind we frequently come across in both our countries. What is worse and more worrisome, the democratic, progressive forces within Pakistan —desiring closer relations between India and Pakistan and actively striving to translate such a desire into reality—have been caught unawares and forced into silence by the conspiracy of circumstances.

Nevertheless, one cannot remain blind to New Delhi’s role in this respect. As far as the Government of India is concerned, it failed to carry out its obligations by allowing the matter to be dealt with at the diplomatic level instead of promptly taking it up at the political level. This is a sad commentary on the functioning of the PM and his associates, including senior officials, in the PMO. The PM and PMO are therefore justifiably charged with inaction and having been gullible at the same time.

In the wake of such charges the Manmohan Singh dispensation is rapidly losing its legitimacy to govern. That legitimacy has already been eroded by not just the manifold scams that have characterised its tenure but more importantly the latest indefensible act of the Union Law Minister (presumably under the PM’s directive) on the issue of the CBI report to the Apex Court on the coal block allotment probe.

At the same time the indifference the GoI betrayed on the Chinese intrusion in Ladakh has also directly affected its governability. In fact the Chinese intrusion is highly dangerous because, as The Times of India has logically pointed out, the “localised problem” in the region is rapidly turning into a first-rate diplomatic crisis. The Chinese positons following the PLA’s intrusion 19 km inside Indian territory at Raki Nala are being reinforced “raising the real prospect of India losing access to 750 sq km in the strategically crucial northern Ladakh”, the daily explained. This apprehension can be ignored only at our peril. And in this context the proposed visit of our External Affairs Minister to Beijing is ill-timed, to say the least.

It must be noted with concern and consternation that while in the domestic sphere the UPA II Government’s performance has exposed its inefficiency, incompetence and shortcomings beyond measure, in the regional context it is unable to defend, protect and promote India’s national interest. That’s why our neighbours are cocking a snook at New Delhi and getting away with such offensive steps. The Pakistani behaviour in the wake of the attack on Sarabjit and Chinese intransigence in the border bring this out in bold relief. Manmohan Singh’s policy of appeasement in order to get a good conduct certificate from the sole superpower has failed in every respect. That is precisely why it is now most necessary to convey a different message to our neighbours, Pakistan and China in particular, that they cannot take India for granted. This of course does not mean resorting to overreaction on our part or pandering to jingoism in any form, but adopting firm and credible measures to further our national interests without fear or seeking any favour.

May 2 S.C.

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