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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 21 New Delhi May 14, 2016

Modi Government is acting like a Bull in China Shop

Monday 16 May 2016, by M K Bhadrakumar

The following piece was written sometime ago but could not be used earlier due to unavoidable reasons. So some points made here are dated. Yet given the importance of the issues raised in the overall context we are publishing it for the benefit of our readers.

Ten years back, the in-house journal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had carried an article —penned by none other than the incumbent Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar who was heading the America Division at that time—passionately arguing that India and America should jointly work to promote democracy in China.

I’d read it with amusement as the maverick view of an immature mind and thought the author was probably only imitating the neocons in America during the George W. Bush presi-dency whose dogmas were fashionable among the Indian foreign-policy elites at that time.

But, apparently, S. Jaishankar was merely ahead of his time by a decade. He was spelling out an agenda whose time has come 10 years later under Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stewardship of India’s ‘defining partnership’ with the United States.

The Deccan Herald newspaper reported today (April 21) that the Modi Government proposes to promote democracy in China. The government is pioneering a Track II event that espouses the liberation of Xinjiang from the Chinese yoke.

The venue of the Track II is the abode of the Dalai Lama up in the Himalayas in the vicinity of Xinjiang—Dharamsala. The World Uyghur Congress leader Dolkun Isa, whom Beijing has listed as a ‘terrorist’, will be the star performer at the four-day conference that begins on April 28.

Indeed, Chinese dissidents of all hues are flying in, including, curiously, a US-based Chinese activist who was behind the Tiananmen Square incidents of 1989. (Deccan Herald)

From all appearance, India is dusting up an old CIA file that had worked on the democracy project to stifle the communist system in China in its cradle. This is a plausible meaning of what is unfolding. From a mile, the participants at the Track II in Dharamsala resemble CIA “assets”.

Now, we have just about three years in hand before China celebrates the 70th anniversary of the communist revolution of 1949. It’s a tough call for the Modi Government to spoil the party —even with the CIA’s backing.

So, India now becomes an exponent of the ‘liberation movement’ in China. However, with the solitary exception of Bangladesh, India had traditionally steered clear of democracy projects in neighbouring countries. But then, the Modi Government is also selective. It steers clear of promoting democracy in Saudi Arabia and the UAE or the Central Asian states—although Modi knows these authoritarian regimes first-hand.

Herein lies the paradox, which only throws into relief the failure of diplomacy towards China. Indeed, India’s China policies have become curiouser and curiouser. A period of drift is giving way to a phase of chill and hostility.

When Prime Minister Modi took office in May 2014, expectations were sky-high not only in India but also abroad that he would be the creator of a new policy of constructive coope-ration in India’s relations with China. Beijing too probably got carried away when it took the extraordinary measure of deputing its Foreign Minister as special envoy to New Delhi as a goodwill gesture in the beginning of June within a week of the Modi Government’s tenure.

But as Modi completes two years in power, he is beginning to look like the proverbial bull in the China shop—a wanton destroyer. If the legacy of the UPA rule was that when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh left office in 2014, India had come breathtakingly closer than ever to settling its disputes with China, thanks to his sustained efforts to build trust and mutual confidence, that wonderful legacy has been squandered away by Modi.

What the Modi Government is doing, by the yardstick of inter-state relationships, will only amount to a blatant interference in the internal affairs of China. The world community at large is devoted to the Westphalian principle of national sovereignty. The Modi Government is crossing the ‘red line’. The sum total of India’s differences and disputes with China simply does not add up as justification to identify openly with a longstanding CIA project to foment unrest in China’s Xinjiang region and to destabilise that country.

Which makes the forthcoming Track II event in Dharamsala a blatant act of provocation by India. And there will be consequences to follow.

Modi cannot be unfamiliar with Chanakya’s advice for such uncertain times:

Before you start some work, always ask yourself three questions — ‘Why am I doing it?’ ‘What might be the results?’ ‘Will I be successful?’ Only when you think deeply and find satisfactory answers to these questions, go ahead.

Apart from the CIA, only Jaishankar and Modi would know the answer to the first two questions. But, even if the CIA were to back South Block to the hilt in this misadventure, the answer to the third question will still remain an obvious ‘No’.

Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).

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