Nepal – the country of the Buddha and the Mt. Everest

Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without – Buddha

Wikileaks Nepal Document: India lacks gumption

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on December 29, 2010

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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