Today's Editorial

01 December 2016


A regime of fixed ideas



Source: The Telegraph



Whatever other attributes it may lack, the ruling establishment in New Delhi makes it up by a surfeit of amour propre. It is therefore possible that someone would suggest to India to pick up a few tips on how to conduct foreign policy and modulate it as the occasion demands from its relatively small- size neighbour, Bangladesh. Quite a few amongst India's ruling politicians actually have a paternalistic attitude towards Bangladesh.


After all, was not the creation of that country to an overwhelming extent owing to the intervention of the Indian army in the war of liberation in 1971? What could, therefore, that country teach us? Amusingly or not, the lesson India could learn has its source right there. China, already at that time a firm ally of Pakistan, had virulently opposed the creation of Bangladesh. For the initial years following the emergence of Bangladesh, relations between the new state and China were naturally cool. But things changed as the years rolled by. China has emerged as the largest industrial country after the United States of America. It produces a whole range of industrial goods and intermediates which have a cost advantage over the products of most other countries. Thereby hangs a relatively recent development.


Bangladesh, since its independence, has been marked by a wide array of construction activities, which has called for a substantial demand for cement. Over the past four decades, the Bangladesh authorities have been buying the cement almost entirely from India. A shift has taken place in the current years. China is selling cement at a considerably lower price than India is able to and our eastern neighbour has chosen to buy cement from China rather than from us. This has incensed New Delhi and apparently an informal protest was lodged with the Bangladesh authorities. The response from Dhaka has been sharp and straightforward. A Bangladesh minister has made a candid public statement: his country wants to keep equally friendly relations with India and China and its government sees nothing wrong if it chooses to buy Chinese cement since it is cheaper.


It is precisely here the lesson in foreign policy lies. The war of liberation was an occurrence which took place 45 years ago. Memories are just that; they should not cast any shadow on today's decisions, acts, and activities: China was once an adversary but now it is a friend. Contrast India's stance vis- à- Vis China's. The border clash between the two countries took place way back in 1962, nearly a decade before the Bangladesh liberation war. Our politicians and, under their guidance, a considerable section of our people are nonetheless unable to move away from that past.


Our other bête noire has been Pakistan: the principal reason is Kashmir. Allegations and counterallegations concerning the continuing unrest in the Valley have soured the relations between the two countries. The Valley has been under the occupation of the Indian army ever since July 1984. That induction of armed forces into Kashmir is by itself a murky story. Indira Gandhi, then prime minister, had made up her mind to oust, in a most shoddy manner, Farooq Abdullah, the lawfully installed chief minister of the state; his guilt: hobnobbing with the country's Opposition leaders and creating a row over realignment of Centre- State relations. Apprehending widespread public unrest following Farooq's dismissal, troops were flown in without Farooq having a clue about what was happening. What Indira Gandhi did in Kashmir was, therefore, patently irregular.


The chief minister's permission was lacking and the entry of troops was approved, including the bringing in of the stooge New Delhi chose to replace Farooq. In the late 1950s, when the Naga rebellion was at its height, Parliament hastily passed the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, permitting the use of the army to quell disturbances in a state. This, the act says explicitly, can be done only with the consent of the state government and its chief minister. Farooq had not a clue of what was happening and the army's presence was subsequently ratified by the stooge chosen by Indira Gandhi as the new chief minister.


Ever since, the Valley has been in a disturbed condition. Our politicians proudly aver that Kashmir is an integral and inalienable part of India. It is nonetheless a bizarre situation. India has a democratic Constitution and most other parts of the country are accustomed to civil administration. The people in the Kashmir Valley however are being denied that democracy since it is being virtually ruled by the army and the civil authorities have become irrelevant. The Indian army personnel have not always been on their best behaviour. They have been rather free in using their arms while demonstrating their might against ordinary citizens. Kashmiri youths have been shot dead at the least provocation and complaints are frequent of misdemeanor on the part of soldiers with women. Even in a conservative reckoning, the number of Valley people who have been killed or are missing on account of army action must run into the thousands. A sulking population is bound to react to the army's excesses here and there in some manner or other. Acts of violence, therefore, have been taking place in Kashmir, resulting in casualties amongst the military personnel.


There is scarcely any heard evidence that these incidents have been instigated by the agents of Pakistan; there are enough incendiary factors of local origin. Even so, our politicians and our media have by now become accustomed to accusing Pakistan every time an incident takes place in the Valley; terrorism indulged in by Pakistan has become a catchy slogan and our prime minister is doing his best to publicize the grouse across the globe. In every country he visits, his principal theme is how India is suffering on account of acts of terrorism from across the border. International forums, too, are being used for the same purpose. Take, for instance, the scene our prime minister created at the conference recently held to lay a firm foundation for the proposed international bank which the governments of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa agreed upon a few years ago. The objective is to offer a counter to what they consider the malign influence of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund which, in the name of assisting the developing and underdeveloped nations, unashamedly exploit them. The recent meeting of the BRICS countries had only one agendum: to formulate the specifics of the bank's proffered schedules of functions and activities.


A very large number of the poorer countries had eagerly been waiting to hear the outcome of the conference. The meeting, however, was literally sabotaged by the Indian prime minister by his unwholesome rendering of how India's development was being impeded by terrorism from across the border. No other country showed up in support of our prime minister and China was vocal in its protest. This confirmed that China would once more be on the top of India's list of sworn adversaries. China and Pakistan, Pakistan and China: in India's foreign policy roster they have retained this status for more than half- a- century. The world may change, but India's foes would seemingly remain India's foes over a millennium or more.


Narendra Modi has returned from the BRICS session seething with anger against China. It was obviously time for a few other feeble pinpricks. One was the signing of the nuclear treaty with Japan with its overt anti- China stance. The second was what the prime minister thought was a brilliant idea — the manner in which Mahatma Gandhi called for the boycott of British goods during our freedom movement.


So Indians would, from now on, stop buying Chinese produce. This, of course, cannot be formally announced as an official policy, since this would infringe on the World Trade Organisation's regulations. New Delhi is, however, nurturing the hope that Indians would respond to the prime minister's call out of patriotic fervour. A somewhat puerile example was sought to be set by the government which did not invite China to the officially sponsored International Industrial Exhibition soon to be held in New Delhi: Chinese goods are not welcome.


Modi is bound to be disappointed with its China- boycotting programme. Boycotting goods that are cheaper than home products or products of any other origin calls for self- sacrifice; during the freedom struggle, the mood across the nation was keen eagerness for such sacrifice. In the neo- liberal regime initiated in the country since 1991, the focus is on self- aggrandizement.

In spite of Modi, economy- minded housewives as well as neighbourhood brats would love to make a beeline for attractive Chinese products from fine textiles to common fireworks as long as these are available at an unbelievably low price: traders would take the cue. Anyway, all and endall of India's external affairs appears to be to sour relations with Pakistan and China to the worst possible extent. The prime minister has shoved aside the minister for external affairs and has himself assumed that role.Under Modi's dispensation, the lady who is the foreign minister is not too active. And the ministry of external affairs could well be called the ministry of idée fixe.