Today's Editorial

21 October 2016

Then and now



Source: By K. P. Nayar: The Telegraph



" It does not have to be that way." Those eight words of a chorus line made memorable by John Edwards, the vice presidential running mate during John Kerry's unsuccessful American presidential bid in 2004, are applicable to the just concluded Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa summit in Goa.


It was not that way, as Edwards would convincingly put it in a very different setting, that New Delhi conducted its neighbourhood diplomacy or, for that matter, dealt with Moscow 20 or 25 years ago when the diplomatic challenges that this country faced were no different from what Narendra Modi faces today. India was a far less confident country then, in the early to mid- 1990s, than it is today. To the eternal shame of most Indians who lived through that period and would like to forget those tough years, the country's gold reserves had been pawned, not just on paper, but the gold was physically transported to Switzerland, ordered by none other than then finance minister, Yashwant Sinha, who has now turned into a holier- than- thou critic of the current prime minister.


The United States of America was piling pressure on India on every front. Human rights abuses were alleged in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast; child labour fuelled considerable Indian exports especially items like carpets and handicrafts; there were trade reprisals against New Delhi under Section 301 of the US Trade Act of 1974 initiated by the much- reviled Carla Hills, the then American trade representative; there was India's nuclear ambiguity and its unwillingness to sign the nuclear non- proliferation treaty... the list was long and overwhelming.


At last, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Washington had found a chance to punish New Delhi. In Washington's view, New Delhi had betrayed the global community of democracies or the socalled free world with its friendship with the “evil" Soviet empire. That friendship was seen in the West — in spite of India's non- alignment — as an alliance. In any case, the Americans had described nonalignment as “immoral". Successive prime ministers had stood up to indignantly righteous Americans from John Foster Dulles to Richard Nixon the way few thirdworld leaders had done. The turning point came when the US formally questioned the validity of the instrument of accession by Jammu and Kashmir to the Indian Union signed by Maharaja Hari Singh on October 26, 1947. I recall with unease the shock with which the rejection of the instrument of accession by the first US assistant secretary of state for South Asia, Robin Raphel, was received in New Delhi at every level. “We view Kashmir as a disputed territory. We do not recognize that instrument of accession as meaning that Kashmir is forevermore an integral part of India. And there are many issues at play in that time frame, as we all here know," were the exact words that Raphel used in a conversation with the Indian press corps in Washington on October 29, 1993.


It is not unreasonable to conclude that if an American official were to say something similar today, at least some Indian television channels will not report such a US statement because it would be deemed anti- national. Blessed is the cat that drinks milk with its eyes closed in the belief that no one can then see what the animal is up to on the sly. In the days that followed, the then Chinese ambassador in New Delhi sought a meeting with a senior official in the ministry of external affairs dealing with China.


When the appointment was granted, the ambassador had an incredible message to convey from Beijing. China, he told the Indian official, was a party to the Kashmir dispute. Legally, such a position was inadmissible. But in Realpolitik it was a statement of fact because China was in de facto possession of territory of pre- Partition Kashmir, which Pakistan had gifted to Beijing under a bilateral agreement in 1963. The ambassador then told the Indian official that Beijing realized that Washington was conspiring to prise Kashmir out of India. To the best of my recollection, he said that it was with the aim of creating an independent Kashmir. The envoy did not say it in so many words but the unstated message was that an independent Kashmir would have been for Washington what it would now like Ukraine to be vis- à- Vis Russia.


An independent Kashmir is geographically an invaluable listening post into China and strategically a launching pad for missiles and even nuclear warheads that can be aimed at the heart of the People's Republic. No one will say it publicly any more in these days when Modi is on back- slapping terms with “Barack". But within India's intelligence community and among the country's cerebral diplomats, there is still deep suspicion that one of the options in the Central Intelligence Agency files in the spy outfit's Langley headquarters is strategic use of Kashmir in the event of its independence from India and Pakistan.


After all, that is how all superpowers retain and expand their hold over the world. The ambassador made it plain, and without the slightest shadow of doubt, that China stood shoulder to shoulder with India against American pressures at a time when this country was weak and vulnerable. Although China's claim that it was a party to the Kashmir dispute was legally inadmissible from an Indian point of view, I recall the immense relief among those in the government — their number was, of course, very few — who were briefed about this episode at that time. How differently things were done in those days! As John Edwards would say, " it does not have to be" the way things are done nowadays. As a nation, Indians must reflect why and how things have changed, and certainly not for the better in the way New Delhi and Beijing engage each other. Nearly a year passed after the Chinese envoy's call on South Block and another shock occurrence made those at the top of the Indian government sit up. India, which had midwifed Nepal's transition from the panchayat era to constitutional monarchy, understandably got the jitters when, belying expectations of a continued and cosy relationship with the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal ( Unified Marxist- Leninist) came to power in Kathmandu.


On November 30, 1994, Man Mohan Adhikari was sworn in as prime minister of a CPN (UML) government. India worried that Adhikari would take Nepal out of India's sphere of influence and make the world's only Hindu kingdom a partner of China. Of particular worry among India's intelligence agencies was Adhikari's record during the 1971 war for the liberation of Bangladesh. Adhikari, according to their accounts had described the war as an act of aggression by India against Pakistan.


  1. V. Narasimha Rao, who was prime minister both during the episode involving Robin Raphel and at the time when Adhikari was elected to head Nepal's government, had no hesitation in calling Harkishan Singh Surjeet to his 7 Race Course Road residence for topsecret talks on Nepal. Rao shared his worst fears about Nepal with Surjeet, who, in turn, readily sent an emissary from his Communist Party of India (Marxist) to meet Adhikari in Kathmandu. When the emissary returned from Kathmandu, Surjeet went back to Rao along with the emissary and conveyed Adhikari's assurance that nothing would change between Nepal and India as long as he was in charge.


Indeed, very little changed during almost one year that the CPN (UML) remained in power. Meanwhile, China got wind of the CPI (M) mission to Adhikari. Beijing's ambassador went to South Block and assured the ministry of external affairs point person dealing with the subject, an outstanding Sinologist trusted by all for his expertise, that China had no intention of rocking India's Nepal agenda. China did not, of course, do it out of altruism. Stability in Tibet is very much linked to ensuring that the Indian applecart in Nepal is not wilfully upset from the outside. But 2016 is not 1994, and India's long- standing Tibet policy is undergoing a rethink within the ruling party, if not in the government.

It does not have to be that way, said John Edwards, and he was lamenting the state of affairs in his country. It is tempting to speculate what would have happened if Modi had called Sitaram Yechury to his residence and taken the CPI (M) leader into confidence about his concerns on China well before the BRICS summit — in fact, well before this government's relations with China slipped into an uncertain phase.


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