By Amulya Ganguli*
By deciding to host a conference of Chinese dissidents in Dharamshala, India has shown some spine in its dealings with Beijing after many years of playing the nice guy. However, by first granting and then withdrawing the visa for the Uyghur nationalist Dolkun Isa, whom China brands a “terrorist”, presumably because of the Interpol red corner notice against him, New Delhi has shown that it is yet to firm up its China policy.
Moreover, the flip-flop has cast doubts over the conference itself. If anything, the episode has underlined the Narendra Modi government’s inexperience in matter of international relations since it should have checked out Dolkun Isa’s background more thoroughly before extending the invitation to him.
It is too early to say if the latest developments presage a return to the pursuit of mealy-mouthed policies with China once again. At one time, India appeared so eager to keep the Dragon in good humour that it even treated the Dalai Lama with uncommon rudeness. For instance, the Tibetan pontiff was once hustled out of his residence in New Delhi and taken to 7, Race Course Road, where he was ushered into the prime minister’s presence by a side door.
Not surprisingly, the Nobel laureate was reported to have been “shaken” by the encounter, for he had never before been treated so shabbily by the Indian leaders who had till then been unfailingly courteous towards the holy man.
A scheduled meeting between the Dalai Lama and BJP president Amit Shah was abruptly cancelled before Modi’s visit to China in May, 2015. Notwithstanding India’s submissive behaviour, a state-run newspaper in Beijing advised Modi not to play “little tricks” by developing strategic and economic ties with the US and Japan. Moreover, the Indian prime minister was told not to visit a “disputed” region like Arunachal Pradesh and, above all, “completely stop supporting” the Dalal Lama.
There is little doubt that the “appalling old waxwork”, to use Prince Charles’ description of Xi Jinping, repeated to Modi what the newspaper had written, probably after being briefed by the Chinese president’s sidekicks.
Such meek conduct on India’s part continued till the Chinese decided to block India’s move yet again at the UN to declare Masood Azhar as a terrorist.
It is possible that the virtual collapse of Modi’s peace initiatives towards Pakistan is related to the decision to host the Chinese dissidents. It is probably the rebuff which India suffered when the Pakistan high commissioner in New Delhi unilaterally suspended the peace process following the fiasco of a Pakistani team’s visit to Pathankot to investigate the terrorist attack which made India rethink its position after China indulged in its own “little trick” in the Masood Azhar affair.
With the “all-weather friendship” between Islamabad and Beijing blossoming again, it was time for New Delhi to remember the ancient Indian political philosopher Kautilya’s dictum to repay deviousness with the same.
The Dharamshala conference – if it takes place – will be a message not only to China, but also to Pakistan and, more specifically, to its avowedly anti-Indian army chief, Raheel Sharif, that sustained hostility towards India can hurt Pakistan more by boosting the terror network there.
The result will be not only that Pakistan itself will be subjected to more terrorist outrages compared to India, but that every Pakistani travelling abroad will be a suspect in the eyes of the immigration officials at airports. All of this will be more demeaning for Pakistan than what its friendship with China can provide.
For China, the Dharamshala conference will be a reminder to the world about its real status not as a military giant but as a totalitarian regime which poses a threat to the world and to its own people, as Hitler’s Germany once did.
Moreover, the Dalai Lama, the old “splittist” and “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, will once again emerge as the voice of the Tibetans which has been suppressed by China inside Tibet.
True, the conference itself will be no more than a morale booster for the Tibetans who have made India their home as well as their supporters the world over. But reports that China has been seething with rage are not surprising because all dictatorships suffer from an inferiority complex not only when they see that their critics have found a platform, but also because of the knowledge that the latter will be believed more than their repressors.
India, too, will refurbish its reputation as the natural home of the dispossessed. In the 8th century, the Parsis sought refuge in India when Persia was overrun by the Islamic invaders from what is today Saudi Arabia. Twelve centuries later, the Tibetans came to India when their country was conquered by the Chinese communists.
Both the Parsis and the Tibetans knew that, of all the countries, India will allow them to live a life of their own without interference. The Dharamshala gathering will be a reiteration of that hallowed tradition.
*Amulya Ganguli is a writer on current affairs. He can be reached at [email protected]