The Dalai Lama is free to go anywhere, says the BJP, on the eve of his visit to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh. It is the same person who was treated uncommonly shabbily when he was peremptorily taken to the Prime Minister’s residence late in the evening and apparently asked not to complicate Sino-Indian relations in any way.
It was an incident which reportedly left the Tibetan pontiff “shaken”. He had never been treated so discourteously since he fled his homeland in 1959 to seek refuge in India. All Indian leaders from Jawaharlal Nehru onwards have been unfailingly respectful toward the Tibetan spiritual leader because of his stature, his genial personality, the sufferings of his people at the hands of the Chinese and his adherence to the Indic religion of Buddhism.
One would have thought that Narendra Modi would have continued that tradition of respect if only because as the Hindu Hriday Samrat, as he was once known, he would have had a natural affinity to the follower of a religion whose origins were in India. But Modi was so intent at the time of cementing friendly ties with China that he conceded their apparent demand not to be partial towards the “wolf in sheep’s garb”, a choice term of abuse used by the Chinese against their Public Enemy No. 1.
However, the Prime Minister’s attitude has now palpably changed since India's friendly gestures haven't mollified China. Instead, it not only remains Pakistan’s all-weather friend but has also asserted that terrorism cannot be associated with any country or religion; nor should the acts of counter-terrorism be used for political gains.
China has also determinedly blocked India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group and stood like a rock against any possible condemnation of its favourite jihadi, Masood Azhar, by the UN. Modi has now decided, therefore, to turn its China policy upside down by allowing the Dalai Lama to visit “Southern Tibet”, which is how China refers to Arunachal Pradesh. Not surprisingly, Beijing is even less amused than when it criticised the decision of the US Ambassador to India to visit Arunachal Pradesh. It has warned New Delhi, therefore, that the Dalai Lama’s visit will “damage” Sino-Indian relations.
This is not the only example of the topsy-turvy nature of Modi’s foreign policy. Concerning Pakistan also, he went more than half-way to improve bilateral ties when he made a flying visit to Lahore at a moment’s notice while returning from Kabul to New Delhi last December. There were clear signs then of a dramatic improvement in the relations. But, now, they are at their lowest ebb. The fault may be Pakistan’s or, rather, its army’s, which has never been in favour of an upturn in ties lest it should come in its way of solving the “unfinished business” of partition by annexing Kashmir.
But India should not have agreed to hold talks at various levels, including Prime Ministerial summits, without taking into consideration the fact, as Modi once acknowledged, that there is more than one centre of authority in Pakistan.
He had also said before becoming the Prime Minister that talks cannot be held with Pakistan against the background of gunfire. He should have stuck to that position.
However, the holy grail of all Indian Prime Ministers, whether Atal Bihari Vajpayee or Manmohan Singh, is to ensure friendly ties with Pakistan. It is in quest of this elusive goal that Vajpayee took a bus to Lahore in 1999 and Manmohan Singh included Pakistan’s grouses about India's role in Balochistan in a joint communiqué. Modi, too, though an avowed hardliner, took the path of ameliorating the relationship. But it could not but be in vain. Now, India’s ties with its two troublesome neighbours can be said to have reached a realistic plane, devoid of the romantic notions.
Hence, the upgradation of India’s military infrastructure in the north-east and the “surgical strikes” in Pakistan. In a way, these developments are in keeping with the conviction among Indian officials and military personnel that the country must be prepared to fight a war on two fronts.
Fortunately for India, there is now much greater appreciation worldwide of India’s predicament of having two unfriendly countries on its borders, one of which is a dictatorship and the other is virtually run by the army. There is no pressure, therefore, on India to concede Pakistan’s claims on Kashmir which once was a part of America’s South Asia policy. Now, the US has threatened unilaterally to attack Pakistan’s terror networks.
As for China, its rejection of an international tribunal’s verdict on the South China Sea shows that its military prowess has revived its Middle Kingdom aspirations of the medieval times. It also apparently regards India as a major obstacle to its big power
ambitions because Indian democracy is a standing affront to China’s one-party rule. It was time, therefore, for India to draw a few red lines concerning both China and Pakistan.
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)