India’s foreign policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi appears to be a lot of grandstanding meant to catch the TV viewers’ eyes. But it is without substance as the policies are mostly unrealistic, and what’s worse, laced with inconsistencies.
The latest instance of India’s inconsistency is seen in its China policy.
After China-expert Vijay Gokhale took over as Foreign Secretary, he has been trying to build bridges between the two countries, ahead of the visit of Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj in April and that of Prime Minister Modi in the middle of the year.
To clear the decks for it, it was informally stated in the media that India is not opposed to China’s investments in South Asia. Foreign Secretary Gokhale got the Cabinet Secretary to issue a circular asking all Ministers and officials of Central and State governments not to attend any functions organized to “Thank India” for given shelter to the Tibetan leader Dalai Lama who had fled Tibet in 1959 following the Chinese take over.
China considers the Dalai Lama a splitter and an anti-national and Indian hospitality for him has been an irritant for successive Chinese governments.China also claims the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh as “South Tibet.”
But the Modi government brazenly beat its own ban by sending the Minister of Culture Dr.Mahesh Sharma, to attend the “Thank You India” function organized by the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala on Saturday.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which is Modi’ fiefdom, also sent its General Secretary, Ram Madhav, to attend the function.As if to rub salt in the wound inflicted on China, Ms.Tsering Dolma, wife of Shri Pema Khandu, Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, was also allowed to attend the function.
Speaking on the occasion Indian Minister Mahesh Sharma said: “We accept you (the Dalai Lama) as an integral part of India and at the same time, pray for your successful return to your Homeland. The Indian people are committed to serving the Tibetan cause led by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Our Prime Minister Narendra Modi remains concerned about the Tibetan people.”
BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav said: “From Jawaharlal Nehru to Prime Minister Modi, politically, we have followed the One China policy. Nevertheless, the relationship between India and Tibet is less political and more of spiritual and cultural.”
“We understand your deep desire to go back to your motherland. We wish you all the luck. It took 2000 years for some people to get their Homeland. I am certain it won’t take that long for Tibet. But the flame of hope should also be burning.”
“India is the land of the Buddha, India is the land of Mahatma Gandhi, and for the last six decades, India has been the land of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the most knowledgeable living spiritual guru in the world,” Ram Madhav added.
The BJP leader called for the resolution of the Tibet issue through “peaceful and democratic means” based on dialogue to facilitate the honorable return of the Tibetan people to Tibet.
Former BJP Chief Minister
Former Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Shanta Kumar, who is a senior BJP leader and convener of the All Party Indian Parliamentary Forum for Tibet, called upon China to “allow the dignified return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet.”
Kumar said this will not only fulfill the aspiration of the Tibetan people but will also earn new respect for China as a country.
Tibetan Govt in Exile
Dr. Lobsang Sangay, President of the Tibetan government in exile said: “India was, and has remained, the greatest supporter of Tibet. And I hope that India retains its unparalleled support for Tibet until our aspirations are realized.”
Where does this leave India-China relations? Does India want a workable relationship with China or is it just pretending to be making up for a short term political objective?
How does the contradictory policy solve the problem of China entering India’sSouth Asian backyard through economic investments and strategic infrastructural projects?
Can India stop China from executing the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) through Azad Kashmir?
Apparently, New Delhi has not thought through these issues and come to a comprehensive long-term China and neighborhood policy.
India’s policy is ad hoc and reactive, not comprehensive and pro-active. Policy has to be of the latter kind if India is to be a credible regional power.
The theory among political pundits is that with elections to parliament due in May 2019, Modi will like peace on the India-China front so that he can pursue an aggressive policy on the Western front facing Pakistani to gain electoral mileage.
It is well known that a fight with China is unlikely to be successful and add grist to the ruling party’s political mill. But a confrontationist policy towards Pakistan, even if only symboliclike the“surgical strikes” against militants holed up somewhere near the border in Kashmir, may yield political dividends in a population which is anti-Pakistan.
Of course,there is another aim for the recent friendly moves – which is to facilitate the visit of Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj to China in April and of Modi’s visit later in the middle of the year.
What will happen after the visits is anybody’s guess. But the general trend will be to try and stall,for what it is worth, China’s push into South Asia and join in the US-led Quad’s efforts to rein in China in the Indo-Pacific Ocean.