We need to make way for a bold, new India – Claude Arpi

PM Modi & MEA Jaishankar

Claude ApriIndia is today at a crossroad, there are clearly two paths, one of cautiousness, one of boldness; the first approach has led the nation nowhere; in the present planetary conditions, it is far better for India to be frank, honest and daring, while at the same time remaining truthful to India’s eternal values. – Claude Arpi

Historically, Indian diplomacy has played a balancing act between boldness and cautiousness; often tilting towards the latter. It was good news when External Affairs Minister Dr S. Jaishankar stated a few days ago: “If India has to grow, it has to shed its traditional caution, be more confident and articulate its interests.”

It is indeed the need of the hour. The former diplomat, now minister added: “Either you’re in the game or you’re not in the game. The era of great caution and greater dependence on multilateralism is behind us. We need to take risks. Without taking risks, you can’t get ahead. Those are the choices we have to make.”

The first signs

Let us hope that the Modi government will implement the brave words of the minister and take steps in the right decision, especially at a time the situation is far from improving in Ladakh.

Flashback to October/November 1950: Tibet was unashamedly invaded by Communist China. A debate started in India about the importance of Tibet for India’s security and the necessity for Delhi to support the Dalai Lama’s independent nation (for centuries, a peaceful buffer between India and China).

Sardar Patel, the Deputy Prime Minister wrote his now-famous letter (drafted by a diplomat, Sir Girija Shankar Bajpai) to the Prime Minister; it was not answered and soon after Patel died. India had lost a golden opportunity to protect its frontiers.

At that time, a bright young Chinese-speaking IFS officer, Sumul Sinha, posted as Consulate General of India in Lhasa, tried to explain Tibet’s strategic value to his bosses in the Ministry of External Affairs and Commonwealth (Nehru was the Foreign Minister); but Sinha was admonished for not grasping India’s policy of peaceful co-existence.

Ignored warnings

In an internal cable, Nehru wrote to Sinha: “For this reason [world peace], we avoid as far as possible strong language and condemnation of nations … it only increases international tension.”

And then the crux of the Prime Minister’s new credo: “Emergence of strong centralised Government of China, with a revolutionary urge, has been the most significant fact of the present generation. This affects India and the future of Asia depends upon the relationship of India with China.”

The cable continues to eulogise China’s revolution: “This may be a factor for stability and peace of the world or danger to us and to world peace. For this reason, we tried to cultivate friendly relations with China and we believe that this became a stabilising factor.”

During the following years, Sinha would be blasted repeatedly for warning Nehru of the true intentions of Communist China; sadly, he was ignored.

On February 22, 2018, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale requested P.K. Sinha, the Cabinet Secretary, to issue a “classified circular advisory advising all Ministries/Departments of Government of India as well as State Governments not to accept any invitation or to participate in the proposed commemorative events [of the 60th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s arrival in India].”

The directive banned the participation of government servants in the Tibet events, “accordingly, you are requested to ensure appropriate action in the matter,” Sinha was told.

Retrospectively, did this help India … or China? It only emboldened China a great deal.

In September 1965, when the “Question of Tibet” came up at the UN General Assembly in New York, Rafiq Zakaria, the Indian Permanent Representative gave a forceful speech during the debate for voting a resolution condemning China. The speech was to the point defending India’s interests as well as supporting Tibet.

Zakaria first mentioned the situation in Tibet between 1959 and 1965 asserting: “Ever since Tibet came under the stranglehold of China, the Tibetans have been subjected to increasing ruthlessness. In the name of introducing ‘democratic reforms’ and fighting a ‘counter-revolution’, the Chinese have indulged in the worst kind genocide and the suppression of a minority race.”

The diplomat said China tried, “to destroy the national, ethnical, racial and religious group of Tibetans by killing members of the group. Although the relationship between Tibet and India is centuries old and has flourished all through the ages, we have always taken care not to make that relationship a political problem. Our hearts go out to them in their plight and in terrible suppression that they are suffering at the hands of the Government of the People’s Republic of China.”

A question of choice

India is today at a crossroad, there are clearly two paths, one of cautiousness, one of boldness; the first approach (without speaking of over-cautiousness) has led the nation nowhere; in the present planetary conditions, it is far better for India to be frank, honest and daring, while at the same time remaining truthful to India’s eternal values. And for this India need not be aligned with anyone in particular.

The world will be one day be grateful to India if the politicians are able to do that. – Daily-O, 27 July 2020

› Claude Arpi is a French-born author, journalist, historian and tibetologist who lives in Auroville. He is the director of the Pavilion of Tibetan Culture at Auroville.

Sumul Sinha with officials of the Tibetan government in Lhasa.