Our shameful kowtow

Mihir S Sharma / Mar 31, 2012,

The awe-inspiring leadership of the People’s Republic of China probably doesn’t concern itself much about public opinion among those people not fortunate enough to be born Chinese. But they certainly scored a pretty impressive own-goal during the BRICS summit in New Delhi last week, efficiently aided by India’s timorous leadership. It isn’t just that the Chinese delegation at the Oberoi ate all the mutton chops at the lunch buffet (true) or that they shut off all traffic around Khan market at lunchtime (also true) — although a power that carelessly antagonises Lutyens’ Delhi lunchers is unwisely overconfident.

It was, of course, what millions of Delhiites saw that will have turned them off China-sympathy: Tibetans being rounded up, made to squat in the sun; the ever-sensitive Delhi Police indulging in the worst sort of racial profiling, demanding that people who look even vaguely Tibetan prove their credentials or be locked up. People of Manipuri descent wondered why they left home without their passports. Those living in dozens of Tibetan-dominated areas were cordoned off from the rest of the city like Palestinians on the West Bank. The Tibetan poet, Tenzin Tsundue, was bundled offstage by the cops after an academic discussion at the India Habitat Centre, and sent to Tihar. Was there, perhaps, an even minimally credible threat to the life of Our Glorious Leader, Hu Jintao? No. Because the Tibetan movement has always been resolutely non-violent. Indeed, that has been India’s price for the grudging asylum we have provided them. In spite of that, the Chinese government had the gall to issue a statement thanking India for cracking down on Tibetans and finally recognising the “troubles” that they present. Given that any real law-and-order threat only exists in the deceitful newspeak of a totalitarian party, why has India’s craven government undermined its pretensions to democracy – and its only real argument for running a better state than China’s – by beating up and jailing its own, non-violent citizens?

Because heaven forfend the Chinese dictator see a Tibetan flag hanging limply somewhere. Man! It would be 1962 all over again. As it is, he almost had an aneurysm when watching the original cut of “Sadda Haq” from Rockstar. Thank heavens the Censor Board prevented an all-fronts invasion that time by forcing the blurring of “Free Tibet” posters in the video.

The Indian government cannot afford people to start looking more closely at its continued kowtowing to China. (Kowtow: verb, meaning to kneel and touch the ground with the forehead in submission, as to the Chinese emperor.) It should fear its citizens waking up to this, because far too much of its foreign policy is predicated on placating the Chinese. This comes about because of an odd political coalition between a government and prime minister too eager to crash a “world stage” without any apparent understanding of what global power entails; and an elite that is capable of any sort of intellectual dishonesty in the service of an ingrained anti-Americanism.

Consider the organisation that caused New Delhi to be graced by the presence of President Hu. (And three other leaders, none of which expected people to be rounded up as sacrifices to herald their arrival.) India preferred the India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) grouping, but because the Chinese and the Russians wanted a forum in which they could denounce the West, India assented to the BRICS idea. For India’s leaders, the more summits they have to prepare for, the better. No matter that the BRICS have nothing whatsoever in common, and have spectacularly failed in any sort of international coordination.

India has gone further, helping to derail climate-change talks by allowing itself to be bracketed with China in the world’s eyes, although China pollutes much more per capita than India does. It has stood with China at trade talks in spite of the fact that China is the world’s worst trade offender and, it has been persuasively argued, is dumping goods in India that could destroy our manufacturing base. But it doesn’t matter; international photo-ops are what matter on Raisina Hill, a reminder to our restive population that its unpopular government is so beloved in the chancelleries of the world. Dr Singh and Mr Krishna need a reminder perhaps: Beijing doesn’t have a vote in India — except one or two indirectly, one surmises, in the Rajya Sabha.

India’s government has been allowed to get away with this because it has not been held to account. This is because some of India’s best policy minds are in thrall to the idea that India must, of necessity, benefit most in a world in which China has greater power. Why? Because, in their confused notion of how global power equations work, that means that America has less. And America, as we all know, is Bad. It persecutes Muslims — no mention of Xinjiang, please, and so what if Barack Obama thankfully didn’t expect Indians who looked Muslim to be locked up when he arrived in town. (Can you imagine the articulate protests from our now-silent “independent thinkers” if he had?)

This policy elite is firmly convinced that India has a moral imperative and historic destiny to help balance the scales against American power. If America is Bad, and China the only real challenger in sight, then a government suspected of not hating America enough will go unquestioned when it bends over backward to please China’s leaders. Position papers will argue for “rebalancing” and such. But don’t get fooled: it’s just another word for kowtowing.

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