Monday, August 30, 2010

The Himalayan divide

Two most populous countries in the world with vast human resources at their disposal, vast geographical areas which add to their advantage over geographically smaller Nations, occupying strategic positions on the map of South Asia with easy access to sea routes, which means avenues for maritime trade and commerce, natural boundaries and immediate neighbours to boot. One a Communist country, with constant State interventions in almost every aspects of the life of its citizens, but which nevertheless have found the right, if not perfect, formula to blend Communism with a market driven economy and the other, the largest democracy in the world, embracing within its fold different religions, communities and linguistic groups, and wedded to the idea of Socialism for the greater period after 1947 only to be rudely woken up by the changing global scenario in the early 90s. Indeed, no other country or Nation, would come close to the journey that India and China have chosen to step into the 21st Century and very significantly, today, China has replaced Japan as the second largest or strongest economy in the world, just after the United States. India too has not been doing badly, counted as it is amongst the top 15 Nations in terms of its economic growth and potential. Apart from its recently discovered economic renaissance, China today stands as the country with the biggest military, while India too comes somewhere close after China, the US and Russia. One a democracy and one a Communist country, with the mighty Himalayan range serving as the natural boundary between the two Nations, which many believe will be the giants of the new millennium. That two countries, with the biggest populations in the world and hitherto striving and surviving under the Utopian dream or political beliefs of Socialism where the term Capitalism was considered a dirty word, should today emerge as economic power houses on the world stage is something that would not have been thought possible two or even one decade ago. The other side of the new found global status of these two neighbours is the politics of one upmanship being staged before the world, in the race to dominate the scenario in South East Asia, for the future of Asia lies here and not the Middle East, where the US has shown that it has more than a simple interest in over throwing tin pot dictators like Saddam Hussein or dogmatic regimes like the Taliban or exterminating terror groups like Al Qaeda. The uneasy relationship between China and India is not new and we can trace this to the Nehru era, when the slogan Hindi-Chini-Bhai-Bhai was over night turned into an open confrontation on the high altitude battle fields of the Himalayas. India suffered great losses in the confrontations, and even today, China has not retracted from its claim that Arunachal Pradesh, part or the whole of it, belongs to them. The latest movement of missiles close to the Indo-China border by the Chinese has only exacerbated the tense relationship.
It is not a question of who wins or who loses, but a question of power equation and political influence in South East Asia. Already China has shown interest in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan, with promises of financial and technical aid, which is sure to hurt the interest of India. The changing posture of New Delhi towards the Military Junta in Myanmar, at the expense of Aung San Suu Kyi, is a telling commentary of the compulsion and need of strategic tie ups in regional politics. Again it is due to the dictates of regional politics that India today no longer talks about Tibet as an occupied province of China. This brief sketch of the two most populous countries in the world may perhaps give us the opportunity to have a wider understanding of the ruckus and political outcry raised after the Chinese refused to grant visa to Lt General BS Jaswal, the GOC-in-C of the Northern Command of the Indian Army on the ground that China still views Jammu and Kashmir as a disputed zone. Not surprisingly, a whole lot of political parties and the Indian military establishment have cried foul over the conduct of the Chinese Government. Some have even called the visa refusal an insult to India, though Union Defence Minister AK Antony has somehow tried to play it down by asserting that this will not mean an end to any military co-operation between the two countries. That China should see India as a potential rival in Asia and even in the world, is by itself an acknowledgement of the growing political and economic clout of India, but a closer look will expose that India is not exactly a holy cow, when it comes to matters of diplomatic ties. Much before the Lt General was denied a visa by China, a similar incident, which bordered on the nonsense, happened in Manipur. This did not kick up a ruckus nor did it register in the consciousness of the Indian Republic. To cut a long story short, sometime in the early/middle part of July this year, an invitation was sent to the Chinese General Consul based in Kolkata, Mr Mao Siwei by the Dean of Social Science of Manipur University. The Chinese diplomat was supposed to be here from August 9 to 16 and among his itinerary was a lecture on the topic, China And India : Linked Yet Different Civilisations. The invitation was sent not by any Tom, Dick or Harry, but by the Dean of Social Science, Manipur University, which is a statutory post created by Parliament. However the Consul General was denied permission to visit Manipur by the Ministry of External Affairs, without citing any reason ! Herein lies a tale. A Consul General already in Kolkata, a city in India denied entry to Manipur, a State of India sounds much weirder than refusing a visa to an Army officer to visit China from India !

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