It hasn’t been clear this past week whether the BJP-led government is fighting China on the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh, fighting the Congress party, or even its own ambassador in China, Vikram Misri.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his Mann ki Baat address Sunday warned all those thinking of casting “an evil eye on Indian soil in Ladakh” and said that they would get a “befitting response”. Burnt by his remarks at the June 19 all-party meeting, when he said that “no one entered Indian territory no Indian posts were taken over”, Modi steered clear of any updates on whether the Chinese had been evicted yet, and if not, what India was planning to do. Now, the PM has announced a speech at 4 pm Tuesday.
But for the first time in months, as Congress leader Rahul Gandhi found a chink in the PM’s armour on his remarks on the Chinese intrusions, an unsavoury political slugfest broke out in Delhi.
The BJP fielded its own party president, J.P. Nadda, to attack the Sonia Gandhi-led think-tank, the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation, for allegedly receiving contributions from the Chinese. The Congress hit back, accusing the PM of receiving crores of rupees in the PM Cares fund from all kinds of Chinese companies, including Huawei, Xiaomi and Oppo.
This is a dangerous situation. How can a politically united India fight the enemy at the gates if it is divided within? This must be a dream come true for the Xi Jinping-led leadership in Beijing – as it eats up a few square kilometres of Indian territory, unmarked and undemarcated, with not a blade of grass growing anywhere. Xi has been rewarded by the impression that India is fighting itself, not the Chinese.
We’ve seen this before, of course. The battles at Plassey, Buxar, Seringapatam, to name a few – the country has been littered with the carcasses of Indians fighting Indians rather than the imperial invader — then, the East India Company.
Certainly, the BJP as well as the Congress have their reasons not to trust each other. Sonia Gandhi’s ‘maut ka saudagar’ taunt for Narendra Modi during the 2007 assembly elections in Gujarat probably still rings in the PM’s ears. Modi has returned the compliment, asking in December 2018, “Yeh Congress ki kaun si vidhwa thi, jiske khaate main rupaya jaata tha?”
How do you trust each other when you’re continuously spitting at each other?
The following anecdote, once told to me by Russia’s former ambassador to India Vyacheslav Trubnikov, a former spy who came to the country as a Tass correspondent in the 1970s, bears retelling. Trubnikov saw CPM leader Jyotirmoy Basu and Jana Sangh leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee emerge from Parliament one day, laughing, when only moments before they had been sparring inside the House; mystified, he went up to them and pointed out that this would never happen in the Soviet Union, one of them would have ended up in the Gulag. At which point one of the Indian leaders told Trubnikov: That’s why India doesn’t have a Gulag.
Fifty years later, Congressmen and BJPwallahs cannot bear to break bread with each other – indeed, they are afraid to do it, for fear they will be reported to their respective leaderships. Their political enmity is beginning to hurt national cohesion.
The Indian ambassador to China
And then there was the matter this past week of three tweets issued by the Press Trust of India (PTI), on an interview its Beijing correspondent did with India’s ambassador to China Vikram Misri. Now Misri is one of India’s ablest diplomats, having served in several tight spots, including Pakistan and as an aide to former PM I.K. Gujral – he certainly understands the nature of the shifting political wind.
Misri did the interview with PTI — in the wake of PTI’s controversial interview with China’s ambassador to India Sun Weidong who claimed the Galwan Valley and acknowledged, for the first time, that China had suffered casualties in the 15 June Ladakh clash in which 20 Indian soldiers died — and PTI duly tweeted its contents.
Remember, though, the red line drawn by the Prime Minister two weeks ago, saying that “no one entered Indian territory, nor were any posts taken over”? Some of what Misri told PTI fell foul of that red line.
One PTI tweet at 8 pm on 26 June said, “One way to stop (m)ilitary standoff along LAC is for China to stop erecting new structures: Indian envoy to PTI”. It was deleted by PTI. It cannot be found on its Twitter feed, but here is a screenshot:
A second tweet that said, “China has to stop the practice of transgressing and trying to erect structures on the Indian side of the LAC: Indian envoy to China,” still exists on the PTI Twitter feed. It was tweeted at 8:39 pm on 26 June.
But there is no record of this tweet either on Misri’s own Twitter handle, or the Embassy of India in Beijing Twitter handle, or in the Ministry of External Affairs’ statement that was subsequently issued.
And then there’s a third PTI tweet, at 8:45 pm on the same day, which said, “India hopes China will realise its responsibility in de-escalation and disengaging by moving back to its side of LAC: Indian envoy to China.”
This tweet has been truncated by Misri’s Twitter handle, at 10.32 pm, to read as follows: “We hope that the Chinese side will realise its responsibility in de-escalation and disengagement.”
The full text of the Vikram Misri interview to PTI omits all the parts stated above. It is as if they were never said.
The Vajpayee way
One wonders what’s going on in South Block. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, a former diplomat who has also served as India’s very able ambassador to China, knows the lay of the land exactly, both in Beijing and in Delhi. It seems he is only allowing one part of the truth to see the light of day.
In times of conflict, such as this one, a country looks for accurate and unbiased information. Kargil was a perfect example. Victory over the enemy, Pakistan, was presided over by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who hewed the political class together in service of one goal. It was a significant input in winning the war.
Today, everyone knows the Chinese have intruded into Indian territory – with Google satellite images one finger click away, there’s no point in hiding the truth. Perhaps, PM Modi should take a deep breath and share the measure of the damage with the country. Calling the media “anti-national”, as PTI was recently, and attacking the opposition, is hardly the way to start.
Views are personal.