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India: The Hanuman Syndrome

June 02, 2010 20:21 IST
Rajeev Srinivasan on how India has managed to make itself much smaller and less important in the world's eyes than it really is.

Several events in the recent past have been emblematic of the problems that India faces: on the one hand, India gets no respect from anybody. On the other hand, it may well not deserve any -- any Rodney Dangerfield fans out there?

Pakistan's supreme court found Mohammad Saeed, founder of the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and suspected chief instigator of the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai, innocent of all charges. Startlingly, a few days later, India released 25 jailed terrorists (members of the Lashkar, Jaish-e-Mohamed and Hizbul Mujahideen) and returned them to Pakistan.

Second, some low-level official in Canada's embassy in India has been, it turns out, telling Indian armed forces members that they are violent terrorists and therefore ineligible for a visa -- this has been going on for two years.

Pakistan's behaviour in exonerating Saeed -- the supreme court must be influenced by their government's, and army's wishes -- suggests that they do not take India seriously. All the fine war-like words uttered by the government of India after 26/11 (and after every blast in the past six or seven years), that there would be a stiff price to pay for any further mischief and so on, turn out to be total bluster.

India has metaphorically thrown in the garbage-bin the 200 or so victims of 26/11. It is safe to kill Indians, and there are no consequences whatsoever. (Communist terrorists and their sponsors are taking note, which explains the 150 ordinary, apolitical, normal Indians massacred due to rail sabotage in Bengal).

Pakistan has called India's bluff. They have observed that the Indian establishment is labouring under the illusion that there are only two things that can happen between the two countries -- 'peace talks' (sic) or war. Pakistanis like the so-called peace talks because that means India will continuously make unilateral concessions to keep the alleged dialogue going -- after all, this is exactly what India has done for 28 years with China, with China escalating its demands on Indian territory all the time and never giving an inch in the discussions.

Pakistanis also believe that Indians are too cowardly to actually go to war, and that anyway sugar daddy American can always be called upon to put pressure on India. Astonishingly, Indian planners do not comprehend that there are shades of grey -- it is not a binary affair between war and talks. There are other ways of imposing costs on a recalcitrant foe -- it is not for nothing that the aphorism goes 'diplomacy is the continuation of war by other means'.

There are other means India has at its disposal, for instance monkeying with water supplies to the lower riparian Pakistan (once again, the clever Chinese have shown how to do with downstream states for rivers originating in occupied Tibet by building dams and even using river-bombs such as those in the Sutlej when they suddenly release massive floods).

Trade sanctions are also possible -- instead of which India gives generous Most Favoured Nation status to Pakistan with no reciprocity. Covert operations, including judicious interference, are also used by all nations as part of their strategy.

But the bottom line is that the original end -- peace and cooperation in exchange for stopping terrorism -- has fallen by the wayside. The means -- the so-called peace talks -- have become the end, and the UPA cannot see beyond them.

Pakistan has realised that the UPA will appease them and give peace, cooperation and all the trade they want, and there is no penalty to them for continuing their terrorist attacks on India.

In Afghanistan as well, Pakistan has got its way. The world at large sees India as superfluous in Afghanistan, despite the highly-lauded humanitarian and infrastructure-building activity that Indians have pursued there at significant cost in blood and treasure.

India was conspicuously excluded from the talks on Afghanistan. Pakistan has convinced the world that India is a liability and a hindrance to US President Barack Obama's plans to declare victory and run like mad from Afghanistan.

The release of the 25 captured terrorists, in the very wake of Saeed's exoneration, sends a startling message. Orders came from the home ministry apparently as a peace offering prior to the home minister's and external affairs ministers' visits to Pakistan. How come no Indians in Pakistani prisons are being released in return? What about Sarabjit Singh, falsely accused, on death row, and continually harassed in Pakistan?

Why does Pakistan not feel the need for 'goodwill measures'? Because it is India that is desperate to continue the charade of the 'peace talks'. That confuses the impartial observer -- it is Pakistan which needs that fig-leaf. So whose interests are being protected here? Pertinently, who is pulling the strings?

Second, the Canadian mess is a metaphor for the fact that India has no credibility. After all, Canada (like Australia and Britain) are generally mere appendages for the US. They tend to have little individual clout, but follow the US's policies. For instance, it is Australia that has been the loudest in threatening India with bloody murder if it didn't sign the NPT. It is not for nothing that the word 'poodle' is sometimes used in this context.

Now comes Canada with a sterling act of friendly diplomacy. The fact that this insulting of serving and retired Indian army and police officers has been going on for two years is simply astonishing. Why wasn't the low-level flunkey accused of doing this declared persona non grata and given 24 hours to leave, bag and baggage? Why wasn't the Canadian ambassador summoned and given a demarche? These are the things real countries do -- let us remember how the noxious Chinese, in a gratuitous insult, woke up then Indian ambassador Nirupama Rao at 2 am to deliver a complaint.

It is particularly ironic coming from Canada. I wrote a few years ago in The Pioneer in 2007 about how Canada had been criminally negligent in ignoring warnings about the events that led to the bombing of Air India's Kanishka aircraft, with the loss of 329 lives. Furthermore, their investigation -- still incomplete after 25 years -- shows racism, incompetence, callousness, dilatory tactics and virtual State compliance in terrorism.

Indians are afraid -- of what I do not know -- to give uppity foreigners a dressing-down. In fact, this would be highly salutary. If India had immediately expelled the obnoxious Chinese diplomat who said that Arunachal Pradesh was part of China, the Canadians would have been more circumspect.

In that vein, it appears Obama is going to make another totally empty gesture, which will give goose-bumps to the usual suspects. It seems he is going to 'drop in' on the external affairs minister's discussions with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. And why, pray, is this significant, unless he is actually bringing David Coleman Headley along (thanks, B, for that insight)?

It's style over substance -- let us remember how the Indian prime minister was not among the world leaders that Obama telephoned when he first took charge, but there was the nonsense of the First State Visit over which the Indian media and officialdom went ga-ga. Nothing whatsoever came of that, other than that a good time, and biryani, were had by all.

The world has taken its measure of India, and found it to be a second-tier nation. Hence they will continue to insult it subtly and openly. There is no consequence. India does not realise that it is, at least as an economic entity, a desirable partner, and that when the world is in the depths of a financial crisis, the threat of withholding access to the Indian market would immediately encourage snooty Canadas and Australias and Britains to fold. We have seen how the British absolutely grovelled a few years ago when Malaysia's prickly Mahathir Mohammed cancelled orders with British companies when they said something rude. I have never seen such kowtowing and mea culpas and brown-nosing.

India is a heavyweight acting like a featherweight. There may be a Hanuman Syndrome in effect here: A country not knowing its true worth. On the other hand, I am afraid it's worse -- the rulers do not pursue India's national interests to the best of their ability, despite their solemn oath to do so.

Rajeev Srinivasan