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May 18, 2000
The ugly Indian
In the 'fifties and even in the 'sixties, 'the ugly American' was the term used for visitors from the US. The size and power of the country was a fact which no one would deny. But the derogatory phrase was meant to run it down, although more than half of the world benefited from the aid which Washington distributed. In Southeast Asia, the size, if not the power of India, has earned its people the same title: 'The ugly Indian'.
Pakistan may even go beyond that because of its feeling that India has never treated it on par. Even when New Delhi has talked to Islamabad, it has taken a posture of superiority, the Pakistanis argue. Indeed, it is true that bureaucrats of India tend to be arrogant, but as the 54-women delegation from Pakistan have found, the common man is friendly and down to earth.
Has the image of ugly Indian rubbed off from the minds of delegates? It may have if their yardstick was the warm reception to assess India's response. They were struck by the spontaneous welcome they received in Agra and Jaipur which they visited besides Delhi.
But if they were looking for a breakthrough, they must have been disappointed. They found no positive reply to their repeated pleas to India to forget Kargil and to talk to the military chief Gen Pervez Musharraf who, they said, 'is liberal'. On Kashmir too, they faced a stonewall. One remark by them was telling: India was as much 'saffronised' as Pakistan 'Islamised'.
The Indian is the ugliest in Nepal. It has been so for years. The Nepalese harbour the belief that India uses their country as its backyard. The way in which New Delhi has punished Kathmandu in the wake of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane indicates that India continues to be blatant in throwing its weight about. That the security was deficient at Kathmandu airport was evident from day one and Nepal admitted it.
Was it necessary for New Delhi to delay the agreement for more than three months, which has cost Nepal crores of rupees in the shape of tourism? Whether the second security check should be at the ramp or near the staircase is not something which should have stood in the way of the resumption of flights. It only shows that New Delhi was trying to prove a point.
This is underlined by the fact that there have been no talks between foreign secretaries of the two countries in the last three years and home secretaries for two years, apart from the abrupt brush by Prime Minister's Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra has had with the Nepalese government. The Vajpayee government has not only been callous but also dictatorial. This is no way to treat a sovereign country, however small.
The ugly Indian would have become uglier in Bangladesh if New Delhi had not settled the Ganga water dispute with a bit of generosity. Relations have looked up because New Delhi has come down from the pedestal of superiority to appreciate the political insecurity that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, daughter of Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rahman, the founder of Bangladesh and India's friend, faces. She and her party, the Awami League, make up for the venom that opposition leader Khaleda Zia and her party, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, who do not trust New Delhi, spews all the time.
The problems in Bangladesh are poverty and the limited growth rate. New Delhi may not be completely blameless. Dhaka has an almost inexhaustible gas reserve. It should think of a joint venture with New Delhi to utilise it. Hasina has been left holding the Indian baby. But even then, she is careful not to give any facility to New Delhi for trans-shipment of goods to a small distance, much less the access to Chittagong port. As the parliamentary election approaches, the BNP's anti-India tirade increases because in it the party finds its ethos of a tough Islamic state against the Hindu-majority India.
The only country in the Southeast Asia where Indian is not 'ugly' is Sri Lanka. Butt New Delhi's recent decision may make him so. What the Vajpayee government is willing to offer falls short of Colombo's needs. Sri Lanka wanted some 35,000 troops, who were desperate to get out of the dangerous situation they were in, rescued. It wanted a Dunkirk-like exercise on evacuation for 'humanitarian' reasons. In an effort not to get involved (New Delhi sent the Indian Peace Keeping Force in 1990) India has left Sri Lanka more or less to its fate.
From the statement of Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, it appears as if New Delhi is keen to have a mediatory role, suggesting to both Sri Lanka and LTTE to make a request. He fears that India can get embroiled in the Tamil question. Still he wants the two to recognise that India can bring about a settlement.
How can New Delhi even entertain the idea of equating the Chandrika Kumaratunga government with Prabhakaran's LTTE when the latter is a fascist, brutal, set-up which India has already banned? The Vajpayee government is playing politics by riding two horses at the same time. True, Tamil Nadu's Karunanidhi is important for the ruling NDA but more important is India where the fallout from the LTTE's success will be visible. This has happened before.
Whether Colombo revives its old security pact with the UK or gets troops from Pakistan or Israel, it will be justified in whatever it does to ward off the danger to its unity. New Delhi has no business to get upset if Colombo exercises any one of the options. And we should not forget that the LTTE is our creation. We gave its men training, weapons and shelter.
True, the problem is complicated because of ethnic reasons. Tamil Nadu, apparently, does not want New Delhi to help Colombo get out of the situation in which it is embroiled. But this is an emotional approach. That Tamils in Sri Lanka are an injured lot goes without saying. That Colombo should have devolved power to them long ago is not disputed. The old fox, President Jayawardene, spoilt things by his over-cleverness. But Chandrika cannot be picked for blame. She has gone more than half way to win over the LTTE.
Sri Lanka's integrity is at stake. The LTTE is wanting to cut off the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka to carve out a territory where it can establish a sovereign country, Eelam. What does Colombo do? It has to utilise all avenues to save itself. In a way, New Delhi has told Colombo that it must stew in its own juice. Unwittingly, it has helped the LTTE. India should have acted boldly, without sending the army, to retrieve Sri Lanka, which is fighting for its integrity.
New Delhi should also recall how Prime Minister Bandaranaike pulled India out of a hopeless situation in 1962. She enunciated the Colombo proposals which demarcated a line of control, which still holds good. Then Chinese Prime Minister Chou-en-Li denounced her 'bias' in favour of India. But she stuck to her guns along with a few non-aligned countries. India had thanked her profusely then.
"When aggression takes place, we cannot and shall not be neutral," said Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first Prime Minister, while addressing the joint session of the US Congress at the height of the Cold War. The burden of his speech was that India may be a non-aligned country but if it ever felt that one side was in the wrong, it would put its weight behind the other.
His policy was to judge every issue on merit and then decide what to do. Had New Delhi been consistent in pursuing that policy, it would have found it easier to deal with the issue relating to the neighbouring countries, whether Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bangladesh or Pakistan.
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