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Spirit of rivalry with China thrives in Congress

December 22, 2010 09:56 IST

Rather unusually, for it was a party forum, China cropped up several times during the discussions at the All-India Congress Committee plenary session at Burari in Delhi. And references to the country were not in socialist solidarity, either.

In a party where the selection of speakers is as important as what they say, it was odd enough that the state Congress chief of Arunachal Pradesh, Nabam Tuki, was asked to speak on the foreign policy resolution of the party.

He finished his somewhat inaudible speech and even as he was speaking, Commerce Minister Anand Sharma was beckoned by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

It became clear why moments later. In his concluding remarks prior to the adoption of the resolution, Sharma began by saying that Arunachal Pradesh was an inalienable and integral part of India. And India would keep every inch of its territory.

Considering the anodyne references to China in the draft foreign policy resolution, it is possible that the party intervened to ginger up proceedings. The resolution said the engagement with China had been marked with a spirit of 'strategic cooperation' and that the AICC welcomed intensification of ties.

The resolution noted that China being a large neighbour and the largest trading partner, there were commonalties of interest and the future could be meaningfully rewarding through a spirit of partnership.

"AICC places on record its appreciation for the purposeful visit of Premier Wen Jiabao and his successful meetings with the Prime Minister and the Congress president, which has helped create a better understanding between a political leadership."

Really?

The Prime Minister himself flagged China in his address when he said: "We believe there is great potential for working with China, especially in economic matters. We have some outstanding issues with them, which we hope to resolve in an atmosphere of friendship."

Then former finance minister and current Home Minister P Chidambaram spoke on China, ratcheting up the tone a bit.

"The world accepts that China and India are the two fastest-growing economies in the world," he began, "But why should we accept second place? India has the capacity to overtake China and become the fastest-growing economy in the world. We have young people, skilled labourÂ…"

And the party's economic resolution rather worriedly took note of the capacity build-up in China and said India needed to make up for lost time.

"Huge capacities are required to be added in sectors such as steel, metals, power, fertilisers, oil and gas," it stated, adding: "The Indian National Congress calls upon the government to remove all unnecessary obstacles to new investments in these sectors."

So, is this the start of a new phase in the Congress -- where it has now put India in competition with China and brought this competition into the sphere of domestic politics?

Judging by the report of the general secretaries to the party, a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between the foreign affairs cell of the AICC and the Chinese Communist Party has already been on.

A delegation of the foreign affairs cell of the AICC went to China in 2007 to meet the chairman of the standing committee of the People's Congress and again to meet the Chinese Political Consultative Conference. There were other meetings, this time with the international department of the CPC central committee in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

Clearly these meetings have had limited contribution in creating understanding and easing ties with India. The spirit of rivalry with China is thriving in the Congress. In September, Congressmen from Arunachal Pradesh, where the party is in power, complained that the Chinese were intruding into Indian territory.

"Our Chief Minister, Dorjee Khandu, and I met the Prime Minister and the defence minister in New Delhi in August 2010 and personally apprised them about the Chinese army entering Arunachal Pradesh and staying on Indian soil on at least four different occasions during the past one month," Takam Sanjay, Congress Lok Sabha member from Arunachal Pradesh said.

He added the incursions took place in the Zemithang area in Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh in August.

In October, Arunachal Pradesh lodged a strong protest with the central government over Apple's latest iPhone4 containing maps depicting the northeastern state as part of Chinese territory.

According to reports, the latest smartphone launched in China contains maps showing Arunachal Pradesh as part of China.

So, the India-China engagement might not represent a clash of the titans. But it is a clash of grandpas alright, no matter what they might publicly say.

Aditi Phadnis in New Delhi
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