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Torch relay: Excessive security dampens Olympic spirit
Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | April 18, 2008 03:49 IST
Last Updated: April 18, 2008 15:54 IST
It was the mother of all non-events. On a day when the Olympic flame was on Indian soil, the key task was to celebrate the human spirit behind the Games. But, the human element was missing, thanks to the devil called fear.
Coverage: Tibet Revolts
Senseless security measures ensured that the event was devoid of laughter and cheer. The 300-odd crowd at India Gate was all carefully selected by Coca-Cola, Lenovo, Samsung and the Indian Olympic Association. The people who were sponsored to join in were not even smiling broadly. They felt awkward in the vast stretch of land around them where media-persons were exchanging stares with cops.
Commander G Nandy Singh, winner of two Olympic gold medals (1948 and 1952) and the Dhyan Chand award, told rediff.com after the torch relay: "Everything was quite strange. We were running and securitymen were watching us. There was nobody else to watch us due to a three-rung security arrangement. It was not a good function where the general public was cut-off."
Deep fear in the minds of the Chinese establishment took Indian security to a ridiculous level. India pledged to Beijing [Images] that it would provide the best possible security to the Olympic flame, which had come under attack from pro-Tibetan activists in London [Images], Paris and San Francisco.
While echoing Tibetans' feelings, he said: "Thursday's security arrangement around the venue indicates China's desire to control the people's expectations for freedom. If you put India and China together you are talking about more than two billion people. Tibetans in India are just 1.20 lakh. We can only make protests."
Naturally, the show of excessive security in New Delhi needs to be condemned.
"We lost an opportunity to showcase the balance," said Kiran Bedi [Images], who returned the invitation to join the torch relay when she came to know about the enhanced security arrangements.
She says, "Indian police officers are well-trained in handling crowds. They face much bigger numbers than any Western police officers. Instead of such a show, we should have allowed children, sports lovers and other public to join in. Democracy is all about balancing. India lost the opportunity to show to the world that it allowed Tibetans to express their anger and at the same time allowed the spread of the Olympic spirit among its people. We have lost."
When asked about the message India gave by providing a quiet and safe passage -- with help of excessive security measures -- to the Olympic flame, former ambassador M K Bhadrakumar said, "The government acted appropriately in providing fool-proof security for the Olympic torch -- in consonance with India's responsibility as a member of the international Olympic movement and keeping in view our obligations as a friendly neighbour of China. Security measures are never 'excessive' when threat perceptions are real, which seems to be the case here."
However, Sibal's arguments are debatable.
The fundamental issue to note is that the Indian government's stand reflects the consistency. There is no basic change in India's Tibet policy. The government has taken a clear stand of not upsetting China in its weaker moment.
There is no doubt that the Tibetans' protests is all about timing. China feels embarrassed every time there is a protest against the torch. The Tibetans' agenda is being served with their non-violent protests, which it seems will continue for some time.
In an informal conversation last week, the MEA official said: "Over and over and over again India has said that Tibet is an autonomous region of China. India's policy of 1959, 1962 and of subsequent years has not changed. The rest is just matter of details."
Dr Singh termed the Dalai Lama [Images] as the greatest living Gandhian just when Beijing accused him of plotting riots in Tibet. At the same time, his government, behaving responsibly, assured China that it will give safe passage to the Olympic torch.
India is sending the message, notwithstanding the overkill by security, that India's position is unique on the issue of Tibet. It has done more for Tibetans than any other country.
At the end of the day, one sees with awe a remarkable political achievement by the Tibetans -- the two great emerging powers were stopping them in their march towards the Olympic torch.
At the India Gate on Thursday, the fascinating triangle of Tibet, India and China transgressed the known criteria for victory and defeat.