Can India ever shed its ‘soft state’ image?

By ZRG | Updated: May 03, 2013, 12:10 PM IST

Ajay Vaishnav & Pankaj Sharma/ Zee Research Group

The Chinese intrusion into Depsang Bulge in East Ladakh, approximately 19 km inside our perception of the Line of Actual Control (LAC) on April 15, has brought back Indian diplomatic and defence establishment’s worst fears out in the open. The situation has unravelled India’s classic predicament: are we a soft state?

Despite India’s massive size - physically or economically - and power - military and economic - the country has essentially failed to act decisively in the face of difficult situations. Our establishment has rarely adhered to the English Axiom - “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

Take for instance, the latest Chinese incursion inside our territory. The response of the civilian leadership, i.e. the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the PMO was of `denial`. Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid started by dismissing the incident and then describing it as localised “acne” sort of affair. Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh borrowed Khurshid’s term and described the incident as “localised” when he should have led from the front and supported MEA spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin’s statement that the “Chinese should revert to status-quo ante”.

Instead of firmly responding to the emerging challenge, the establishment adopted a despicable pretence to create an artificial environment of goodwill and bonhomie in the run-up to the May 20 visit of new Chinese premier Li Keqiang. The meek response of Indian leadership is baffling when the Chinese are busy violating the LAC.

Not so long ago, China had denied visa to the Arunachal Pradesh chief minister citing it as a disputed territory. Before that, it issued a stapled visa to Lt Gen BS Jaswal, the head of Indian Army’s northern command. The Chinese stance vis-a-vis Indian oil exploration efforts off the Vietnam coast is also a case in point. It only goes to show the extent of Chinese attitude which, to say the least, is hostile towards India. Their engagement with most of our neighbours is to encircle India and subdue our interests. Is it India’s responsibility alone to trumpet peace?

Even if we give the benefit of the doubt to our civilian leadership vis-a-vis China, it is baffling that why India is losing grip in the subcontinent. Is New Delhi’s diplomatic weight in the sub-continental capitals waning or has waned? Earlier, India’s supremacy in the subcontinent was contested, primarily by Pakistan and to a lesser extent by Khaleda Zia-led Bangladesh, but it was never challenged by smaller neighbours such as Sri Lanka, Nepal and Maldives. The leadership in these nations heeded Indian concerns. The same cannot be said with conviction today.

In Maldives, pro-India president Mohammed Nasheed was ousted last year in a soft coup. The drama which unfolded since then and involved the Indian High Commission in Male is quite well-known to be recapped here. Likewise, Bangladesh especially under Khaleda Zia led governments adopts a suspecting and bellicose approach towards New Delhi. Not so long ago during Indian President Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Dhaka, Khaleda cancelled her meeting with the Indian head of state on dubious pretext.

Sri Lanka is becoming another theatre for Sino-Indian rivalry. Not only Chinese investments are increasing in the island nation, but also the two nations are on the same page on human rights. With Beijing as a leveller in Colombo, Indian calls for better treatment and political reconciliation of the ethnic Tamils in Lanka are being ignored. This is despite whole-hearted Indian support to President Mahinda Rajapaksa during the war with the LTTE.

India’s failure to protect its people has been laid bare in the most embarrassing manner vis-a-vis Pakistan. There has not been any tangible progress on the prosecution of the perpetrators of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks. It’s an open secret that the ISI-led anti-India establishment in the Pakistani Army is waging an unconventional war and employs all strategies including plotting terror attacks to harm India and its interests. Whether it is within India or abroad, ISI has been doing it successfully against India for more than three decades now.

Unless Indian establishment realigns itself with these hard realities, it won’t earn the respect of its people as well as other nations. It`s time to prove Gunnar Myrdal (the man who coined the soft state term) wrong!