By Satyendra Ranjan
The Sino-Indian relationship came under severe strain in the second half of 2009. There was a very strange aspect in this whole episode. The governments of the both countries were not fueling the tension or were not behind the war hysteria that was seen in Indian mainstream media. It was being fuelled from somewhere else. Apparently it was a war that was being fought by media of both countries. But there was something that may have missed from the eyes of the common people. Before we try to go into the depth of real intentions of war mongers and unearth some of the inherent facts, first we must look into what happened and how the knowledgeable analysts saw those developments.
Mr. B Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies as well. On September 8, 2009, he wrote for a website, “A dangerous hysteria has taken hold of India-China relations since the anti-Beijing uprising in Lhasa in March last year. This hysteria is not due to any actions or rhetoric by the two Governments, which have been conducting themselves in a balanced and restrained manner. They have been trying to preserve and expand the gains in bilateral relations since the famous visit of Rajiv Gandhi to China in 1988. They have been sincerely trying to adhere to the bilateral agreement on maintaining peace and tranquillity till a final solution is reached to the border dispute between the two countries. This hysteria has been the creation of some sections of the non-governmental strategic communities in the two countries.”
Mr. M. K. Bhadrakumar, a former diplomat, writing in India’s most reliable and prestigious news paper- The Hindu, raised a very important question. He asked- Who stands to gain from war hysteria? And he answered, “What is abundantly clear is that neither India nor China stands to gain from the war hysteria that has been whipped up through the recent months over the relations between the two countries.” He continued, “Yet, on any single day, sections of our corporate media -- print as well as electronic -- are replete with stories that resonate with the sound of distant war drums.
Then, if India and China are not going to gain from the war drums, who was providing forged facts, baseless issues and a sense of hyper patriotism to the journalists? Mr. Bhadrakumar has some clues. Let’s see this- “True, the media cannot be held solely culpable for such irresponsible conduct. In a way, their panache for atavistic themes and Manichean doctrines is quite understandable. Alas, they live in an ephemeral world and their repertoire of survival techniques includes various sorts of gimmickry to attract viewership. However, organisations funded by the government and headed by ex-bureaucrats who held sensitive positions in the government have also joined the fray in building up the present hysteria. One government-owned think-tank even featured in its journal an article recently by Arun Shourie as the lead contributor, who of course duly cast China in an “enemy” image. Again, retired officers of the Indian armed forces who are associated with “think-tanks” funded by the services are visible too in the media enthusiastically piloting the current campaign.”
Though, these experts only indicated towards some vested interests, they refrained from naming someone. But Mr. Prakash Karat, the general secretary of the Communist party of India (Marxist) was more forthcoming. He wrote in the CPI-M’s official organ People's Democracy, that, “"The rightwing circles in the country have been prompt to pick up the theme of a threat from China. All this is being orchestrated to demand greater defence preparedness against China with the unstated requirement being deeper strategic and military ties with the US." He said, "The top ranking commanders of the US armed forces who regularly visit India, unfailingly point to the military threat posed by China. Within India, the lobbies that want the strategic alliance with the US to be cemented are precisely those who seek to thwart the potential of India-China cooperation,"
And, it’s not a new development. Way back in 2004, when rightwing National Democratic alliance (NDA) was in power and after initial hiccups, it began to warm towards China, defence minister Mr. George Fernandes had a successful visit to China. It created a flutter among the right wing sections of society. The Asia Times Online columnist Sultan Shahin noted at time, “ India's China policy of growing rapprochement is, however, not without its critics. Much of the criticism comes from a determined pro-US lobby which wants India to remain firmly in the American camp, regardless of how it is treated by the sole superpower. This lobby would want India to be a part of US policy of containing China”.
Sultan Shahin gave an example of Mohan Malik,who was professor at the Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies in Honolulu at that time. Shahin introduced him as “one of those strategic thinkers who is most comfortable with a US-dominated unipolar world and see the emerging scene in Asia as that of unremitting India-China rivalry.” And then he quoted from a two-part article of Malik, in published Force, a defence affairs magazine from New Delhi. In this article Mohan Malik wrote, "Notwithstanding India's desire to remain an independent power, which sometimes results in India's taking policy decisions contrary to the US (eg on Iraq), India prefers a US-led unipolar world to a China-dominated Asia - but ultimately seeks a multi-polar world with itself as a constituent pole."
Mohan went on: "India - much like Japan, Vietnam and Australia - is unlikely to accept Chinese hegemony for historical, cultural, civilizational and more importantly, geopolitical and geo-economic reasons. These countries were never part of the Sinic world order and would prefer a US-led Asia-Pacific for the simple geopolitical reality that the United States is a distant superpower while China is right on their doorstep. Security concerns regarding a rising China have already prompted New Delhi to cultivate Washington, seeing the US military presence as a factor of stability in Asia ... in addition to establishing strategic ties with the US, India's evolving Asia policy reflects a desire to build an arc of strategic partnerships with 'China-wary' Asian countries that would neutralize continuing Chinese military assistance and activity around India."
This is not an isolated view. This view has a following base in the country. And it has a background of gaining acceptability. The French newspaper published an article by Frédéric Bobin on January 26, 2008, on the occasion of the Republic Day of India. It titled, ‘India between China and the U.S.’ The article analysised this base and this background. It said, “At the end of the 1990’s, American strategists recognized the importance of a rapprochement with India. Beyond its democratic ethos and the lure of its economic potential, India shares with Washington its concerns about Islamist terrorism and the rising power of China.
An indicator of the United States’ good intentions was their less than rigorous condemnation of New Delhi’s series of nuclear tests, which had thrown a pall over its international relations in 1998. Better still, in 2006 the Americans signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement with India, an exceptional gesture since India is not a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty (NPT). Of course, the interests of these two countries are far from converging on all issues.”
Bobin said, “The day after September 11, 2001, Washington was forced to pander to its historical propinquity with Pakistan, defined as the crucial front line in the war against terrorism, which played out in Afghanistan and its environs.
India, for its part, cultivated a very friendly relationship with the generous oil supplier, Iran, a step that drew some disapproving scowls from the White House. All the same, these respective centrifugal forces did not impede the reconciliation that was in progress.”
The article went on, “The pro-American lobby gaining the greater influence in New Delhi largely engineered this denouement. Free Market economy gave birth to a middle class, which, though nationalist, wanted to divest itself of the old moons of the Nehru-Gandhi era, characterized by the twin markers of support for the Third World and anti-Americanism. The Indian Diaspora in the United States played an active role in promoting the ideological opening up to modernity. India’s trepidations over the Chinese push further consolidated the process. It is not a coincidence that the Hindu nationalists of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), in power in 1998, expressly declared China to be among the "threats" which justified their nuclear tests. The mixture of "American temptation" and wariness of Beijing remains acute in India, where the memory of the humiliating defeat of 1962 war is still alive. The disputed border deep in the Himalayas, where the two giants meet, still remains unregulated. Furthermore, India keeps a suspicious eye trained upon China’s diplomatic, military and economic activity in India’s backyard (Pakistan, Burma, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri-Lanka).”
This sums up the very base vested interests and corporate media tries to exploit. Now we can see how things went to that stage where many people began to think that war was round the corner. All began with a news report that said that China wants to dismember India into many parts, so it never could become a challenge to China. This ‘strategy’ was said to be discussed in a Chinese think tank and its report was published on its website. Indian media presented it as China’s official strategy, though Chinese as well as Indian governments clarified immediately that it was just a private think tank which had propagated that idea. But media was bent upon playing up this so called news.
And after that media kept the war theme alive. As the 60th anniversary of establishment of people’s democratic republic of China was coming nearer, media was busy in searching or fabricating the issues, that could be sold to their clients. As we have seen above boundary dispute is a permanent source of tension between both countries. The anti-China lobbies and corporate media often take advantage of that. One news item that created most sensation was of killing of two Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP) soldiers by the Chinese forces. It was told that this happened in Arunachal Pradesh. The newspaper that published it claims to be largest English newspaper of world. But it did not even try to find out the names of the ‘dead’ soldiers. Later on it came to light that the whole news story was untrue. Government of India was obviously very perturbed with these developments and at least in regard of this incident it took a serious step. A case of misinformation was filed against the newspaper and concerned reporters.
In spite of that media has been inventing stories of Chinese incursions into Indian territories. The moot question is what the intention of media is and who are forces behind this trend? To understand this we again quote Mr B. Raman. He wrote, “The post-March 2008 hysteria in the bilateral relations has not been the creation of the two Governments. It has been the outcome of a new activism with regard to each other in the non-governmental strategic communities of the two countries. Sections of the Indian strategic community saw in the Lhasa uprising an opportunity to change the status quo in Tibet by playing the Tibet card against China through helping the Tibetans in securing their legitimate rights from the Han Chinese. By changing the status quo in Tibet—-not militarily which is out of question, but politically by backing the Tibetan people’s efforts to change the status quo themselves— India might be able to change the status quo in the Western sector and preserve the status quo in the Eastern sector. So these analysts believed and started advocating vigorously a policy of playing the Tibet card against China.
Mr. Raman said, “The activism in the Chinese non-governmental strategic community is partly the result of what they see as the Indian activism on Tibet and partly the result of the Indian activism in Arunachal Pradesh for consolidating the status quo. They want their Government to be more assertive in playing the Arunachal Pradesh card and to take advantage of the difficulties faced by India in the North-East to counter any attempt by India to play the Tibet card. This hysteria has resulted in a campaign of mutual demonization and mutual sabre-rattling. This sabre-rattling is only at the non-Governmental level. The two Governments have maintained a distance from this hysteria without trying to discourage it.”
For more elaboration we may now turn to M.K. Bhadrakumar. He described it in length. Let us listen through his own words, “Broadly speaking, three categories of Indian opinion-makers are raising the war hysteria over India’s relations with China. First, it isn’t difficult at all to spot old familiar faces in the foreign and security policy circuit who push the case with great sophistication and aplomb that a growing Chinese menace leaves India with no alternative but to calibrate its foreign policy and edge ever closer to the United States. They are intelligent people, suave and articulate, who held important positions in the government in various capacities in India and abroad. Naturally, their assertion that India should play the “Tibet card” against China carries weight. They will insist they are hardened “realists” but it must be extreme naivety on their part -- or plain dissimulation -- to say China can be pressured over Tibet. They are far too experienced to know that if China reciprocates by playing various sundry “cards,” the game can turn quite rowdyish. See the amount of dust created by just one Chinese article recently about “balkanising” India, written in response to dozens penned in the past two-year period since unrest broke out in Tibet by our fundamentalists fancying a break-up of China into nice little pieces.
Second, an easily identifiable ebullient crowd of retired defence officers presents a one-dimensional case that the civilian leadership is underestimating the Chinese threat and the armed forces should be provided far greater financial and material resources to meet the threat. All militaries have corporate interests and a case needs to be built for earmarking 7 per cent of India’s GDP for the defence budget. The tussle for resources between butter and guns is an ancient one. But, on the other hand, the Indian public opinion has never questioned the country’s defence budget as excessive. The only disquieting aspect is the manifest passion on the part of a growing lot within the military to canvass for weaponry sourced from America.
But then, American arms manufacturers have a way of charming their potential clients.
Third, of course, there are the ubiquitous right-wing Hindu nationalists, the self-appointed custodians of national security, for whom China is the hurdle to India’s emergence as a superpower. They genuinely lack the intellectual wherewithal to comprehend that the time for “superpower-dom” is gone with the wind in world politics. But their doublespeak puzzles. China concluded a memorandum of understanding with the RSS last year and senior RSS figures were hosted by Beijing. It must, therefore, be concluded that they are grandstanding to score a point or two against the ruling party.
These cliques coordinate in their untiring campaign on China’s evil intentions. Indeed, they would have us believe that a war is round the corner and there isn’t much time for preparing Indian defence capabilities.” We do not find many sane voices like Mr. Bhadarakumar and Mr. Raman being aired in mainstream Indian media. Why? To understand this we may have to understand the structure and class base of media here. Over the years Indian media has come under tight grip of corporate sector.
The capitalist class has its own agenda that it tries to impose upon the people through its control over the media. After liberalization and globalization policy was adopted by the government of India, foreign capital was allowed to invest into media houses to a certain limit. This radically changed the character of the most of newspapers and TV channels as representatives of foreign (read, western) investors began to influence the policies and decisions of media houses. Naturally, foreign capital brought its interests and orientations with itself and it began to be reflected in media’s presentation of events and general news.
However, acceptability and presentation of western interests as our owns is not a totally new phenomenon that came with FDI in mainstream media. Even in earlier days media was more and less pro-capital and against anti-capitalist ideologies. The communism has always been on their target. For this very reason a bias against erstwhile USSR and communist bloc as well as China was always visible.
Another factor that contributed to this trend was aggressive public relation exercise of the U.S. lobbies. It has been a general trend that many journalists of mainstream media are given fellowships or invitations to visit the western countries and there they are provided all types of comforts. Simultaneously they take part in discussions and debate organised by sponsoring organisations. The whole package is designed and meant to brain wash the visiting fellows. And usually it happens. The journalists on their return begin to see the world through western lenses.
Now a days the Indian upper and middle classes have a strange dilemma regarding China. On the one hand they look Chinese progress and development, specially its glittering cities and flyways with astonishment, but they as they see the portraits of Marx, Lenin and Mao with it, their biases and fears come out of them. And these are the people who control and run the media. Therefore, the hysteria we are talking about is the expression of the latent feelings and wishes of the Indian elite classes.
And as we have seen in the writings of Mr. Raman and Mr. Bhadrakumar, there are many easily available security and external affairs ‘experts’ to provide and feed the media with their interpretations and analysis of the events. They have talked about the origin of these experts. But one important actor of this whole drama is still out of our discourse. And this is the NGO sector. But before go into them, we first look into the Tibet question, that has been a permanent source of tension between India and China.
Dr. Subramanian Swamy is an economist, a former Cabinet Minister of India and a long-time China expert. Let’s see how he looks the Tibet issue. He wrote in year 2000, “Thus, the status of Tibet, and India's perception of it, has been one of the destabilising factors in Sino-Indian relations. Publicly, the Indian government regards Tibet as an integral part of China. But in popular parlance and in many of its actions, it does not behave as if Tibet is a part of China. For example, the Indian government raised in the 1980s a highly paid special service unit, a 8,000-strong commando group of Tibetans, who woke up every morning in the special camps with cries of "Long liv e the Dalai Lama. We shall liberate Tibet". This commando group is still under the active supervision of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) and the Cabinet Secretariat. If India regards Tibet as part of China, then why is there a need to maintain such a special group? Why not instead a regular Army unit with contingency plans? The government has never answered this query of mine.
The treatment extended to the Dalai Lama also reveals this ambivalence in India's attitude towards Tibet. The government says that India has only extended asylum to the Dalai Lama, because his life would be in danger if he returns to Tibet. But the Bureau of the Dalai Lama is quite active in New Delhi propagating the thesis that Tibet is an independent country.” (Frontline issue 2-15, September, 2000.)
Though certain things have changed since then, but many have not. In recent years government of India has tried its best to develop a relationship of friendship and partnership with China. It has re-emphasized many times that Tibet is the integral part of China. But in case of Dalai Lama and his exiled followers it has been vacillating as we saw recently when Dalai Lama was allowed to visit Arunachal Pradesh in spite of strong protest from government of China.
Some analysts believe that history of Sino-Indian relationship of last 50-60 years, growing close relationship with the U.S., and a strong pressure group of NGOs are some factors those discourage any major revision in the Tibet or Dalai Lama policy of government of India. The NGOs or Non-Governmental Organizations are now one of the most organised and influential group in many countries and India is one among them. As we know there many types of NGOs. Some work in developmental sector and they are mainly dependent on public of government funds. But many NGOs work as advocacy groups and they have political agenda with them. It’s a matter to note that often they don’t set their agenda themselves, but they just work under the overall agenda set by their funding agencies. And developed world has a number of such agencies who fund to the NGOs of the developing world and get their agenda implemented through them.
How? Let us get some idea from the words of a knowledgeable person who has tried to understand the NGO business. Mr. Peter Kuria is a resource ecologist of Kenya. He has worked in many African countries like Zimbabwe, South Africa and, Botswana on the issues of people’s rights over natural resources. He has also experience of working with the indigenous people of Costa-Rica in South America and environment department of U.K. In recent years he has been in Finland and is closely associated with the ongoing discourse on climate change. In August-September 2009 he visited India, before leaving from this country he gave an interview to me. I am quoting relevant parts of that interview here:
• It seems you have serious objection to NGOisaion of people’s movements. Why you are opposed to NGOs?
- I am not against NGOs. I am against their operational structures. I am against the way they are designed for. From my personal experience in Kenya I can say they work like politicians and become a dividing force. I have objection to number one, the idea of a NGO being only conditional, and second, not putting money they receive for the set objectives. In Kenya, 80% NGOs are not spending money in proper way. You withdraw that spending from a community and you will find as nothing has happened. The community will not be adversely affected. So, there is no connection between what NGOs are doing and what is happening in a community.
• One criticism of NGOs comes from left parties that these organizations are part of conspiracy of international capitalism, which saw threat from emerging mass movements and tried to co-opt these movements with pouring of money. They say that NGOs are subverting the people’s struggles and thus serving the capitalism. DO you agree with this logic?
- I think there is a line of truth in it. If you look at the evolution of NGOs in Africa, you will see this process is linked to capitalistic approach of life. The NGOs were founded in Africa, when the funding agencies found that most of the governments of the continent are corrupt. Then western agencies got NGOs formed to provide resources to the people. So, NGOs not emerged from the bottom, but they came from outside. In Kenya, NGOs were formed by same govt. officials who were corrupt.
Look at the DFID (department for international development of US). Look at USAID and CIA. They work under the same department. The DFID works under the (US) foreign office. USAID and DFID have deep inroads through their projects (in different developing countries) and collecting enough intelligence that is more than that of govt. itself. So, when a communist party speaks about this question, it seems creditable.
The NGOs, working as advocacy groups generally take issues like Democracy, Human Rights, Rights of the indigenous people, etc. They are funded to raise these issues, so they have to fulfill their assignment. It’s a common knowledge that many NGOs world over are funded to raise the issue of ‘freedom of Tibet’. They have their branches in India too.
Here we must briefly look into the history of neo-liberal project that was initiated with a design to propagate the ideas of unbridled capitalism and to discredit all alternative ideologies and systems. Around 1950s when communism was on rise and even in western world the concept of welfare state was in vogue, the pro-capital elements tried to resurrect themselves with an ideological war. Under this project a number of so called think tanks in the name of democracy and human rights were established. As neo-liberalism marched ahead these think tanks were flooded with funds and they became vehicle to take these ideas and activities to the developing world. Flush with easy funds the NGOs came into being there and spread with a great speed.
We have already seen the influence and interventions such NGOs in former USSR republics. Some years back, from Georgia to Ukraine and Kazakhstan to Belarus, western masters tried to impose colored revolution using the network of the NGOs funded by them. They succeeded in Georgia and Ukraine, but failed in other two places. But how the network of NGOs can create political instability or even coup in a country became obvious. It showed the strength of NGOs to implement the agenda of their funders.
By understanding this NGO phenomenon, we could easily know why Tibet issue creates such ripples. It’s pertinent to raise these questions that why Tibet issue again became so important just before the Beijing Olympics and why Sino-Indian relations came under the strain just when Peoples Republic China was preparing to celebrate its 60th anniversary of establishment?
What we can conclude from recent experiences is that Sino-Indian relations will continue to be put under strain by the vested interests and their henchmen in the both countries. Such efforts would have to be countered by conscious efforts by both governments and enlightened public opinion. As Mr. Bhadrakumar noted, “What is abundantly clear is that neither India nor China stands to gain from the war hysteria that has been whipped up through the recent months over the relations between the two countries.
In a famous essay published in the Pravda newspaper in 1913 titled- Who Stands to Gain?, Vladimir Lenin wrote: “When it is not immediately apparent which political or social groups, forces or alignments advocate certain proposals, measures, etc., one should always ask: “Who stands to gain?”? It is not important who directly advocates particular views. What is important is who stands to gain from these views, proposals, measures.”
What is abundantly clear is that neither India nor China stands to gain from the war hysteria and xenophobia that have been whipped up through the recent months over the relations between the two countries. So much is evidently at stake at this historic juncture for the two Asian powers as they pursue their respective trajectories of growth and development in a highly volatile international environment. Neither India nor China can afford to be distracted from its chosen path that places primacy on development in the national policies. A war for either of them is highly detrimental to core interests. Yet, on any single day, sections of our corporate media -- print as well as electronic -- are replete with stories that resonate with the sound of distant war drums.”
Mr B Raman warns of consequences of such war drums, when he says, “the danger of such hysteria is that it could acquire an uncontrollable momentum and take the two countries towards a precipice from where they may not be able to withdraw. Any confrontation as a result of this hysteria would damage the interests of both the countries.”
Apart from border dispute and other ‘Chinese designs against India’, Tibet is an issue that has been providing fodder for the anti-China campaigners. However, people of India must now understand that Tibet has been a stick in the hands of western capitalist world to beat the Communist China. Their so called think tanks and institutions have been funding for the farce cause of liberation of Tibet just to fulfil their own interests. Many Indians have aligned themselves willingly or inadvertently to this cause and have played into those hands. Now, the time come to understand this fallacy. As Subramanian Swamy says, “those who advocate the 'independence of Tibet' do not and cannot argue on the basis of history. Their advocacy can only be to further political mischief or to enrich themselves at the nation's cost. Sino-Indian relations, therefore, should not be derailed by our misconceptions and misplaced adventurism on Tibet.”
The recent experience has made it abundantly clear that the Sino-Indian relationships need a careful treatment. Just believing that growing trade ties will make relationship stronger will not lead us to the desired goals. It will need detailed efforts to expose the forces those have vested interests in keeping these two countries apart. We must understand their methodology, style of functioning and their strength to create mischief. Simultaneously we have to erase the smokescreen that been generated by the long mistrust between the peoples of India and China. Commonality of interests of both peoples must be emphasized now. There is need of a movement of good people to match and defeat the intentions of bad vested interests.