South Block: Fainthearted or insensitive?

Fifty years ago, the people of NEFA, now Arunachal Pradesh, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with valiant Indian soldiers to try and fend off the marauding Chinese.

Through the intervening five decades after that politico-military-diplomatic debacle in the high Himalayas, the tribals of Arunachal Pradesh have stood steadfast with India.

Unlike the rest of the North-east where separatist tendencies have emerged at one time or the other, the Arunachalis have never wavered from their commitment to the idea of India through this period.

And yet, the Government of India and its cowardly mandarins have once again let down the people of Arunachal by omitting an Indian Air Force Officer of Arunachali origin from a military delegation that left for China on Sunday just because Beijing has consistently refused to give visas to people of that border state claiming it to be a part of ‘South Tibet.’

What signal are these lily-livered decision makers sending to the officer in question and the population of Arunachal Pradesh in general?

That the status of your state is disputed and we cannot guarantee equal treatment?
That we are more sensitive to the Chinese concerns than your feelings?

That we may barter away your state in return for “peace and tranquility’ with the middle kingdom if push comes to shove?

For too long, the Indian establishment and our foreign office has cited ‘diplomatic compulsions,’ whatever that means, to downplay insults and ignominy heaped by adversaries like Pakistan and China.

So very often if one is discussing India’s plans for future engagement with Afghanistan, we are told to be cognizant of Islamabad’s sensitivities.

In matters concerning China, it gets even more bizarre.

“Don’t portray China as an adversary,” “For 50 years the border has remained peaceful so why get hyper even if there are constant pin-pricks on the unresolved border,” is the consistent advise from South Block.

The Prime Minister of course knows best. So he has told Parliament that China will not attack India.

Perhaps taking a cue from that position, the Indian establishment has now decided to go to great lengths in appeasing the Chinese.

In the process, if you let down one of the few Arunachalis to have risen to a middle-level rank in the Indian Armed Forces, be it.

In effect, by excluding him from the delegation to China, are we indirectly telling Group Captain M. Panging, an ace fighter pilot: “Partner, you are an asset for the Air Force alright but your ancestry is a liability and an impediment in India’s intention to establish good diplomatic relations with another country?”

Are we telling him, “You are not good enough to represent this country?”

Ever since this story broke on Friday, several friends from Arunachal Pradesh have called and asked: Does India still doubt our loyalty and commitment?

I have no answer, may be the decision-makers can explain?

 It may sound rhetorical to many and our ‘learned’ diplomats who deal with complex international relations may project this episode as just another tactical move made to gain strategic advantage in the future in India’s relations with China, but for the people of Arunachal, this yet another instance of the New Delhi’s pusillanimous approach in dealing with Beijing.

Many point out to the fact that the Prime Minister went to Tawang, one of the key towns in Arunachal Pradesh, claimed by China as its own, a couple of years ago and asserted: “Arunachal Pradesh is an integral part of India,” much to the chagrin of Beijing.

If that is the stated position of the Govt of India, what was the harm in insisting on the inclusion of Group Captain M. Panging in the military delegation to China even if it meant calling off the visit?

After all, in the Indian Armed Forces, it doesn’t matter what race, religion or state an officer belongs to. Incidetally, Group Captain Panging is the Chief Operations Officers of an important Sukhoi Squadron based in India’s north-east and is tasked with an important job of defending India’s frontiers with China.

Two years ago the then Northern Army Commander—who leads India’s largest Command—was denied a visa by the Chinese because in their view he commanded troops in what Beijing calls a disputed area of J&K.

Now comes the Panging episode.

It is easy for diplomats to say Panging should not have been included in the military delegation in the first place knowing China’s sensitivities.

To that attitude I have only one question: Has India ever tried telling Beijing: don’t send PLA officers posted in Tibet Autonomous Region on the military delegations touring India since Tibetan refugees in India, who are treated as this country’s guests, find it offensive.

No Sir, we are very gracious hosts and never tell our neighbours what we like and don’t like. So Islamabad can get away with murder and Beijing can play the diplomatic game on its own terms.

In the process, if a small but strategically important part of the country and the people from there feel humiliated, it’s a small price to pay.