Had the boos and hisses of the 'human rights' lobby carried the day, where would we have been today? The military would still be ruling the roost in Yangon and the monks would still be silenced; the sole difference would be that India would no longer have access to Myanmar's natural resources nor to its aid against secessionists in India's own north-east.
To put it bluntly, a foreign policy run exclusively on 'morality' is a castle made of cards. The sole 'morality' I would recognise is to see how, if at all, it benefits India. So, kudos to External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee who held the fort for those few troubled weeks.
Sadly, that same sense of realism is missing today. I refer to the ongoing Tibetan crisis and the enforced exile of Taslima Nasreen, events that are linked at some level. Both enshrine the principle of surrendering without a thought of how it might affect India in the long run.
Jawaharlal Nehru's short-sightedness ensured that Communist China won control of the Tibetan plateau without India making any move to protect its interests. The stupidity of this was recognised even at that early date; Sardar Patel sent a letter warning Nehru that India would pay a price for welcoming a foreign power to its eastern border. (Sadly, the Sardar was already on his deathbed by then; he would pass away within weeks of that missive.)
There is no way at this late date to protect the freedom of Tibet, the great Pandit Nehru certainly ensured that! But does that mean that we have to crush the Tibetans within India to save the Chinese a little embarrassment? Why should Delhi do Beijing's dirty work?
China is no friend of India's, it never was and never shall be. We may not be enemies today, we are certainly competitors. China is still in illegal occupation of thousands of square miles of Indian territory, including a small slice of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir that was negotiated away by Islamabad.
Why then is the Indian foreign-policy establishment so reluctant to confront reality? Why should the authorities in Delhi send its police to batter Tibetans who want to protest outside the Chinese embassy? Why should Delhi be so uneasy when the issue of Taiwan comes up? Is there any reason why we should be so afraid to 'embarrass' China? If so, can anyone think of a single occasion in living memory when China tried to aid India?
The enforced expulsion of Taslima Nasreen is yet another instance of utterly senseless policy making. What was the issue at stake here, that a bunch of hitherto unknown people should dictate to the Indian government? Has anybody thought of the long-term consequences of this stupidity?
There is a long history to both these instances of cravenness; they stem both from the United Progressive Alliance regime's desire to placate the Left and, historically, the legacy of Nehru.
Please remember that Taslima Nasreen was living quietly in Kolkata for about a decade. But a General Election is in the air, the Left Front has been shaken by Nandigram and Singur, and Muslims make up roughly a quarter of the electorate in West Bengal. So should we really be surprised that some obscure elements raked up the issue of her sanctuary so successfully that ten years of peaceful existence were wiped out in mere days?
Let us also grant that this pandering to Muslim extremism is well in keeping with the Nehruvian tradition. It was after all India's first prime minister who indignantly responded that he was more worried about 'Hindu communalism' when asked to respond to the rising tide of Muslim separatism within ten years of Independence. (How anyone who had lived through Partition could come up with that response is something I still can't comprehend!)
The Communist Party of India-Marxist has also, traditionally, had a hard time in criticising China. Its leaders wriggle miserably when asked outright if they condemn the Chinese invasion of 1962, so let us not be amazed that they can't bring themselves to disown Beijing's brutality in Tibet today.
It is utter bilge to spout away about 'non-interference' in the affairs of neighbouring nations. Didn't the CPI-M actively interfere just last year in Nepal, loudly shouting about 'atrocities' by the Royal Nepal Army, then procuring a place for its Marxist comrades at the Cabinet table in Kathmandu?
Did India benefit from having a bunch of unreformed Maoists in power in Nepal? Didn't it increase the danger of Naxalites finding sanctuary across the border?
All these Himalayan idiocies too find echoes in the Nehru era. Nehru swallowed Chinese claims to Tibet without a murmur. Anyone who actually bothers to study history knows that Chinese sovereignty over Tibet was a fiction.
The conceit of Chinese 'control' over Tibetan affairs dates back to Francis Younghusband's (external link) expedition to Lhasa, one of Lord Curzon's little ideas. When the then Dalai Lama fled before Younghusband reached the capital, an agreement was reached under the imprimatur of the Chinese envoy in Tibet -- a bit like the British High Commissioner making decisions concerning India in the Indian prime minister's absence.
Angry Tibetans thought so little of the Chinese claims that they tore down the banners announcing the deal from the walls of Lhasa.
Nehru might have claimed that he was bringing a fresh view to Indian foreign policy, in reality he did little more than swallow a few lies concocted by Curzon's men. (Lies so blatant that even the then British government in London was embarrassed by the whole tawdry affair!)
I have absolutely no problem with India's conducting business with the generals in Myanmar because that is how India's interests were best served. But how does India benefit from cracking Tibetan skulls outside the Chinese embassy, and how does it benefit from pandering to extremists by exiling Taslima Nasreen?
A legacy of Nehruvian folly has combined with the electoral needs of the Left Front to unnerve the UPA regime. When will the bill for these acts of cowardice come due? Or don't the ministers in the Manmohan Singh government care any longer?