India Going Down And Down
This was not very long ago. Benazir Bhutto, herself a proud and with an upper stiff lip sitting in her huge flat in Queens Gate in London said “Atal Behari Saheb does not know what weight his words carry in Washington.” One felt happy to hear her say that. Soon after Atal Behari Vajpyee, on a state visit, was scheduled to arrive in London. Online of a very important India daily an article said that the British government had downgraded his visit. The then Deputy High Commissioner Hardeep Puri was trying desperately to have the offending article removed. Meanwhile, the British took umbrage and were so upset that they told the daily that if the article was not taken off, they would take very serious action. The article was removed and nothing appeared in the print edition in the following morning.
The security provided during his visit was almost on par with that of a US President. When the cavalcade of Vajpayee left the hotel where he met NRIs, two outriders were in front of his car, which was followed by a High Commission’s car carrying senior Indian diplomats, and then followed two cars carrying secret service officers. The route to 10, Downing Street where the prime minister was headed for dinner hosted by Mr Tony Blair was so chosen that two police helicopters could fly overhead until the cavalcade reached the British prime minister’s official residence.
Such welcome was not for Mr Vajpayee but in effect for India, signifying its importance internationally. Compare it to what happened in South Africa when Dr Manmohan Singh went to participate in BRICS Summit. He reached one day before the start of the two-day summit, a practice one is told has been followed during his visits to attend various meets. Without going into the ethics of such practice the point here is that the whole day being free for both him and the host Jacob Zuma, the South African President, the meeting between the two was very much possible. But it did not take place. In fact, it could never take place and for the first time ever an Indian prime minister returned without a meeting with the host.
Imagine if this happened to Indira Gandhi. A large number of Indian diplomats would have been shown the mat and the strongest possible note would have been issued to the host country. What happened in this instance one is not aware of? And if as this was not enough insult, while the heads of Brazil, Russia and China were put up within the striking distance of the summit venue in Durban, Indian prime minister was allotted a resort at Zimbali, 40 km from Durban. This threw all programmes out of gear, the Indian prime minister reached for most events late and thus in a chain reaction he was reportedly delayed for many important engagements.
The Indian prime minster was allegedly delayed for his meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin, so he had to spend an hour sitting in a “holding room”. Such fate for a person who represents India on international forums! Not only was Dr Singh shoddily treated but the country’s prestige was affected.
Whose fault was it? South Africa cannot be blamed alone. At least a month before a prime minister’s official foreign visit, a team of SPG goes to see the arrangements and that includes a thorough inspection of where the prime minister is to stay. Was this place at Zimbali shown to the team? Why didn’t senior Indian diplomats in South Africa, those in NSA’s and MEA’s bigwigs take up the matter?
Was it due to diplomatic politeness? The distance Dr Singh would have to travel must have been taken into account and security angle explored. Now with regard to the meeting with President Zuma, a months before the visit in consultation with the officials of the host country, a minute to minute programme of the visiting prime minister, agreed by the hosts is finalized. Was the meeting between President Jacob and Dr Singh was included in the programme?
Asked about this Mr Lalit Mansingh demurred from replying but he related his own experience when he was ambassador in UAE. He said that almost a month before the official visit by Mrs Indira Gandhi, the minute-to-minute programme had been finalized. He took it for a final look by UAE’s foreign minister. He waved it away and told Mr Mansingh that they were Bedouins and they did not believe in such things. But Mr Mansingh thought he was just joking.
When on the day of the arrival of Mrs Gandhi, he reached the airport he was shocked to see that no one from the UAE government was there, no red carpet, no preparation for guard of honour or a welcoming party. Mr Mansingh recalls he realized that he would lose his job after Mrs Gandhi arrived. He was just numbed. A mere ten minutes or so were left for the plane’s touchdown, when he saw that three large limousines came, people emerged, red carpet was laid and for a guard of honour al preparation were made. A smiling Foreign Minister was among the welcoming party. His job was saved and he went on to become Foreign Secretary.
But another retired ambassador was more direct. He attributed themes in Durban during the BRICS Summit to utter failure of diplomats and MEA officials. Anyway, whatever be the reason or justification the fact remains that an Indian prime minister was not treated according to his stature. When Brazilian President was told that she would have to wait for her meeting she simply went back to her hotel. A Chinese delegation when delayed for some event told the hosts that the next time they would present a good watch. The grievance was registered and the hosts realized that they have been upbraided. Was anything like this done by the Indian delegation or the Indian High Commission’s officials?
It seems over sometime India’s stature has nosedived. Forget about South Africa, even small countries don’t care or listen to India. The most recent example is the conduct of Maldives. The ousted President Naseeb sought asylum at the Indian High Commission in Male. He was at the High Commission for quite some time. He feared if released he would be put behind the bars. But the Indian government negotiated with the Maldives Government and it agreed that Naseb would not be taken into custody. So on this condition he left the Indian High Commission’s premises. Within a few days he was imprisoned!
This is our stature today—a country which was on way to becoming super power , the most favoured destination for investments (which have slowed down) and treated as if it was one of the nearly unknown countries in Africa.
Who is responsible for such a state of Indian?
By Vijay Dutt
(The author is former London-Correspondent at the Hindustan Times)
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