By B.G. Verghese
The UPA’s 9th year report card presented last week makes sober reading. There have been scams galore, poorly handled, with efforts to cover up and remedial action in slow motion. Yet, despite obvious rift and indecision there have been some modest achievements to boot.
The agenda now must be not to coast along but to go full steam ahead in the time remaining before the polls to undertake systemic and structural reform. No doubt the Opposition has played a negative and even destructive role in not permitting parliament to function – an unpardonable sin. But let the Government throw down the gauntlet and challenge the Opposition to oppose and delay the overdue reforms it has been screaming for and which the country so urgently needs. A real effort to move forward would be the Congress’s best electoral plank and would place the onus on the BJP, Left and others to explain to the aamadmi why they have stymied progress, growth and employment.
That the Government can stand its ground and take farsighted decisions was proven by the way it handled the Chinese intrusion into the Depsang plain without getting rattled or pushed by chauvinistic clamour. At the end of the day, the Chinese blinked and pulled back. That the joint statement issued later did not mention the word “intrusion” – the PM used the phrase “incident” –signified a welcome restraint and desire to avoid teasing statements.
The special representatives of the two sides will now meet to settle the boundary question. As previously agued, India has no reason to yield any ground in Arunachal, barring some minor adjustments along the current LAC, and certainly not give up any populated areas as previously agreed, like Tawang. The Chinese cannot say and unsay things at will. But in the Western sector, India will have to abandon its tenuous claims to Aksaichin.
It was prudent to prevent Tibetan demonstrators from staging an incident that would have been a needless provocation to the Chinese. The lack of reference to Tibet in the joint statement, however, signified nothing. The object of the meeting was to pave the way for a resolution of current irritants rather than to provoke. Nonetheless, India has a right to be concerned about developments in Tibet. We do not stand for an independent Tibet. Nor does the Dalai Lama, who has time and again taken his stand on the autonomy promised under the 17-Point Agreement with China in 1951. Failure to implement this led the young Dalai Lama to take the opportunity of his visit to India in 1956 on the occasion of the 2500thnirvana of the Buddha to remain in this country.
This greatly embarrassed the Chinese and when Chou En-lai visited India (twice) during that year, he pleaded with Nehru to prevail on the Dalai Lama to return home on the basis of solemn assurances that the 17-Point Agreement would be faithfully implemented. It was on Nehru’s conveyance of these reassurances and his own quiet persuasion that the Dalai Lama returned to Lhasa. Hence India has some locus standi in asking why that promise of autonomyhas been denied.
The Indian and Chinese Prime Ministers discussed trade and water issues. Balanced trade, market access and more investments are in order. But there were signs of overreaction in India’s concerns about water use and diversion in Tibet. Seeking fuller, real time water discharge data from Tibet is legitimate. But questioning all Chinese run-of-the-river or even storage projects in Tibetis to cry wolf. The upper riparian has certain rights, as India asserts on its international waters. Fears of Chinese “diversion” north of the Tsang-po/Yaralangpo/Dihang (mistakenly called the Brahmaputra) are exaggerated.
Nonetheless, the smart thing for India to do would be to solicit Chinese cooperation, along with other co-riparians, the Japanese, ESCAP and ADB, in a joint techno-economic feasibility study on tapping the huge hydro potential of the Tsang-po U-Bend as it cascades 8000 feet from Tibet to India. A desktop study of this by the Japanese in the late 1980s indicated a 48-54,000 MW potential depending onthe alignment of a proposed tunnel from Tibet to India. The power generated in India at the foot of the drop could be fed into a SAARC-ASEAN-China energy grid and would do much to pre-empt the burning of several hundred million tonnes of dirty coal and earn credit under the clean development mechanism. A Canadian scholar has suggested that rather than build a dam at the head of the U-Bend, it would be simpler to straddle the gorge with an inflatable polythene sausage dam that would be both more economical and ecologically benign.
The Chinese may reject a joint U-Bend development proposition. But India would have staked a claim to the energy of this shared drop.
Meanwhile, the formation of a new government in Pakistan is awaited under Nawaz Sharif, hopefully with support from Imran Khan’s party. Sharif has made all the right noises about India but is prudently trying to take the Army on boardand rein in the jihadis. One has to see how things pan out but here is an opportunity for a real new beginning that India must not miss. Manmohan Singh has made the right responses and should visit Pakistan at the earliest in order to consolidate the positive trends and demonstrate that India is not the permanent enemy of Pakistani ideologues’ fevered imagination.
Hawks and right wing ideologues in India could be spoilers. Consultations with them are most desirable. An internal back channel seems indicated here as much as revival of the Indo-Pakistan back channel. The United Jihad Council chief, Salahuddin, has warned Nawaz Sharif against coming to terms with India. These are internal obstacles that Sharif will need to confront. But India should not falter.
At home, the IPL-BCCI scandal is a disgrace to the game, an enthusiastic and trusting public and to India’s image. Sport has been invaded by commerce on an obscene scale and taken over by dirty money and dubious characters if not outright criminals. There has to be a thorough cleansing of the Augean stables. Our punishments are far too mild and delayed and have little deterrent effect. All this must change.