Wednesday, October 31, 2012

“Soft Power” Counts for very Little”

Kanwal Sibal (Advisory Board, VIF)

Much is sometimes made of India’s “soft power” as a diplomatic force multiplier. This kind of power is defined as the ability to attract and co-opt rather than coerce, use force or give money as a mean of persuasion. Through this power a country can supposedly obtain the outcomes it wants because other countries admiring its values, emulating its example, aspiring to its levels of prosperity, openness and availability of individual opportunities, want to follow it. Those who believe in the reality of such “soft power” in international relations think that Bollywood, yoga, Indian music, dance and cuisine, our practice of democracy and pluralism amidst huge diversity give India added diplomatic weight internationally. Is this true?


The concept of soft power may have gained wide international currency in political and academic circles but that does not mean it is unquestionable. The concept is very American, developed from the perspective of the world’s dominant political, economic and military power. One can do the academic exercise of separating the various components of US power and establish a new category of “soft power” on the assumption that American democracy, culture, values, Hollywood et al exert draw the rest of the world voluntarily into the American orbit.

The US, supposedly, attracts others through this kind of soft power to follow its lead, without the need to use force. This is a debatable proposition. If the US lacked the overwhelming “hard power” it has, if global institutions were not dominated by it, if it did not actively propagate its political,economic and societal values world-wide, if it did not control significantly the flow of information across the globe, its “soft power” would be ineffectual. Switzerland has many of the elements of American “soft power”- a veritable grass root democracy, respect for citizen rights, individual opportunities, high levels of prosperity, quality production etc. Yet no one talks of neutral, non-military oriented Switzerland’s “soft power”.

Furthermore, have countries at large progressively embraced democracy because of the American example? On the contrary, one now talks of the attractiveness of the Chinese model of governance for developing countries. Russia resists US ideas of democracy and the methods used to promote it in Russia itself and in its neighbourhood. Despite decades of US global domination, consolidated by the demise of the Soviet Union, no democracy wave has engulfed the world, except in areas liberated from Soviet domination in eastern Europe. The Arab world is seeing political convulsions that have been inspired not by US democracy but by local anger against protracted dictatorships, with power transferred to muslim groups averse to western style democracy. Moreover, American democratic freedoms and cultural values have hardly wrought change in the Gulf monarchies despite their long asociation with the US. Its “soft power” hasn’t prevented the US from being deeply unpopular in the Islamic world at large.

The claim that US soft power draws strength from its commitment to human rights would need to be reconciled with American military intervention in Iraq that has exacted an enormous human toll. Regime changes of the kind enforced in Libya and being currently promoted in Syria, with Iran to perhaps follow later, are exceedingly costly in human terms as whole societies are destabilized. In Afghanistan, and even in Pakistan where the US has become deeply unpopular, radical forces like the Taliban are unimpressed by US soft power, even with regard to basic human values such as proper treatment of women and the right girls have to education etc.


It is important also not to confuse entertainment with power of any kind. There is no relationship between enjoyment of Hollywood movies and political support for US policies across the globe. Because of the highly unequal quality of these films, in some ways the picture they convey of US society can be actually unflattering.

In India’s case, its putative soft power as a democracy has failed to exert much co-opting influence even in its neighbourhood. Countries like Nepal have actually viewed Indian democracy in the past as a threat. Governance issues have tarnished the image of our democracy, with the spread of corruption in all walks of life eroding further its prestige. With China racing ahead in economic development and pulling millions out of poverty, India’s failure to eradicate abysmal levels of poverty still prevalent in the country, besides wide-spread malnutrition and poor sanitation and hygiene, corrodes the attractiveness of its model, which some have begun to see as increasingly dysfunctional. In some areas the human development indices in India are lower than in sub-saharan Africa. It is ironical that the democracy argument has to be offered by apologists to explain the shortfalls in India’s performance.


Bollywood, which is loved by the Pakistani public, hasn’t reduced Pakistan’s hostility towards India, just as the fondness of some here for Pakistani plays and affection for sufi music does not change negative thinking about Pakistan in India. Our secularism and pluralism is hardly viewed with admiration in the Islamic world, where the more conservative regimes actually see secularism as a form of heresy and minorities are denied equal status in law. Our other cultural attributes, however attractive, haven’t persuaded countries to be on India’s side against dictatorships and military regimes that inflict violence or make teritorial demands on us. Across the world people can love Indian food and enjoy Indian art forms, but that does not lessen political differences on key bilateral or international issues, just as the popularity of Chinese food in India does not alter our thinking about Chinese claims on Arunachal Pradesh or its strategic alliance with Pakistan.
So, let’s not be soft-headed about the politically seductive force of India’s “soft power”.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

India Shining? Or India, The Dark Continent?

Dr M N Buch (Visiting Fellow, VIF)

The newspaper headlines and electronic media such as NDTV24×7, Times Now, CNN-IBN keeps screaming at us that India is the land of scams, the very fountainhead of corruption. On the one hand are the Indian people – harried, betrayed, looted by those in power. On another we have the predators, the politicians and bureaucrats. As if a third hand had sprouted on our body politic we have the crusaders, the knights in shining armour, the Anna Hazares, Arvind Kejriwals, the father and son Bushan duo, the Sisodias, Damanias and Kiran Bedis, fighting valiantly to expose the corrupt and punish the guilty. Or does one sense a certain tarnish on their armour, a certain uneasy feeling that a desire for publicity, a hunger to be in the limelight, a vaulting ambition to unseat those in power so that they themselves can assume power? Is the campaign against corruption, based less on commitment and more on the benefit that flows to the campaigner really aimed at eradicating the disease rather than on just exposing, selectively, some of the powerful for the vicarious pleasure that scandal-mongering gives? In other words, is India a total cesspit of corruption, or is there another India also in which the average citizen goes about his peaceful occupation and keeps the country ticking?

This essay is not really young India’s contribution because I am already seventy-eight years old and I joined the India Administrative Service more than fifty-five years ago. India, like me, was still young as an independent country, being only ten years old in 1957. We were in a very exciting era in which a leader of the stature of Jawaharlal Nehru had launched India on a path of development which promised to pull a sleepy colony from its slumber to become one of the great industrial powers of the world. Smug though it may sound we young officers also were galvanised by the thought that in our own small way we, too, were a part of the process of modernisation. Great things did happen, dams were built, food self sufficiency was attained, the capital goods industries went into production, education and healthcare took large leaps, electric power brought light to rural India. We, who had been the brightest jewel in the British crown, were suddenly moving by leaps and bounds to catch up with the developed world. The sheer sense of pride we had as Bhakra Dam went on stream, Bhilai Steel Plant began to produce steel or the Railways began producing their own locomotives. No country that is genetically corrupt can achieve all this and our scientists, engineers, technologists, doctors, researchers, even our politicians and civil servants proved that we are better than the best. No country in the world could produce a team equal to one headed by S.N. Mehta of the ICS and Tata Rao, a great electrical engineer, who together built the Madhya Pradesh Electricity Board into a powerful engine of economic and social change in the largely tribal state of Madhya Pradesh.

Even if the paper is not written by a young man it is still the outpourings of a person who is xenophobically Indian. I believe in this country, I have faith in its future and I take great pride in the commonsense of its people. Therefore, unlike the Kejriwals of today I would like to draw up some sort of a balance sheet which would help us look at ourselves in perspective, recognise the legitimacy of the demand to eradicate corruption because the fact is that not only at top levels but even, or especially, at the level of normal routine the citizen has become the victim of bureaucratic inefficiency, even deliberate harassment, political corruption and even downright cheating by unscrupulous businessmen. In the delivery of services by both government and the private sector there is a feeling based on reality that the citizen will face a shortfall. Even in performing its minimum function of maintaining law and order and controlling crime government seems to be failing, with political interference in police functioning being the main cause. It is almost as if the will to govern no longer exists, though the desire to use power for personal gain is very much in evidence.

The negative side of the report card can be extended to cover a volume, but the negative is also constructed out of elements which highlight what is wrong without looking at the whole picture. Therefore, unless one is looking at a situation such as faced by Germany at the end of World War II, when the nation stood destroyed by the colossal mistakes of an unbridled megalomaniac, if the negative is viewed in perspective it often becomes manageable and capable of remedy. The question, therefore, is whether the near failure of governance in India, the widespread political and bureaucratic corruption, the systemic shortcomings, are still manageable and capable of remedy or do we now need a total revolution? Is the India Against Corruption campaign of washing dirty linen in public such a revolution or is it only another form of J.P. Narain’s failed ‘sampurna kranti’? Is there cause for despair or is there still real hope?

A perspective requires a study of what is positive in the system. One must, therefore, begin with seeing the institutions which the British left us and which the Constitution enshrined. The first is parliamentary democracy itself. Despite the brief interlude of the Emergency institutionalised democracy does work in India. It accommodates the political philosophy of Hindutva without sacrificing the basic secular character of our democracy. It encourages middle-of-the road politicians and parties to set a benchmark to which both extreme right and extreme left have to adhere. It allows the Marxists to rule two major States and wield great influence nationally. It forces fissiparous regional parties like DMK and the Akali Dal to subordinate their regional interests to national interests and it makes the Government of Gujarat acquiesce to prosecution of communal elements in the State who allegedly enjoy state patronage, many of whom have been convicted and sentenced by our independent courts. In fact the fiercely independent judiciary itself is a legacy of the British, with the courts standing as a stout wall which protects our democracy. This is an unparalleled achievement and one could state with little fear of contradiction that no other country has such proactive courts as our Supreme Court and High Courts. Politicians may accuse the judiciary of sometimes encroaching on the territory of the executive, but no one dares to defy or disobey a court order.
There are three other institutions which need mention. One is our totally apolitical Armed Forces. Our Armed Forces are a democratic organ of a democratic State and anyone who underplays this fact is a fool. This is definitely one of the major positives of our report card. Then we have the Civil Services, including the Police. They have been under immense stress as values erode and politics becomes corrupt, fissiparous, or demanding of our Services to become partners in wrongdoing. No doubt there is some erosion of values and probity, but there are many fine Civil Service and Police officers who have been true to their salt, been steadfast in doing their duty and have stood their ground against all odds. To this we must add our great civil Constitutional institutions such as the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Public Service Commission, Union and State and Commissions such as the National Human Right Commission and the Information Commission. “They stood, and earth’s foundations stay”, to quote Housman.

Empowerment in its broadest sense is a definite positive in India. The British studiously avoided empowering us. They did delegate certain functions to Indians and made marginal institutional changes, but in terms of giving Indians real power in the way that the Preamble of our Constitution does or Part III of the Constitution through the Fundamental Rights confers on all citizens was missing from the British mindset. Empowerment after independence has been devolved politically right down to panchayat level and now, through the Seventy-third and Seventy-fourth Amendments of the Constitution, urban and rural local government forms the third tier of government in India. At local government level, through reservations which are legally mandated, women, tribals and scheduled castes and other backward classes which hitherto did not enjoy a share of power have now been constitutionally made partners in government. The most significant change has been reservation for women in local government, which has forced a conservative and, in the case of States such as Haryana a fundamentalist orthodox society, to share power with women. This has not ended discrimination against women but as more and more of them begin to enjoy political power one can see a perceptible shift in gender equations in large parts of the country. Khap panchayats of Haryana still exist but the voices of women can no longer be stilled and the movement for gender sensitisation and equality is bound to gather pace.

On the social front one finds a great deal of ferment in what has hitherto been a caste bound socially static society. One change is that those who had been oppressed for millennia on account of birth are standing up, demanding and .fighting for their rights. Social structures cannot change overnight, but as more of the underprivileged raise a cry for an equal share of power, wealth and development, the social momentum for equality is bound to accelerate. Many people, especially of my generation, find it anathema that those who happen to be born in a lower caste are now coming and sitting not only beside us but sometimes above us. There have been violent clashes between different social groups on this account and stories of atrocities against lower caste people are still heard frequently. Here, too, there is a change. It is not the Brahmins and the Thakurs who are the main exploiters of the Dalits. The main clash is now between OBCs and the Dalits. If the highborn can learn to live with those whom they consider shudras, the day is not far when OBCs will also have the accept Dalits as equals. Where we are failing is that government, which should play a strong proactive role to promote a casteless society and to come down with a heavy hand on those who use their collective caste status to oppress others, often plays a wait and watch role. If government becomes proactive we can very quickly become a society based on merit rather than caste and class. One would have thought that the Socialists would be in the vanguard of a campaign to promote castelessness, but unfortunately the two main Socialist groups, the U.P. group of Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Bihar Group of Lalu Prasad Yadav, have preferred to play the intermediate caste card for political gain and these two groups have in fact encouraged caste based politics which is highly divisive. In a country undergoing social ferment which can only create a new, positive dynamics, divisive caste politics is trying to reverse what is a desirable forward progression in India. Nevertheless I still look upon social ferment as a healthy sign and would put it on the positive side of the report card.

How well have we managed our economy? Have we eliminated poverty, tackled malnutrition, provided jobs, increased productivity, balanced the budget, controlled prices and generally created an environment in which there is healthy growth with equity? I would like to answer this question somehow obliquely. In the beginning of 1962 I became District Collector of Betul, a beautiful, jungle clad, hilly district in the Satpuras, with a large tribal population. When compared with districts in the more prosperous areas of India or, for that matter, in the Chambal or Malwa regions of Madhya Pradesh, Betul was backward; there was visible poverty and very little industrial activity. Soon after I took over, a Swedish Bishop, who had served as a missionary in the district more than thirty years ago, came to call on me. He expressed surprise at the enormous progress made by the district, which took me aback. I asked him why he felt that there was progress. He told me that whereas in the past many people were bare bodied he did not find a single person without a shirt on his back or footwear on his feet, many tribals were on bicycle, there was electricity even in rural areas and that in a district where wheat was almost unknown he found it to be the major rabi crop now. I had taken a spot view of the district, whereas the Bishop had taken a longitudinal view. I swore that day that in future when I looked at any issue I would also like to create a perspective in which I could compare what was and what is. If we view India through this prism it is amazing how much progress we have made. When the British left only about five thousand towns and villages were electrified. Today there is universal electrification and though power supply in rural areas is erratic, intermittent and of poor quality, at least the basic service is in place. If we emulate the example of Gujarat which has separated the agricultural feeder from the main feeder, ensured twenty-four hours supply on the main feeder at full tariff and prescribed hours of top quality supply on the agriculture feeder we, too, can improve the quality of power and the quantum of power throughout the country. Here there is a management failure but not an economic failure. If we set the power system right there would be a massive upsurge of economic activity and this is something which is capable of both implementation and management.

India had a rudimentary industrial structure when the British left and today we are one of the most powerful industrial economies in the world. We look at the aberrations of the system, but why do we not recognise that Ratan Tata, Rahul Bajaj, Keshub and Anand Mahindra, Dhirubhai, Mukesh and Anil Ambani, the great Chettiar industrialists of the South have created absolutely new industrial and economic models which have made India prosperous? We bother about Mukesh Ambani spending rupees six hundred and fifty crores on his house in Bombay, but we do not even mention the fact that the world’s biggest refinery of petroleum products is the Reliance Group’s establishment at Jamnagar, which has created thousands of direct and indirect jobs. One does not excuse the Ambanis for any shady practices they may have adopted to create this vast empire, but the fact is that Dhirubhai and his sons have played a major transformative role in developing Indian industry.

NREGS is the flagship vessel of government to create rural employment. The idea is sound because if we create rural jobs which are productive we can ameliorate rural-urban migration and also improve living standards in rural areas. However, in practical terms the scheme is somewhat ill-conceived because its main focus is employment and not asset creation. The minute we change this scheme to create permanent rural assets which benefit the rural economy, the scheme will suddenly become a major source of increasing productivity on a long term basis in the agriculture sector. One has only to visit those areas of Jhabua District where a successful watershed management programme has dramatically increased fodder and fuel supply, raised the water table, brought about a higher agricultural yield and very substantially stopped the seasonal migration of the villagers in search of wage employment. The thought was correct, the design of the scheme was defective and, therefore, unsatisfactory implementation coupled with corruption was an inevitable consequence. What we need here is not Kejriwal; what we need is a system which automatically forces planners to think and then from these thoughts emerge practical proposals which can be implemented without difficulty.

I would say that on the whole the economy has not done badly. The major failure of government in this behalf is a total inability to grasp what causes inflation and to take remedial measures in reasonable time. That is also because the economic managers and advisors of government are unfortunately not grounded in Indian realities and, therefore, outdated, totally irrelevant and out of context, World Bank influenced ideas flow from them and virtually dictate policy. Prices can be controlled through better networks of roads which enable produce to be moved from rural areas, a wholesale market which buys directly from the producer and not through middlemen, a host of storage facilities which enable grain, for example, to flow into the market on a year round basis, in which there is no sharp drop in prices when the harvest season sets in and a sharp increase as the season passes and grain becomes in short supply, and a well developed market intelligence system which enables commodities to be quickly moved from the producer to the areas of high demand. It does not take a genius to look at what is obvious but it takes hard work, based on proper planning and priorities, to achieve desirable results. I consider it a big negative in this country that we still have not been able to develop a system which could encourage price stabilisation, while paying a fair share to the producer.

Our social infrastructure has definitely improved. There are more schools, more colleges, more institutes of technology and management and medicine than before and whereas peaks of excellence may have flattened, the overall standard has risen. We may not win Nobel Prizes, but we are a better educated and more technically qualified people than before. I hold the view that if the Education Ministry could put its act together we can revolutionise our educational system and standards. This is also true of healthcare. But unfortunately here the primary healthcare has not kept pace with a high level medical and surgical care. What we need to do is to raise the median to a higher level so that the quality of primary and community level health care dramatically improves. This, again, is an achievable objective.

India may not be shining like burnished gold but it certainly is not the Dark Continent. I would say that we are progressive but not optimally efficient, we are not genetically corrupt but there is systemic corruption in India which we are not serious about eradicating. We have a dynamic economy, but as a people we seem to prefer the brake pedal to the accelerator. We lack strong, purposeful democratic government despite a firmly entrenched democratic polity. None of these, however, need cause us despair, though there are twinges of distress. We can overcome all these shortcomings with greater citizen participation, greater accountability which rewards the good and punishes the bad and with reformed political parties which emphasise values and ideology and prepare themselves both for exercise of power and to sit in opposition. Platitudes? Never -- for all this is in the realm of the possible.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Tibet in International Law and Practice

PP Shukla
Joint Director, VIF

“Since Tibet is not the same as China, it should ultimately be the wishes of the people of Tibet that should prevail and not any legal or constitutional arguments. That, I think, is a valid point. Whether the people of Tibet are strong enough to assert their rights or not is another matter. Whether we are strong enough to see that is done is also another matter. But it is a right and proper thing to say and I see no difficulty in saying to the Chinese government that whether they have suzerainty or sovereignty over Tibet, surely, according to any principles, the principle they proclaim and the principles I uphold, the last voice in regard to Tibet should be the voice of the people of Tibet and nobody else.”

- Jawaharlal Nehru, 7 December, 1950 Lok Sabha

The plan of this study is to divide Tibetan history into three parts: one, prior to the 19th Century, the second from the 19th century to the beginning of the 20th century, and finally, the 20th century itself, including and bringing the study up to the current period of the 21st century.

The period before the 19th century is important, of course, but so much happened in the subsequent years that the relevance of the evidence from further back becomes debatable. Much of the evidence from the Chinese side is also sketchy over this period and consists of tokens of control which are not relevant to the current practice of diplomacy or international law. For instance, the claim that they appointed representatives [who were considered as Ambassadors by the Tibetans] or awarded titles, is unconvincing. Britain still awards titles to countries like Australia and even appoints the Governor- General. But no one would accept any claim of British sovereignty over Australia. Besides, China itself was ruled during this period by the Manchus, who were themselves non- [Han] Chinese, so it is questionable whether their territories may logically be considered Chinese. It would be akin to India claiming Afghanistan because the Mughals controlled that territory or Burma because the British did.

The 19th century however, saw some important events, and these are important indications of the nature of the relationship between Tibet and China. Two events stand out. The first was the relationship between Tibet and Nepal. Nepal invaded Tibet [its second invasion in the 19th Century] in 1854 and the Chinese central authorities did nothing to help Tibet, which was forced to conclude a Treaty in 1856 with Nepal which provided for a tribute – the sum of Rs 10,000 annually, a large sum those days – to be paid by Tibet. Although the Treaty paid obeisance to the Emperor of China, the fact is that Beijing neither helped in the war, not did it play any role in the Treaty signing. This is not the attribute of a sovereign. Nonetheless, the Beijing authorities use this Treaty, among others, to lay claim over both Tibet and even Nepal. The latter is dormant now, but the potential for trouble exists and needs to be recognised.

This particular aspect of Tibetan sovereignty was brought out by the Indian officials in their negotiations with China which took place in the late 1950’s and is reflected in the following extract from the Officials’ Report.

Excerpt from the Officials’ Report (1960):

…during the 300 years prior to 1950, Tibet, whatever her status, had enjoyed the right to sign treaties and have direct dealings with her neighbours on boundary questions, was clearly established by history. The Indian side had already drawn attention to the treaties of 1684 and 1842 signed by Tibet with Ladakh. In 1856, she signed a treaty with Nepal, and the People's Government of China themselves recognised the validity of this treaty, because they felt it necessary to abrogate it in their treaty, signed exactly a hundred years later, in 1956 with the Nepal Government. It was asserted by the Chinese side that the Chinese Amban in Tibet had assisted in the conclusion of the 1856 treaty. This, too, was an incorrect statement of facts; but even if true, it would only corroborate the Indian position that China recognised the treatymaking powers of Tibet. For it would mean that China assisted Tibet in directly negotiating a treaty which, among other things, granted extra-territorial rights to Nepal.

If the Chinese felt the need to abrogate the Treaty in 1956, it means that they acknowledged its validity till the time of abrogation.

For the second event, the clock needs to be turned back a little further. A few years earlier, starting in 1841, a war broke out between Tibet and the Dogra rulers of Kashmir. This resulted in Letters of Agreement being signed between the warring parties, under which the boundaries between Ladakh and Tibet were clarified and recognised and trade relations were regularised.
Ladakh also agreed to pay an annual tribute to Tibet. Again the central authorities played no role in the entire episode. The importance of this agreement between Ladakh and Tibet in further establishing Tibetan sovereignty is also brought out in the Officials’ Report, as quoted above.

Another aspect worth mentioning is the attempt at about this time by Beijing to regulate the selection of the Dalai Lama. This happened in 1793, and the central part of the regulations introduced by Beijing read as follows: “When the reincarnate boy has been found, his name will be written on a lot, which shall be put into a golden urn bestowed by the central government. The high commissioners will bring together appropriate high-ranking Living Buddhas to determine the authenticity of the reincarnate boy by drawing lots from the golden urn.” However, the Tibetan authorities ignored this and in 1804, the Ninth Dalai Lama was selected in the usual way by the Regent.

The final piece of evidence dates to the last three decades of the 19th Century, and involves British attempts to establish direct relations with Tibet. A bit of background would be helpful here. The strategic setting was the rapid expansion of two major Empires – the British and the Russian – towards the heart of Asia. The British Empire expanded west and north from Calcutta, the Russian south and east from St Petersburg. They met, or drew close, along the Central Asian redoubts. Tibet at this time was playing host to the famous historical figure Agvan Dorjiev, a Buryat monk who arrived in Lhasa in 1880, and soon became a debating partner of the Dalai Lama. The contemporary British media were replete with articles about the Russian advance into Tibet through the agency of Dorjiev. For long afterwards, it was doubted whether the Russians and Dorjiev were indeed playing any political role, but recent disclosures make it clear that there were indeed strategic and military matters under consideration between Russia and Tibet, through the mediation of Dorjiev. However, the British had their own plans and fears, and turned to the Chinese Empire in order to use its supposed suzerain status to work their strategy in Tibet.

The British had been trying to open relations with Tibet at this time, mainly to counter the Russian moves described briefly above, and were doing this by attempting to involve the Chinese on their side. With this aim they signed an agreement in 1876 [the Chefoo Agreement the main objective of which was to let the British missionaries enter China, only one paragraph was about Tibet], but the Tibetans refused to accept the validity of this agreement as far as they were concerned and refused to be bound by its terms. A decade and a half later, they tried again through a second agreement with China, the Convention of March 1890. The objective this time was to regulate the boundaries between Sikkim and Tibet, as well as [through the Annex] to regulate trade between British India and Tibet. However, this agreement, like the previous effort by the British to work through the Chinese, did not succeed either, and for the same reason. The Tibetans refused to acknowledge the validity of any treaty or arrangement that did not directly involve them. Meanwhile, they were steadily moving to accept Russian protection, under the guidance of Dorjiev. The Russians were already emerging as perhaps the major strategic adversary to the British in Asia.

Accordingly, after having waited for the Beijing connection to deliver, the British were forced to conclude that this was not going to work, and they had to move independently and directly on Tibet. This was the genesis of the Young husband expedition in 1903- 04. The spur was the failure of Beijing to deliver on its part of the agreements signed in the late 19th Century, and the real reason was the success of the Russians in dealing directly with Tibet. The Russians did not entirely ignore Beijing, and did sign a separate agreement with China, but it was clear that they were focusing on working directly with Tibet, which was responding positively.

This was the situation the British faced at the dawn of the 20th Century, and decided that they had to take direct action, since China was unable to deliver on the commitments undertaken over the past twenty years. The result was the Younghusband expedition. Lord Curzon was the Viceroy and he declared that“the so-called suzerainty of China over Tibet [is] a constitutional fiction, a political affectation which has been maintained because of its convenience to both parties”. At the end of the expedition, the two sides signed the Anglo-Tibetan Convention on 7 September 1904. Thus, the Tibetans were once more left to fend for themselves in the face of a military attack, without any aid from China. And once again, Tibet entered into a treaty with a foreign power without any role for Beijing. The provisions of the Convention of 1904 also make revealing reading; the preamble admitted that “doubts and difficulties about the meaning and validity” [emphasis added] had arisen over the 1890 agreement with China [a polite way of recording the fact that Tibet was refusing to recognize and therefore to implement that agreement]; the rest of the Treaty essentially ratified the substance of the earlier agreements between Britain and China on the border between Sikkim and Tibet, and allowed for trade rights for British India. Finally, another important outcome was to check Russian influence in Tibet and Tibet was required not to cede or lease any part of its territory to any foreign power, and to remove all foreign representatives, and to extend no economic concessions to any foreign power. Russian influence was thus also blocked, though Dorjiev remained active in Tibet for some time longer.

[In the 1940’s the British repeatedly told the Tibetan Foreign Bureau that they signed the Convention and then left after a few weeks. They never acted as an invading power which remains in the invaded territories. They wanted to show the difference of attitude between China and HMG]

What this episode shows again is that China played no role in defending Tibet, and no role in treaty-making by Tibet. What is more, it also showed that treaties and agreements entered into by China on behalf of Tibet could not be implemented because Tibet would not acknowledge China’s right to make any commitments on its behalf. And it demonstrated that such commitments would remain unimplemented.

The 20th Century thus opened with Tibet becoming an active focus of the power play between the Great Powers, and with China having played no role that a sovereign or suzerain would be required to play, though for completeness, it may be mentioned that Manchu China did help Tibet in 1792 during the war with the Gorkhas.

But more was to come. Not for the last time, differences arose between the Viceroy in India and London over policy in Asia. In London, the view was that Britain had to work diplomatically with both China and Russia, the former block the Russians in Tibet, the latter to prepare for the looming challenge from Germany. Thus, the Lhasa Convention between Britain and Tibet was reaffirmed by China in the British-Chinese Convention of 1906. This “confirmed” the 1904 Convention and stated that the trade concessions granted under the 1904 agreement would not be available to any other state, other than China, thus addressing the fear of Russian influence in Tibet, by co-opting China for the purpose. Unfortunately for Tibet, the British further confirmed the dilution of the 1904 Convention by signing the Anglo-Russian Convention in 1907 which covered Afghanistan, Iran and Tibet. According to this, Tibet was once again, inter alia, deemed to be under the suzerainty of China. All this was the result of London overruling Calcutta in the larger interests of co-opting Russia over the growing differences with Imperial Germany, in the face of which London wished to settle as many issues with the other major powers as it could. Tibet needed to be sacrificed for this purpose. [An interesting sidelight on the diplomacy of those days is that when the Kaiser Wilhelm examined the text of the Anglo- Russian Convention, he minuted on the text that this was clearly aimed against Germany.]

This was the tangled situation in the early 1900’s, when the Chinese Empire collapsed in 1911, and was replaced by a republican government. One of the early developments following this was the Tibet-Mongolia Treaty of 1913, under which each recognised the other as an independent country. Although there have been some efforts to deny the existence of any such agreement, the Government of Mongolia made this Treaty public in 1982, at a time when relations between the Soviet bloc and China were extremely hostile.

The Thirteenth Dalai Lama had also formally declared Tibet an independent country in 1912 and all Chinese officials, including all armed personnel, had been expelled. Representatives of Nepal had witnessed the agreement and its implementation. The Chinese were again expelled from Tibet in July 1949.

This was the setting for the Simla conference in 1914. The conference began early in the year, and representatives from Britain, Tibet and China were all present. They examined and accepted each others’ credentials, thus indicating that all three were participating as equals. The major result for India was the boundary between British India and Tibet – the McMahon Line. It also divided Tibet into an Inner and Outer Tibet [with the latter being autonomous, the former not], an issue that still rankles among Tibetans, for it left many Tibetans under direct Chinese administration [interestingly it is these populations who today oppose the Chinese rule on the Tibetan plateau]. The Chinese withdrew their representative, Chen I-fan [Ivan Chen], in protest because they did not approve of the line dividing Outer Tibet from China.

This was the only reason, and had nothing to do with either Tibet signing an agreement with the British as a sovereign country, or with the delineation of the McMahon Line. This fact was highlighted in the Eden Memorandum addressed to TV Soong, the Foreign Minister of China many years later, in 1943. By then, the Second World War was coming to a successful end – the Germans had already surrendered at Stalingrad – and the civil war in China was causing concern as to the eventual outcome. This was why Eden communicated to the Nationalist Government that Britain had, since 1921, been regarding Tibet as an autonomous country under Chinese suzerainty, but with treaty-making powers. A brief quote from the Eden Memorandum will bring this out.

Excerpt from the Eden Memorandum 1943:

“Since the Chinese Revolution of 1911, when Chinese forces were withdrawn from Tibet, Tibet has enjoyed de facto independence. She has ever since regarded herself as in practice completely autonomous and has opposed Chinese attempts to reassert control. This was reiterated in the House of Commons in December 1949. Since 1911, repeated attempts have been made to bring about an accord between China and Tibet. It seemed likely that agreement could be found on the basis that Tibet should be autonomous under the nominal suzerainty of China, and this was the basis of the draft tripartite (Chinese-Tibetan- British) convention of 1914 which was initialed by the Chinese representative but was not ratified by the Chinese Government. The rock on which the convention and subsequent attempts to reach an understanding were wrecked was not the question of autonomy (which was expressly accepted by China) but was the question of the boundary between China and Tibet, since the Chinese Government claimed sovereignty over areas which the Tibetan Government claimed belonged to their autonomous jurisdiction.” [Emphasis added].

The American archives show a similar disposition in the US Administration which also made recognition of Chinese suzerainty conditional on autonomy for Tibet. And this was the situation that independent India inherited in 1947. Leaving aside the early period, by 1949, it was clear to most observers that the Communists were heading for victory in the civil war. The British resident in Tibet warned the Government in Delhi of the dangers for India through Tibet in such a development. Prime Minister Nehru’s assessment of this caution was typical in its combination of ignorance and intellectual arrogance, as he discounted any possibility of any such security threat. Writing an internal Note on 9 July 1949, he observed:

Excerpt from Nehru’s noting 1949:

“Whatever may be the ultimate fate of Tibet in relation to China, I think there is practically no chance of any military danger to India arising from any possible change in Tibet. Geographically, this is very difficult and practically it would be a foolish adventure. If India is to be influenced or an attempt made to bring pressure on her, Tibet is not the route for it.

“I do not think there is any necessity at present for our Defence Ministry, or any part of it, to consider possible military on the India-Tibetan frontier. The event is remote and may not arise at all.”

This was the strategic appreciation that seemed to guide Nehru through the early traumatic years after the Chinese invaded and occupied Tibet in 1950. He seemed to be deeply committed to working with the Chinese in order to bring about a grand Asian revival, and Tibet for him was a hindrance in this grand scheme. But in the process, he made blunders on Tibet which that unfortunate country and India too, is still paying for. It is noteworthy that Nehru had overridden Nationalist Chinese objections during the 1947 Asian Relations Conference which he hosted in April, and allowed Tibet to take part as an independent country, and to travel on Tibetan passports, but he did not show anything like the same firmness in approaching the Communists.
What made this even more inexplicable is the fact that the Nationalists had been active supporters of the Indian freedom movement, whereas the Communists had had choice things to say about Nehru and Indian freedom.

In time-honoured and indeed, treaty-bound tradition, the Dalai Lama, now already the [current] Fourteenth, then a teenager, turned to India when the Chinese troops occupied to seek refuge and support in 1950-51. He was preparing to go the UN to lay out his case [he took refuge in Chumbi Valley a few months after sending his appeal to the UN GA], when the Indian Government decided that it would not sponsor any discussion on Tibet in the UN. As a nonmember, Tibet could not bring up the matter in the UN itself. The reasoning of the Indian Government was that there was nothing anyone could do in military terms to help Tibet; further, any discussion in the UN would only antagonise the Chinese, and make the situation worse for the Tibetans. Of course, this quite disregarded the fact that Tibet itself wanted the matter discussed at the UN. Further, it emphasised the irony that while India took the Jammu & Kashmir question to the UN, it would not support a reference on Tibet at the UN.

Finally, tiny El Salvador agreed to sponsor the discussion. But just as the matter was coming up for discussion at Lake Success at the end of November 1950, the Indian delegation informed the UN that they had received word that China was willing to settle the matter peacefully. Hence, said the Indian representative, the matter should be withdrawn from consideration. The British and the Americans accepted the primacy of the Indian role in matters Tibetan, and went along. The US archives show that the Americans did try several times to persuade Nehru to do more to help Tibet, including at the UN, but it was not to be – Nehru was more concerned about his role in the Korea conflict. It was not until 1956 that things began to change, as the ground situation continued to worsen and Tibetan resistance to Chinese occupation grew. For the purposes of this paper, however, it is important to emphasise that the matter did finally come up in the UN General Assembly in later years – in 1959, 1961, and 1965. The first of these was confined to the violation of the rights of the Tibetan people, but the second, in 1961, carried a call for the right of self determination of the Tibetan people. It was a short Resolution, but the operative part is worth quoting from:

Excerpt from UNGA Resolution 1723 of 20 December 1961

“The General Assembly

…Considering that these events violate fundamental human rights and freedoms set out in the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, including the principle of self-determination of peoples and nations, and have the deplorable effect of increasing international tension and embittering relations between peoples,
  1. Reaffirms its conviction that respect for the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is essential for the evolution of a peaceful world order based on the rule of law;
  2. Solemnly renews its call for the cessation of practices which deprive the Tibetan people of their fundamental human rights and freedoms, including the right to self-determination;” [Emphasis added].
India did not sponsor or support either of the Resolutions, and the explanation must be Nehru’s continuing commitment to seeking peace at any price with China. It did not work, and the war of 1962 brought such humiliation and hurt upon Nehru that it would not be wrong to say that it destroyed his standing in the country, and hastened his death in 1964. Notably, however, India did speak and support the next UN Resolution, in 1965, symptomatically, under a new Prime Minister. The 1965 Resolution did not specifically reiterate the call for self determination, but it reaffirmed the earlier Resolutions, and had the support of India, among other major powers. Thus, the UN is committed to giving the Tibetans the right of self determination, but this will obviously not happen as long as China remains willing to use its veto power in the UN Security Council. Nevertheless the legal position is clear and worth recording.

There is one other issue that needs to be addressed. This concerns the two legal agreements entered into by the People’s Republic of China with Tibet in 1951 and with India in 1954. As to the first, it was always under a cloud because the Tibetan delegation that signed it in Beijing was coerced into doing so, and moreover, the seals were forged in Beijing itself. This had to be done because the delegation was not empowered by the Dalai Lama to enter into any agreement on the status of Tibet [the Dalai Lama got the information through radio when he was in Chumbi Valley], but only to negotiate the withdrawal of the Chinese troops. Furthermore, even though the Dalai Lama was persuaded in the end to accept the 17-point Agreement as it has come to be known in history, it cannot be considered binding any more. It was denounced by the Dalai Lama in 1959 after he fled from Lhasa in Lhuntse Dzong, on his way to the Indian border. The International Commission of Jurists examined this denunciation and found in 1960, after the Dalai Lama had been forced into exile, that the denunciation was legally valid and tenable.

ICJ Report on Tibet and China (excerpt) (1960) [p.346]

“The view of the [Legal Inquiry] COMMITTEE was that Tibet was at the very least a de facto independent State when the Agreement of Peaceful Measures in Tibet was signed in 1951, and the repudiation of this agreement by the Tibetan Government in 1959 was found to be fully justified.”

As to the India-China agreement of 1954, it was valid for eight years to begin with, and lapsed in 1962. This happened in the month of April 1962, when relations between the two countries were extremely tense and war was to break out a few months later, in October. However, since the agreement has lapsed, there is no legal validity to this commitment. Legally, it means that Tibet and India revert to the previous Agreement i.e. the Simla Convention of 1914, which can be considered as a valid Treaty once the regulations of the 1954 Panchsheel Agreement have lapsed. What is noteworthy is that China used to insist on an inclusion in all the Joint documents with India that it should carry a reiteration of Tibet as a part of China.

However, since the last two years, this reference is missing. There is, of course, a question mark on all this in light of the Dalai Lama’s own stated position that he no longer seeks independence from China but only a wide degree of genuine autonomy. This, however, is only a proposal and does not alter the legal status of Tibet. That will happen only when and if a new agreement is reached along the lines suggested by the Dalai Lama among the countries concerned. The Dalai Lama’s quest for genuine autonomy is different from the traditional British definition of ‘autonomy’ in this context, because London wanted responsibility for Foreign Affairs to remain with Lhasa.

This is also the appropriate place to mention that the Dalai Lama is getting on in years, and the Chinese have made it clear that they are preparing for a struggle over the succession and his reincarnation. In a reprise of the 1793 effort, they have again laid down their perspective on the reincarnation – something strange for an avowed socialist and atheist state to do. Nonetheless, they have the Panchen Lama under their control, and it would be unwise to underestimate their determination to ensure their control over the choice of the next Dalai Lama. His Holiness is, of course, well-versed in the ways of the Chinese, and is clearly preparing for the succession. However, the unambiguous status of the current Dalai Lama is a unique asset for Tibet, and every effort needs to be made to settle matters with a reasonably short period of time.

In closing, it is worthwhile reflecting upon the Tibet-Mongolia Treaty of January 1913. Both countries recognised each other’s independence. The Mongolians turned to Russia for guidance and protection, the Tibetans to Britain and later India for the same. Mongolia is today an independent country – a condition extracted by the Soviet leaders from Nationalist China and then the People’s Republic, regardless of the fraternal ties between them. Tibet is a country and culture on the verge of extinction, a sorry reflection on the Indian leadership.

How Do We Revive Healthy Politics In India?

Dr. M.N. Buch
Visiting Fellow, VIF

When India became independent the one and only national level political party was the Congress, whose identity as the party in the vanguard of the freedom movement gave it a very special place in the hearts and minds of Indians. Mahatma Gandhi was the national icon, he galvanised the people into participation in the freedom movement,he was the conscience keeper of the nation and he provided that degree of leadership which enabled the Congress to become the party of the nation. The freedom struggle brought together widely disparate group of people under the umbrella of the Congress Party and welded them together as a potent force for fighting British imperialism. The Mahatma clearly understood that the glue which held together all these people was a common enemy, British rule in India, to oust for which we needed a unified command and a concerted effort aimed at bringing independence to India. Gandhiji was the unified command and the Congress made a concerted effort to hold together a wide variety of people in order to make that concerted effort.

When independence came Gandhiji realised that apart from the Congress there was no viable political party and, therefore, no viable Opposition. Therefore, the government of independent India would constitute the rule of one single party. Louis Fischer, in his book, ‘The Life of Mahatma Gandhi’ states, “… he realised that a one party system could actually be a no party system, for when the government and the party are one, the party is a rubber stamp and leads only a fictitious existence”. To quote Fischer again he said that Gandhiji understood that, “Without free criticism and potent opposition, democracy dies, without political criticism and opposition, the nation’s intellect, culture and public morality stagnate, big men are purged and small men become kowtowing pygmies. The leaders surround themselves with cowards, sycophants and grovelling yes-men whose automatic approval is misread as a tribute to greatness”. Gandhiji further realised that groups within the Congress, such as the Socialists, had ideological, political and personal differences with conservative and right wing Congressmen. He also knew that perhaps opposition to the British would be replaced by the cementing force of power which would hold together these different groups, but ultimately, as Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Therefore, power as a cementing force would also be the main source of corruption. To quote Gandhiji, “There is so much corruption today that it frightens me”. Gandhiji wanted the checks and balances of a strong opposition and of freely expressed public opinion to keep the government under control. His advice was that after independence the Congress should disband itself so that people holding different ideologies could come together and form political parties based on their own philosophy, with each party sometimes being in government and at other times in opposition. Had the Mahatma been heeded India would have had a middle of the road party, perhaps the Congress, a left of centre party, perhaps the Socialists and a right of centre party, perhaps the Swatantra Party of C. Rajagopalachari. This would have kept in check religious fundamentalism, Left Wing Extremism and unbridled right wing capitalism.

Mahatmaji was unfortunately not listened to and the Congress enjoyed twenty years of almost absolute power. However, because of the Mahatma and the legacy he left behind the miniscule opposition did function with a degree of effectiveness because people such as Shyama Prasad Mukherji of the Hindu Mahasabha, Randive, Homi Daji and Shakir Ali Khan of the Communist Party and Ram Manohar Lohia of the Socialist Party enjoyed a very special position in Indian politics and were heard with respect. At the same time the internal bickering within and jockeying for power in the Congress did create strains and there were signs that the system of one party government could not continue indefinitely. Because the Mahatma was not heeded, when the Congress started breaking apart splinter groups rather than defined political parties emerged and the fragmentation of Indian politics began. The culmination was in 1967.

What is the importance of 1967? That is the year in which in States such as Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, the purchase of Members of the Legislative Assembly began in order to make them defect from the ruling party, cause the elected government to fall and to bring to power new coalitions of persons who had no ideological similarity but who had sold themselves in order to get power. This is the blackest day in the history of India because now legislators realised that they enjoy a price, which could only be paid by subversion of the State and widespread corruption, which resulted in the end of principled government in India. Ideology, a political agenda and a programme of governance no longer had any place in the Indian polity and what became important was to come to power, use power to buy more power or to continue in power and for this purpose convert public servants from their role of service into predators. No political party in India has been free of the taint of coming to power through corruption and remain in power through more corruption. It is almost as if the politicians have become a breed apart, self-centred, self-seeking and totally indifferent to national interests and the welfare of people at large.

Playing the blame game may be cathartic, but it solves no problems and gives no desirable results. Nevertheless, if we are to improve the system we have to understand who was responsible for its downfall. Because the Congress enjoyed more than twenty years of unchallenged rules this is the party which must accept the largest share of the blame for the degradation of our polity and the corruption which both caused it and emanated from it. Why did this happen? So long as the Mahatma was alive the Congress had internal party democracy. On 15th November, 1947 J.B. Kripalani, the President of the Congress Party, resigned, stating that though it is the party from which government derives powers the government chooses to ignore the party. As a replacement Gandhiji suggested the name of Acharya Narendra Deo, a leading socialist. Unfortunately both Nehru and Sardar Patel wanted a President who would be weak and, therefore, they suggested the name of Dr. Rajendra Prasad, despite Gandhiji’s advice that Rajendra Prasad should not offer himself as a candidate. Ultimately Nehru prevailed and Rajendra Prasad became the Congress President. From that day on the Congress has never looked back and either the Congress President has been weak, like Devkant Baruah, or Indira Gandhi has been President and, in due course, Sonia Gandhi is the President. Indira Gandhi was both Congress President and the Prime Minister and combined in herself State power and party power. Sonia Gandhi is not Prime Minister, but as Chairwoman of the National Advisory Council and leader of the UPA she definitely controls both party and government.

To return to the question of democracy I must tell in brief two incidents separated from each other by a gap of twenty-six years. In 1958 I was Assistant Collector in Morena District and Dr. K.N. Katju was Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh. He, accompanied by his powerful Home Minister, Narsingrao Dixit, came to Morena on an official visit. They were duly received by the District Collector and other district officers at the circuit house and subsequently the Chief Minister had a meeting with the officers. That evening, there was a public meeting organised by the Congress Party. There were only two chairs on the dais and when Mr. Dixit tried to climb up the podium after the Chief Minister Dr. Katju firmly told him to sit with the audience and invited the District Congress Chief, Shri Rathi, to sit by his side. The message was that so far as the Congress Party was concerned, in Morena the most important person was the District Congress President, and why not ? He had been elected by party workers in open election and he truly represented the party in the district. The Congress still had a semblance of internal party democracy in those days. Twenty-six years later in 1984 I had already put in my papers and was awaiting the expiry of my notice period. Ramgopal Tiwari was the Pradesh Congress Chief and he called on Muni Prasad Shukla, the Revenue Minister, with a request that a particular thing should be done. I was summoned and I advised against the suggested course of action as being contrary to law and the rules. Ramgopal Tiwari angrily told the Minister that he was the PCC President and the Minister should not pay heed to what a mere officer has advised. Muni’s reply was, “Mr. Buch has come through a tough competitive examination. I am a Minister because I was elected. You, Ramgopal, are only an imposition of the High Command and, therefore, I prefer to seek advice from my Secretary”. Ramgopal Tiwari represented a superimposed functionary, not elected by the party and appointed by a far away High Command. The Congress Party no longer had internal democracy.

I shall return to the Congress Party in due course, but it is necessary here to review the other political parties who are players on the Indian political stage. Let us begin from the Left. Upto 1962 the Communist Party of India was the major representative of the Left. In 1962 at the time of the Sino-Indian war the party split into the Communist Party of India –Marxist (CPM) and Communist Party of India (CPI). An extreme Left wing group became the Naxalites or Communist Party (Marxist Leninist), who did not believe in the democratic system and advocated a class war based on violence. The Left has remained splintered ever since and though in 2004 it did enjoy a moment of glory as one of the major supporters of the first UPA government, this advantage was frittered away over the question of the nuclear deal and the 2009 election saw the Left decimated in Parliament. In the subsequent State elections the Left lost its two major State strongholds in West Bengal and Kerala. Defeat should be a time of introspection, a time for planning the future, a review of both ideology and policy and a period of consolidation.

To me the schism between CPI and CPI (M) is rather like the Shia-Sunni divide in Islam. One of the major hallmarks of a Muslim is that he can perform Haj. For a non-Muslim to enter the municipal limits of Mecca is to invite a mandatory death sentence. Because a Shia can perform the Haj he is by definition a Muslim. Islam is a highly unitary religion which is against sectarianism and, therefore, there cannot be a divide on account of the basic tenets of the faith between two different groups. One either accepts the Kalima, or one is not a Muslim. No one has been able to explain to me the religious difference between a Shia and a Sunni. The Shia-Sunni divide, therefore, is founded on a major difference of opinion on who should have been the Imam of the Caliphate. Because Islam does not recognise a prophet other than Mohammed, Sallalah Waleh Sallalam, the post of Imam is temporal and has no spiritual significance. A fight over who should be Imam, therefore, is a struggle for power and has nothing whatsoever to do with religious belief. It is in this context that I look at the divide between CPI and CPI (M). Both parties are weak because they will not come together, iron out their differences in matters of detail rather than principle and come together as a unified Left. The Left certainly has a significance in India and it would be a great pity if it faded away, leaving the door open for Left extremism and its counterpart Right extremism.

In the case of the Socialists the story is somewhat similar in that the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal of Lalu Yadav have no ideological differences because they no longer have an ideology. Local-centric power is the name of their game and, therefore, socialist unity in India is a distant mirage. Unfortunately it has manifested itself in the form of regional groupings and this has been aggravated by the emergence of a large number of small regional groups in States such as Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Because the interests are local, a national perspective is not developing and these parties are now just groups of people pushing their own little agenda. This agenda does not have the nation in mind and is not aimed at furthering public welfare. Therefore, the Trinamool Congress insists on the Railway Ministry because it feels that this Ministry has a vast potential of being milked for both financial and political gains. DMK, on the other hand, wants the Communications and the Shipping Ministries, because Communications proved to be a virtual Kamadhenu for DMK. The emergence of regional parties now poses a grave danger both to the integrity of India as a country and a strong government at the Centre which can provide governance which is people oriented, honest, development minded and just.

This brings us to a major component of Indian politics, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It is a serious contender for power in the Centre, having governed for several years as the lead party of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). It rules the States of Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Goa, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh and it shares power as a partner in Bihar and the Punjab. This party claims to have internal democracy, though there are allegations that the ultimate outcome of who will lead the party depends on the approval of the RSS, which is at least the mentor if not the controlling authority of BJP. One of the main charges against BJP is that it is excessively influenced by RSS, which enjoys poor secular credentials and, therefore, through its Hindutva programme, BJP is strongly inclined to communal politics. This is vehemently denied by BJP, though it is a fact that Hindu rituals, Hindu practices, Hindu festivals, etc., enjoy State patronage in BJP governed States. That by itself means nothing because there are equal allegations against other parties such as the Congress that they, too, extend patronage to different religions on different religious occasions and this does not exclude Hindu festivals. Unfortunately there is suspicion about BJP amongst the minorities, especially the Muslims, and BJP has not been able to completely allay it.

In its heart of hearts BJP knows that it cannot allow a permanent sense of alienation to exist amongst more than fifteen crores Muslims and L.K. Advani on more than one occasion has expressed this view. At the same time the Muslims do not trust BJP and, therefore, the party has a really uphill task of convincing the minorities that they are not its target. If Americans have Israel as their millstone which prevents them from reaching out to the Arabs and solving the problem of Palestine, BJP has the Babri Masjid and the Hindutva programme has its own surplus baggage which drags it down. BJP has to fine-tune its policies so that a balance is struck between Hindu interests, minority interests and the needs of secular India and if BJP does this successfully it has a very good chance of winning the next elections. If BJP does not address the question seriously then one cannot say how it can come to power in the foreseeable future. BJP’s best bet is to credibly convince the minorities that they will be safe, comfortable, with equal access to opportunities for advancement under BJP rule, without treating them as a vote bank or hesitating to consolidate Hindu votes. We need the Congress, but we equally need the BJP and its leaders would do the country a great disservice if they are not able to arrive at this balance.

To return to the Congress, Indira Gandhi was responsible for not only destroying internal democracy but also for promoting her family as the only natural choice for leading the Congress Party. First Sanjay and then Rajiv held the reins of the party, especially Rajiv after Sanjay and Indira departed from the scene. Not only did the party focus exclusively on Indira and Rajiv, it also voluntarily gave up any semblance of internal free thinking when Indira firmly was in the saddle. No one in the party questioned the right of Sonia to succeed Rajiv Gandhi as the supreme leader and now the party sycophants are promoting Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra Gandhi as the undisputed leaders of the party and future Prime Ministers of the country. There is hardly any election for party posts and in Madhya Pradesh in the last local government elections the party went to the polls with thirty-eight districts Congress committees not having a President. Village units no longer elect the Mandal units, the Mandals do not elect the D.C.C. President and certainly the P.C.Cs do not elect the State President, who is appointed by Sonia Gandhi. The whole party leadership from top to bottom is nominated and does not represent the choice of workers at the grassroots.

A senior Congress leader once told me that anyone who believes that the Congress is a party is a fool. It is the personal fiefdom of the Nehru-Feroze Gandhi family. If the top leadership of the Congress believes this then what Mahatmaji said about sycophants and cowards surrounding the leader holds true. Boorish and, perhaps, uncharitable it may sound, but perhaps the time has come for the Congress to completely come out of the shadow of this family, forget Sonia Gandhi and her children in the matter of leading the party and instead try and establish democratic functioning in which grass root workers really determine who their leaders will be. When a prop is removed one feels shaky and, perhaps, the party without the Feroze Gandhi family will feel orphaned and exposed. However, if the party is to have a future as a self-sustaining organisation with great influence in Indian politics it will have to take this step. There is still a great deal of talent in the Congress Party and if it rebuilds itself from village level upwards it can go back to becoming a party of the type which existed before 1967. This is very important because India does need a middle-of-the-road party and the Congress is best qualified to fulfill this role, just as the BJP is best qualified to act as the right of centre party. Ultimately it is these parties, kept on a short rein by a resurgent Left, which can provide purposive, well directed welfare based government to the people of India.