India seems to be making a habit of it. First it was Uyghur dissident Dolkun Isa and now it is Lu Jinghua, a well-known Tiananmen activist, who has the indignity of getting her visa cancelled at the last moment. Ray Wong, the co-founder of Hong Kong Indigenous, got similar treatment. All three were headed for the same conference in Dharamshala from 28 April to 1 May.
A meeting with the Dalai Lama was also on the cards for all the activists as this is home to Tibet’s spiritual leader.
Lu was actually about to board an Air India flight from New York to India, when she was informed that her visa has been cancelled. She was carrying a print of the electronic visa. A shocked Lu tweeted her experience soon after.
Lu Jinghua does not have a red-corner notice against her. Nor, as far as is known, does Ray Wong. So what is it with the Narendra Modi government? Don’t those in authority think through the consequences of their actions? Or are they testing the waters to see how far they can go with China?
At his weekly news conference, MEA spokesman Vikas Swarup said he had no details about the denial of visa to Lu Jinghua.
Officials who have bungled have come up with another howler. Sources say that ``visas were not issued to either Lu Jinghua or Ray Wong.’’ So why did the two plan their trip? At least in Lu jinghua’s case, she has spoken out. Why should she lie?
Lu Jinghua, according to sources, had submitted documents which were 'illegible' and there were 'inconsistencies' about the purpose of the visit. So it would appear that the print of the visa that she carried before leaving for the airport was a false document. Are the officials now saying that Lu is lying? Lu herself has tweeted that she had received the visa. Ray Wong was not issued a visa because there were 'data inconsistencies in his documents,' the sources said.
Is this a reflection merely of officials bungling, or of an inconsistency in India’s policy? Delhi should have known China would react considering the event was taking place in Dharamsala. China regards the Dalai Lama as enemy number one and calls him a splitist. So facilitating a conference organized by a US-based Citizen Power, and allowing pro-democracy activists to attend from across the world, would be certainly be regarded as a provocation by China.
If India wanted to send a strong message to China, it has certainly not succeeded. Issuing a visa for Isa, who has a red-corner notice against him was foolish in the first place considering that New Delhi has been lecturing the world about consistency on issues of terrorism.
Prime Minister Modi’s supporters had welcomed the move as an instance of a new confident India’s assertiveness in the face of China’s constant championing of Pakistan. Many say that even if the visa was later cancelled, India has conveyed its unhappiness. This logic is a bit difficult to comprehend.
According to China watcher Srinath Raghavan at Delhi-based think tank, the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), all this has much to do with the Modi government’s desire for a muscular foreign policy. After all the BJP had spent its time in the opposition criticisng the UPA for not being assertive in its policy towards Pakistan and China. So the BJP began with a bang, inviting the prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile Lobsang Sangay to Narenda Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in 2014. ``This was very much in keeping with the tough line in foreign policy that the BJP has always favoured. Issuing visas to Chinese dissidents was an extension of the same policy, ’’ said Raghavan.
While India has offered refuge to the Dalai Lama, it has always maintained that he will not take part in any political or anti-China activities. For China a conference for democracy blessed by the Dalai Lama is certainly not something it will take without a murmur. Delhi possibly realized this too late.
Whether it was the oversight of home ministry officials , or higher-ups in the government were also involved, the move back-fired. It has left the government red faced and reinforced the view that India, despite its ambitions of being a big power player has a long way to go and plenty to learn before flexing its muscles.