India’s decision to cancel Dolkun Isa’s visa may placate China, but is a huge embarrassment for the Narendra Modi government, which prides itself in being assertive, unlike its wishy-washy UPA predecessor.
Dolkun Isa has made it plain that New Delhi buckled under Chinese pressure. India firmly denies this and says it was unaware of the red corner Interpol notice that has been issued against the leader of the World Uyghur Congress.
That admission reflects poorly on India. It shows the level of incompetence in the government, and indicates that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. It now appears that the home ministry did not know who is Dolkum Isa. The fact that China regards him as a 'terrorist'’ and has a red-corner notice issued against him, was completely missed.
If what officials are putting out is true, it speaks volumes about the way home ministry functions. The level of ignorance about China is abysmal. Are they not aware of the ethnic unrest in the Xinjiang province, which China has been fighting for several years.? The Islamic population there wants to carve out an independent state made up of the Muslim Uighurs. There have been plenty of reports about the violence in Xinjiang, and if India has not kept abreast of events in the restive region, it is a telling comment on the government of the day.
Government sources insist that the visa was not withdrawn to offend China, but was a genuine mistake in the electronic data base which did not show up the red corner notice against Isa. Whatever the reason, the government appears to have blundered, and badly. But many former officials do not buy the bungling theory.
Former foreign secretary Lalit Mansing said, "It is a serious embarrassment. The government took a calculated step, which we all welcomed but did not follow through with it.’’ He added that the logic was simple. " India was not trying to challenge China, but the message had to go across after the Masoor Azhar episode that India could also play the same game.’’ But there seemed to be a sudden change of heart.
Senior officials privately admit it is an embarrassment, more so because the initial reaction of most Indians was to welcome the move. Former Cabinet Secretary Naresh Chandra, who had earlier welcomed the move to grant Dolkun Isa a visa, said he was disappointed. "It was a good move to grant the visa. But considering that there was a Red Corner Notice against Isa, the government could not have done anything other than cancel it. At the same time, the Chinese are not fools and have got the message."
"By giving Dolkun Isa a visa, India recorded its displeasure on China’s stand on Masood Azhar at the UNSC. For two days, everybody talked about it. Just as suddenly, Delhi decided to withdraw it, which was a good move. If he had come for the conference, it would have been a serious issue. It would have negated much of the gains India-China ties had in recent years. There is a certain momentum in the relations which neither India nor China wish to disrupt,’’ said China scholar Manoranjan Mohanty. "But such hiccups are part of India-China relations,’’ he added ``and will continue till major issues are resolved.’’ Mohanty believes that scaling down tensions between the two Asian giants is the right way forward and that there was no need for either country to flex its muscles. It is important to maintain peace and tranquility in the border. If Delhi hosted Isa, Indian separatists could well be hosted by China, as a tit-for-tat measure.
Srikanth Kondapalli of JNU’s Institute of Chinese Studies, has a different take on the visa drama. He believes there was no bungling by the government. "It was a deliberate move and some behind-the-scenes hard bargaining took place. You will see the result of all this next when the Masood Azhar issue crops up again at the UNSC. My hunch is that China will not oppose the move.’’
Kondapalli’s view that China was ready to do hard bargaining with India can only be known in the future. But for now there is nothing to suggest that this has happened.
Whatever be the view of experts, the fact remains that India’s climb down did not go down well with the general public. Perhaps Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his advisers should think through the consequences of its action, when dealing with a complex and powerful neighbour like China.