Failed Diplomacy On Gujarat

Updated: Apr 27 2002, 05:30am hrs
It is not only in Parliament that the continuing communal carnage in Gujarat has let to bitterness and discord. Hackles have been raised also in the normally staid world of diplomacy. Indeed, South Blocks exceptionally angry reaction to the comments of foreign governments or their missions here on the gory goings-on in the state has taken observers by surprise. Unless something is done behind the scenes to set things right, this country could be caught in an acrimonious shouting match with a host of usually friendly countries.

Twice in just two days of the week, the Ministry of External Affairs has upbraided visiting foreign dignitaries and some foreign missions in New Delhi for interfering in Indias internal affairs. What is happening (in Gujarat), an official statement declared, is an entirely internal affair. There is absolutely no need or any case for foreign interference.

As it happens, what two visiting foreign ministers of European countries have said about Gujarat is but a very mild version of what Opposition leaders, the India media and even some of the BJPs allies have been hammering home. Hence the Foreign Offices stance that the foreigners concerned are injecting themselves into the highly politically charged internal debate in the country and are creating an impression of playing a partisan role.

An interesting twist to the tale is that except within the Sangh Parivar, there is little support for South Blocks self-righteous denunciation of overseas critics. Typical of the medias feelings was an editorial in The Indian Express that, punning on the abbreviation of the Ministry of External Affairs, spoke of MEA Culpa! Several commentators have accused the Ministry of over-reacting or being extra-sensitive.

Former foreign secretary Muchkund Dubey is not the only seasoned diplomat to say that none of the foreign missions or dignitaries who have spoken about Gujarat has done any wrong.

In order to understand the complex situation, it might be useful to begin the story from the beginning. The first foreign act to rouse New Delhis ire was a news-item about a report on Gujarat prepared by the staff of the British High Commission.

Evidently, the report that said that the carnage was organised and that the Muslims were deliberately targeted with the connivance of the state government had been leaked purposely.

Strangely, the Foreign Office failed to summon the British High Commissioner to take up the matter with him. Nor did South Block say anything when the US points person for South Asia, Christina Rocca, described the Gujarat situation as horrible. It went into an overdrive only after a mild expression of concern, in an interview to an Indian newspaper, by the Finnish foreign minister, Erkki Tuomioja.

Finland, with influence out of all proportion to its size, is extremely friendly to India. So is Mr Tuomioja personally. And yet the Foreign Office issued the first angry statement though none of his remarks merited the accusation of using Indian media to interfere in Indias internal affairs.

Remarkably, foreign minister Jaswant Singh used his meeting with Mr Tuomioja to disclose that he had had to send a strong message to a former colonial power, pointing out that the end of Indias imperial connection half a century ago had evidently not registered on it.

None of this, interestingly, has had the desired deterrent affect. For the Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, meeting the Prime Minister a day after the first Indian statement, told Atalji that his country was disturbed by the happenings in Gujarat. Canada, Germany, Holland and some other countries have also chipped in.

By this time, the European Union leaders had used even stronger language that included the unacceptable expression apartheid in relation to the horrific events in Gujarat. Some others have drawn a parallel with Nazi Germany. But why blame them when some Hindutva leaders themselves are advocating the Final Solution

If New Delhi wants to avoid tying itself into knots, it must realise that here is no way the monstrously ugly situation in Narendra Modis Gujarat can be covered up under the blanket of national sovereignty. Because this country has lost the moral high ground, the British foreign secretary feels emboldened to plead for foreign observers along the line of control in Kashmir and foreign monitors during the Kashmir elections.

South Block should wake up to the reality that the world at large now subscribes to, and justifies, the doctrine of intrusive foreign intervention in defence of human rights or democratic values.

We ourselves have been firm about taking up the cause of the Hindu minority in Bangladesh whenever it is mistreated there. According to General Musharraf, his coup against Nawaz Sharif was a purely internal matter of Pakistan, and that India had no business either to criticise it or to ask the Commonwealth to expel Pakistan.