Tuesday, February 15, 2005

INDIA: New Delhi’s response to events in Bangladesh lacks finesse

+ New Delhi was at its crudest when it conveyed to Dhaka India’s inability to attend the SAARC meeting. Natwar Singh, who presides over the ministry of foreign affairs, is the last person who should be asked to handle jobs demanding finesse. He is too arrogant and too hawkish to care about tact and nuance. When the government decided to abstain from the meeting, he reportedly entrusted his foreign secretary with the task of communicating "no" to India’s high commissioner at Dhaka. But before the high commissioner could convey the message to the Bangladesh government, the news was on television channels in Dhaka. Even without ensuring that India’s decision reached the right quarters, New Delhi disseminated the information to the media. +

15/02/2005

Diplomacy won’t hurt - New Delhi’s response to events in Bangladesh lacks finesse
KULDIP NAYAR

WHEN it comes to the feelings of neighbouring countries, our government is inclined to be insensitive. It behaves like any other big power which believes that equality in diplomatic jargon is all right as far as it goes — but when the chips are down, small countries must know their place. New Delhi was at its crudest when it conveyed to Dhaka India’s inability to attend the SAARC meeting. Natwar Singh, who presides over the ministry of foreign affairs, is the last person who should be asked to handle jobs demanding finesse. He is too arrogant and too hawkish to care about tact and nuance. When the government decided to abstain from the meeting, he reportedly entrusted his foreign secretary with the task of communicating "no" to India’s high commissioner at Dhaka. But before the high commissioner could convey the message to the Bangladesh government, the news was on television channels in Dhaka. Even without ensuring that India’s decision reached the right quarters, New Delhi disseminated the information to the media.

Naturally, Bangladesh — the host of the SAARC summit — felt cut up. A country which is always on the edge when it comes to dealing with India felt humiliated. I can’t understand why Natwar Singh could not pick up the telephone and inform the Bangladesh foreign minister himself? Would it have ruffled diplomatic feathers or violated some protocol rules? The royal coup in Nepal was a good enough reason for India to stay away. But the way events unfolded, the picture that emerged was different. Look at it from Bangladesh’s point of view. The meeting was cancelled twice when Dhaka was all set to attract the spotlight. Bangladesh, after all, does not get too many opportunities to play a prominent role in the region. The SAARC gathering gave the country a sense of importance. Anyone could have figured out that cancellation would disappoint the people of that country. And since India’s inability to participate led to the calling off of the meeting, anger was bound to be directed at New Delhi.

India’s fault lay in confusing SAARC objectives with its own reactions. It made sense when it was said that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh could not be seen shaking hands with the Nepalese king, just days after he had smothered democracy. But why did New Delhi dwell on developments in Bangladesh while explaining its absence? SAARC is a forum of governments, however wanting. India is only a participant.

New Delhi could have glossed over the developments in Bangladesh for the time being. No doubt Dhaka presented security risks in the wake of disturbances due to the murder