India turns Nepal’s tragedy into revolting hegemonic plan
Director Badayl and Editor Hard Truths
It always seems that a catastrophe in the neighborhood is the signal for India to intrude, meddle, and leave behind a mess. The evidence of this is massive. And yet, strongly nationalistic (even the liberals among us) Indians wonder why these countries cannot remain eternally obliged and appreciative to us for the good deeds we supposedly offer.
Indians from my generation ask why Bangladeshis have no sense of indebtedness to India for liberating their country. And the answer is elementary: Because India intervened in Bangladesh with its only goal being to break Pakistan into two and be content to confine the enemy to just one border – not because its heart bled for the plight of Bangladeshis suffering from the brutal assault of a rampaging Pakistan army. Soon after the liberation of Bangladesh, India further invaded Bangladesh. There were no gunships fighter aircraft and uniforms the second time – they did so with a graph to dominate and control a frail and budding economy.
Less than three decades ago, India invaded Sri Lanka dressed up as a peace keeping force. That force, euphemistically christened the ‘Indian Peace Keeping Force’ (IPKF) was seen by Sri Lanka’s Tamils as a killer force with potency far greater than the Sinhala dominated Sri Lankan army. Little wonder then that they got re-baptized as the ‘Innocent People Killing Force’ by the local populace. Apart from unleashing mayhem in the Eastern and Northern parts of Sri Lanka in the form of plunder, looting, reckless killing, and the rape of women and young girls, they also sought to cripple the LTTE and divide the Tamils. As it turned out, the Indian army had to run with their tails into their legs after being hammered into submission by a much smaller, less equipped, but a far greater disciplined force. By then, India had destabilized Sri Lanka, gained leverage over the Sri Lankan economy, exploited oil fields in the Easter part, and persisted with attempts to dictate policy on Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. It was the story of how we transitioned from ‘liberator’ into ‘villain’. This kind of economic hegemony is something India pursues with alarming brazenness throughout South Asia and further afield.
Nepal, our closest neighbor, has just experienced a deadly earthquake and massive suffering has ensued. India pounced on the opportunity, declared itself as the world’s foremost disaster management entity and sent in hordes of reporters, army personnel, RSS volunteers, and hundreds and thousands of gunny bags of old clothes unfit for wear by anyone with even elementary dignity. The Nepalese needed support – not rags and conceited self-oriented propaganda by India. The Modi brigade’s forces were reportedly there in massive numbers blocking access into the airport awaiting flights to arrive and then raising slogans “Modi-Modi” whenever they sighted people arriving. Suddenly Modi’s self declared ‘Skill India’ became perceived in Nepal as ‘Scum-India’.
People in distress want to be assisted. They do not want to be treated as tramps. They are human beings displaced by a tragedy. Relief counts as an important factor in relief and rehabilitation. But dignity is what finally matters. Basharat Peer, The Hindu’s roving reporter was in Nepal and observes: “Apart from the insensitivity and the boisterousness, it was the combination of jingoism and the relentless advertising of India’s aid efforts by television reporters embedded with the Indian forces that led to the intensely hostile reactions from Nepalese citizens on Twitter, the creation of the hash tag of protest: #IndianMediaGoHome. It is undeniably an age of advertised charity but the gloating does hurt the recipients of your generosity.”
A quiet, dignified people were suddenly awoken by massive tremors. Then followed the crudity of Indian chauvinism and the crude initiatives of an ego-centric Prime Minister who claimed increased political legitimacy by pretending to be the new redeemer of a stricken nation! Narendra Modi told journalists that Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala learnt about the quake only from Mr. Modi’s tweet. Such is the audacity. Basharat Beer goes on to compare the sensitivity and profound reporting from the Nepalese media: “In their interviews; “They were stoic, recounting the terrors of the day, the journeys of a lifetime in an unhurried way. It was easy to detect a tinge of frustrated resignation at the delayed relief measures, the inefficiency and weakness of their government in their voices… Even the most dramatic rescue operations were conducted in grave silence.”
By contrast, as Basharat Beer points out, Indian television crews were boorish. They asked absurd questions, and demonstrated unconcern to the dignity of the survivors and the victims. Such insensitivity wasn’t restricted to Nepalese citizens; just about anyone struck by the disaster. Beer draws a telling parallel between what happened in Nepal and very recently in Kashmir. “In Kashmir, wherever the Indian helicopters dropped food packages, the embedded cameramen would zoom in at an angle that showed the desperate survivors in most inhumane light scrambling like insects on the ground…the stupidity of the questions were legendary.”
Social media accounts of various Indian government agencies advertised the aid for Nepal. This included a mammoth stock of old clothes. Nepal was swift to reject them demanding that Indians “take your waste and go back”. Anger in Nepal has grown, says Beer, “to include criticism for the Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots for making it a priority to carry Indian journalists and allegedly ignoring the advice of local government officials.” A widely read Nepali language newspaper ran a report from Gorkha, the district that is the epicenter of the earthquake, with the headline: “Indian Helicopters Humiliate Us.”
Indian policy in the region is replete with such stories of arrogance and self-deceit. India has successfully neutralized the potential of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). It has made a habit of throwing tantrums when it does not get its way at the summits of this regional grouping. It behaves like the kid who fights with his neighbors and takes away his toys when he is not getting his way just to spoil everyone else’s fun. SAARC which consists of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Afghanistan has hardly made the progress intended at its start only because India has scuttled important moves and seeks to enforce its political stance on SAARC plans and actions. If an honest poll were to be taken on how India’s neighbors view India, India would fare dismally.
The lesson from Nepal may be that India must return to the Gujral Doctrine of the eighties which set out five principles to guide the conduct of foreign relations with India’s immediate neighbors. The Doctrine arose from the conviction that India’s stature and strength cannot be divorced from the quality of its relations with its neighbors. These principles, among others, insist that India does not ask for reciprocity, but gives and accommodates what it can in good faith and trust; and that all South Asian countries must respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. More importantly, the principles called for a close and mutually benign cooperation in the region, where the weight and size of India is regarded positively and as an asset by these countries.
India must be the regional big brother which genuinely supports and nurtures its neighbors when they are in trouble, and cease being the bully? This is a vital challenge question foreign policy makers must pursue.