Isa affair has left India looking silly
It seems denying visa to the Chinese dissident was New Delhi's yet another halfway house act of standing up to Beijing.
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In this era of e-activism which does not require activists, both wannabe and genuine, to march through streets in blistering heat or biting cold, social media has become the barricades of our times.
Consequently, to man the barricades has come to mean to rush to the keyboard and post your protest (or defence) on Twitter or Facebook.
You don't chant rhyming slogans like "Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh, We shall fight and we shall win"; you coin hashtags and make them trend - nationally and globally.
And so it came to pass that when news first broke of India granting a visa to Uyghur activist Dolkun Isa for attending a conference on China at Dharamsala, excited supporters and e-activists of the BJP reached for their keyboards to wave the flag and heap praise on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Soon, the hashtag #ModiSlapsChina was trending, fetching further excited chatter. It would seem this was the moment India was waiting for since the humiliation of 1962; the moment for revenge and redemption.
Few, if any, among those cheering the Modi government would have had heard of Dolkun Isa before this, or known of him as the Uyghur dissident who lives in exile in Germany and is believed to hold a German passport. Isa heads the World Uyghur Congress which has been campaigning for the rights of Uyghur Muslims in China's Xinjiang province.Chinese dissident and World Uyghur Congress leader, Dolkun Isa.
As in Tibet, Beijing has been trying to suppress and crush Uyghur nationalism and separatism through its triple policy of overwhelming force, sly co-option and massive resettlement, though not necessarily in that order. Inducements of office and power are offered to Uyghurs willing to collaborate with Beijing.
There are some takers, but the vast majority rejects China's repressive rule and abhors the Han Chinese who have been ferried in as settlers with the aim of changing the demography of the province.
Over the decades, Beijing has modulated its position on Tibetan separatists. They are now called "splittists". This is largely because little remains of the country the Dalai Lama fled in 1959 to seek shelter in India.
Compared to Tibet, Xinjiang is a different story. The indigenous Uyghur population, of Turkic extract, has refused to be bludgeoned into submission. Beneath the turbulent surface simmers fierce hate.
What has fuelled Muslim separatism is the global rise of jihadist Islamism. Beijing claims the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement, affiliated to al Qaeda, is behind the ethno-religious uprising by "terrorists".
Dolkun Isa is accused by China of being a "terrorist" who uses his perch in Europe to mobilise funds and arms for Uyghur separatism. The accusation may be entirely untrue, but in the past other separatists have used liberal Europe's shelter to mobilise resources for armed insurrection. Given this reality, it becomes difficult to scoff at China's claim and accusation.
But that is precisely what New Delhi was perceived as having done in response to China blocking India's move at the UN Security Council (UNSC) to secure sanctions on Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar who plotted and executed the Pathankot attack.
In the past, China has restrained India's hand on Hafiz Saeed and his lieutenants in Lashkar-e-Taiba by invoking its right to block. Worse, China justified the protection it extended to Azhar by lecturing India on the need to be good friends with Pakistan, pretending its deed was that of a well-wisher, when in reality it was akin to sprinkling salt on India's wound.
It's this backdrop that made the visa for Dolkun Isa a big issue: India had done unto China what China had done unto India, or so the hashtag nationalists believed and proclaimed.
For more than a week the narrative gathered steam and the #ModiSlapsChina balloon grew bigger by the day. Oped-ists rushed in with their two-penny views. Foreign affairs analysts agonised over possible fallouts of a Modi-Xi clash.
The lusty cheers of e-activists grew into a cacophony of nationalist slogans. The barricades shook and looked as if their collapse under the force of Right triumphalism was imminent.
Then the least expected happened. The visa (it turned out to be an e-visa meant for tourists) was withdrawn. This was done after China lodged its protest with India for giving a visa to a "wanted terrorist" and pointed out that there was a "red corner" notice mandating Isa's arrest if he were to arrive at an Indian port.
There were various explanations credited to unnamed sources on why the visa was cancelled: that Dolkun Isa could not have attended the Dharamsala conference with a tourist visa; that as a responsible country India could not have allowed unhindered travel to a person against whom there is a "red corner" notice; and, that it was never a considered decision to spite China by thumbing our collective nose at that country.
These are lame excuses. A realistic explanation would be this was yet another halfway house act of standing up to China (or the mighty US and even puny Pakistan, for that matter).
When push came to shove, India, as always, meekly allowed itself to be shoved. The only other explanation would be this is another instance of two key ministries, the ministry of external affairs and the ministry of home affairs, not knowing what the other is up to.
Either way it remains a mystery as to why the #ModiSlapsChina narrative was allowed to build up to a virtual point of no return. It also remains unexplained why India would feel constrained to issue a visa to a German national against whom China bears a grudge. We can be pretty sure China would not reciprocate in a similar manner.
Nor did China pillory the US for ignoring the "red corner" notice while opening its doors to Dolkun Isa. Foreign policy is largely about pushing, promoting and securing the national interest. And what is in the national interest is often bereft of moral principles, ethical niceties and obligations to the world at large. It is silly to even remotely suggest that India should play by the rulebook while dealing with China.
Sadly, the whole messy affair over the visa for Dolkun Isa suggests those who should be playing a crafty power game to push India's national interest are either incapable of craftiness or simply gutless. Yet they are happy to ride the tide of hashtag nationalism till the tide recedes and a new one rolls in, this time bearing the hashtag #ChinaSlapsIndia.
(Courtesy of Mail Today.)