India's Double Talk Diplomacy

India tells the West not to do in Libya what it has done in South Asia all along

Published: Apr 12, 2011
Image: Christian Simonpietri/ Corbis

In international diplomacy, every country speaks the language that is advantageous at the moment. Words are one thing; actions quite another.

This universal truth came to the fore in the form of India’s reaction to the attacks on Libya by Allied Forces. It chose to abstain from voting at the UN Security Council on the question of military action, but back home roared its condemnation once the attacks took place. “What is happening in a country, within their internal affairs, no external powers should interfere in it,” Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said.

Good advice. Something someone forgot to give Indira Gandhi, Pranab Mukherjee’s first boss, in 1971. During her regime, India warred with Pakistan to help split it into two countries.

Then there is Sri Lanka. After the government in Colombo carried out a genocide against Tamils in 1983, India armed and trained the terrorist group, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, on Indian territory, and sent them back to Sri Lanka to escalate the civil war. India’s concern for Tamils was only part of the reason for this; it also wanted to thwart American attempts to set up a naval base in Trincomalee by squeezing Sri Lanka. In 1987, it pushed a peace treaty on President Junius Jayawardane and LTTE and sent its army to implement that shaky accord. Indian soldiers virtually ran the north of Sri Lanka for three years until 1990.

In November 1988, India carried out Operation Cactus to foil a coup d’état against the government of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi despatched 1,600 troops and a couple of naval frigates. The mere presence of Indian soldiers ended the coup.

Go back in history and there is enough to suggest India ticked off its neighbours by commenting on their internal affairs. In 1950, when China invaded Tibet and tried to assert its sovereignty over the region, India began expressing ‘concerns’ over what it saw as the destabilisation of South Asia. Moa Zedong was irritated by this, which led to the deterioration of the previously good relations between the two nations, according to a paper by Professor Chen Jian of the University of Hong Kong. Mao’s officials told India that it had “treated a domestic problem of the Chinese government, namely, the exercise of its sovereign rights in Tibet, as an international dispute calculated to increase the present deplorable tension in the world.”

India signed a peace treaty with Nepal in 1950 that was seen in the land-locked nation as an intrusion into its sovereignty. Two years later when the Communist Party of Nepal tried to seize power with Chinese support, India intervened under terms of the treaty. It sent a military mission to Nepal, which was resented by most Nepalis.

One may wonder why India advises the US and UK to lay off other countries’ affairs when it frequently dabbles in its neighbours’ politics. Perhaps it doesn’t want the Western powers to suffer the same ignominy that it suffered wherever it intervened. LTTE terrorists eventually turned against India. Bangladesh has become a breeding ground for cross-border terrorism. Nepal is joining Pakistan and China in its hostility towards India.

But then, the other eternal truth in international diplomacy is that nobody learns their lessons.

(This story appears in the 22 April, 2011 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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  • Saurabh Chawla

    Yes we all know that India is an expert for allowing its internal troubles to grow to such an extents that they take a shape of civil war viz. Naxalism and then wasting its resources to nip them, mostly unsuccessfully. And then about its neighbors, they will start taking India seriously when She itself starts taking her seriously!

    on Apr 19, 2011
  • Nirupam Datta

    There are some tactical elements in the India who are ready to sell their country to get recognition and power. The article by Srinivasan points to such frustrating attempts by him. But unfortunately except for some ill-informed people his article will invite no compliment from anybody in this country.

    on Apr 17, 2011
  • Vaidyan

    This article is a big crap. I never knew that in my very first visit to Forbes site, I would be presented with such low quality article. As the author claims, India did not split Pakistan into two. Everybody knows the history behind Bangladesh's creation. Same about the author's story about Tibet and Nepal. While I don't deny that India's policies need maturity and consistency, it is foolish to look at India's foreign policy through the devil's lens.

    on Apr 16, 2011
  • Abhishek Deo

    Rather than indulge in jingoistic patriotism, I would like to point out that parameters of comparison between Indian actions and those of US and Europe are completely different.1. Libya is not a neighbor of US. Instead, it is in a completely different continent.unlike Pakistan,SL or Nepal that happen to be our neighbours .2. There the real issue is Oil and rest about democracy and civil rights are just a sham. 3.The existence of US is not threatened by Libya. On the contrary,a militarily strong Pakistan or a strong China will always be a threat to India. 4. To say that we antagonised the Chinese by criticizing their annexation of Tibet is akin to saying that we should forever remain enslaved to them and support whatever they do. all, just because they happen to be militarily stronger than us?How can an Indian even say that? 5. last but not the least, there are other ways to get famous rather than cursing your own nation's foreign policy on a public fora, all because, we didnt play by the book.By that same logic, US, China and imperialistic Europe are a zillion miles ahead of us. And it would take us more than just a few millenia to reach their levels of expertise when it comes to unwarranted interference all in the name of much maligned foreign policy!

    on Apr 14, 2011
  • Meraj Mubarki

    This is a very infromatiuve article that reveals our own duplicity.... hope our politicians dont repeat the same mistakes .... we are still paying the price for it ....Pakistn is exacting revenge on us and Sri Lanka is indifferent to us ...no wonmder we are so much scorned by all our neighbours .....

    on Apr 14, 2011
  • S. Srinivasan

    Dear Vickki and Dip, I am the author of this story. First of all, thanks for reading and commenting on it. We value your feedback. However, by way of a little explanation, let me just say this. In no part of my story have I said America is justified in attacking Libya. In fact, I personally share your view that America is imposing its will on other countries for oil and other economic reasons. But the story is about India's double talk. Let us examine some examples. India's decision to arm and train a terrorist organization like the LTTE was partly influenced by its paranoia against the possible establishment of a naval base in Trincomalee. When we criticize Pakistan for training terrorists to attack India, how can we justify India's own act of training terrorists to attack Sri Lanka? India's involvement with the Mukti Bahini during the Bangladesh Liberation War was not just due to the influx of refuges, but also due to a strategic calculation that a Pakistan divided into two land masses on either side of India is not safe for us in the long run. India helped split Pakistan so that any problem from the adversary will come only from one side of the border and two. Similarly, India has been overtly and covertly involving itself in Nepal, which is hugely resented in that country. We must realize that virtually no neighbour is entirely friendly towards India. There must be some reason to it. All said, India is a regional power that plays its games in just the South Asian theatre. In comparison, the US is a global power and plays its games all over the world. That is the only difference.

    on Apr 14, 2011
    • Ask

      Seems that you are a philosopher. You are attacking the duplicity of one entity with respect to absolute righteousness. It is better you stick to your expertise on philosophy and conduct lectures on the same rather than commenting on politics. Also please, please search your own soul on how often you have knowingly committed duplicity.

      on Jun 11, 2013
  • Piyush

    Question is what USA is doing in Libya is that correct or not. it does not get more justified if India has done something similiar nor does it get less justified if India would not have done anything. Circumstances are Unique for each. What India did was correct and also what usa is doing in libya is correct is my opinion. Any dictator which opresses its own people and creates a breeding ground should not be allowed.

    on Apr 13, 2011
  • Koko Patil

    Please go back to primary school to refresh your knowledge. Pak is an Indian enemy, strategically Indira Gandhi's decision was correct. Libya is not anybody's enemy. Your comparison is outrageous.

    on Apr 13, 2011
  • Vickki

    India took such steps as these neighbors were affecting India by huge number of Bangladeshis, Srilankan Tamils and Tibetans were flooding Indian territory and causing huge unrest in Indian. Whereas what America is doing is only for "OIL", how come America is affected with Libya when it shares no common border also. Its is the habit all American Government to take advantage of any unrest that is happening in any part of the world. If America is so pro democratic and liberal, then why does it not flush Thousands of JIHAD'S training camps set up in PAKISTAN OCCUPIED KASHMIR. I request pro American authors of Forbes to first check the history correctly and facts. And then write such articles. JAI HIND

    on Apr 12, 2011
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