Sunday, September 26, 2010

India - A New Power Bloc in Asia?

Both China and India are marveled at their phenomenal economic growth, imposing military might and their own individual quest for regional influence.  There were recent reports emanating from US official think tanks that India will become a power bloc in the region in the next decade. This means that the country will have enough say in the regional politics, directly or indirectly influencing the smaller, growing nations and lining them up behind it.

Scene 1

In the back drop of the four decade long civil war coming to an end in Sri Lanka, obviously with the direct and greater help from India and indirect and smaller aid from China, a casual observer would expect Sri Lanka to be indebted and obliged to India.

But the killings of hapless of Indian fishermen have continued unabated. The numbers are increasing every month, says the Tamil Nadu Fishermen Association indicating that the growing numbers constitute indiscriminate shooting and killing, illegal capture and detention, torture, looting and wrecking the boats and letting the fishermen fend for themselves in the deep sea.

Despite growing protests in Tamil Nadu (a very guarded responses from ruling party as it is in coalition with the centre), spearheaded by a very vocal opposition party and humanitarian associations, Sri Lankan Navy and Coast Guards have continued to kill and ruin the lives of hundreds of Indian fishermen and their families.

Central government, through its coast guard, navy and patrol vehicles, it claims, ensures that the Indian fishermen do not encroach into Sri Lankan waters, which it says is the only reason that its citizens are being shot and killed.  Official protests are being sent, though sounding very subtle, says New Delhi.

Last week the Coast Guard and the Navy of the would-be power bloc, have decided to hold an urgent meeting with the Sri Lankan Navy to ‘discuss’ ways and means to stop “physical attack” on Tamil Nadu fishermen.

What is more interesting to note is the pleading and reconciliatory tone of Indian officers and the usual high handed and negligent tone of Sri Lankans. Commandant D.S. Saini, Commanding Officer, Coast Guard Station, Mandapam, said to the press that the proposal for the meeting was accepted (emphasis intended by me) by the Sri Lankan Navy, which came forward to depute a high-level delegation.

“On humanitarian ground, we had asked for an urgent meeting, which was promptly accepted by the Sri Lankan Navy and it is to be held in 3 or 4 days,” he said.

He further mentioned that suitable action could be taken on them as per the law of the land (in Sri Lanka, when fishermen cross into their borders).  As the press was questioning him on a recent incident in which seven fishermen of Rameswaram were injured near Kachchatheevu, allegedly attacked by the Sri Lankan Navy, he said it had not taken place in Indian waters.

What we could infer from the official’s observations are:

1. India pleads for a meeting with Sri Lanka to discuss the shooting on its citizens
2. Sri Lanka had promptly accepted to discuss its shootings
3. Indian officer feels that Indian citizens, should be arrested and tried in Sri Lanka if they crossed into the maritime boundary unknowingly or knowingly while fishing
4. If Indian citizens are shot and killed outside Indian waters, India would not know of it nor would it care.

Scene 2

There was high drama between China and Japan this month. Japan, recently being dislodged by China as world’s second largest economy after the US, had arrested a Chinese fishing boat captain in its waters, accusing him that he had damaged two of its patrol vessels.

It said Zhan Qixiong has deliberately rammed two patrol vessels near disputed islands in the East China Sea. It had proofs of the sunken vessels and the debris from the collision site. Zhan Qixiong was to be tried legally. China said his detention was "illegal and invalid", escalating the issue to the highest level at the soonest possible time.

Beijing cut off ministerial level contacts between the two countries and thousands of Chinese tourists pulled out of trips to Japan. Concerts by a Japan's top boy band SMAP due to take place in Shanghai were cancelled by the Chinese organisers.

Earlier this week Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said that Japan bore full responsibility for the situation and demanded the immediate release of the captain.

As Japan was not relenting, China detained, as a retaliatory measure, four Japanese men on suspicion of illegally filming in a military area. These four men were legally employed by a Japanese construction company bidding for a project in China to dispose of chemical weapons from World War II.

This move was followed by a very terse warning foreseeing ‘risks in regional peace’. Facing mounting pressure from its ally US, Japan agreed to release the fishing captain unconditionally, with a statement which did not connect his release with the exchange of the four detained Japanese employees in China. China sent a chartered plane to fly the captain back home and demanded an apology and compensation from Japan.

Now, these are two similar situations. To add weight to how China had responded to the situation was the fact that the other party in its case is the mighty Japan and not a war-battered, miniscule Sri Lanka.

Setting aside other geo-political considerations India might have in dealing Sri Lanka sternly, what baffles one is the callousness with which hundreds of human lives are lost in the Indian handling of this issue.

If China could go to that extreme of rallying the whole country behind it for the cause of one lone fisherman, what should stop India raising its finger or voice against Sri Lanka to save scores of its fishermen?

What is the inherent weakness that India possesses which makes it incapable of saving its citizens?

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