Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen speaking at the Taipei Guest House as part of her inauguration for her second term as in office, in Taipei. AFP Photo
As Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen was sworn in for a second term on May 19, messages of congratulations came from dignitaries in 41 countries, including India. In a joint message, BJP MPs Meenakshi Lekhi and Rahul Kaswan emphasised Taiwan’s democratic credentials and noted that "both India and Taiwan are democratic countries, bonded by shared values of freedom, democracy and respect for human rights".
It noted that the two countries had over the years enhanced bilateral ties enormously in trade, investment and people-to-people contacts.
Due to the coronavirus restrictions, all 92 foreign personalities participated virtually, including US secretary of state Mike Pompeo. In her remarks, President Tsai promised "Taiwan will play a more active role in the peace, stability and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region", and deepen ties with "the US, Japan, Europe and other like-minded countries".
President Tsai has very warm feelings towards India and visited it in 2014 in an effort to know India better.
Predictably, the Chinese embassy in New Delhi protested against the virtual attendance by two Indian MPs, saying even congratulatory message by them was "utterly wrong". Earlier, during President Tasi’s inauguration for her first term in May 2016, there was an avoidable drama about the BJP’s participation. India first decided to allow an MP from New Delhi and an academic to attend the ceremony in their "personal" capacities.
But these "personal" visits were also called off, after the invitation was accepted. The reason then was perhaps the impending China visit of then President Pranab Mukherjee, and some pressure must have been put on South Block from the Chinese embassy.
The larger Sangh Parivar kept active contacts with Taiwan, and BJP vice-president Vinai Sahasrabhdhe led a party delegation to Taiwan in 2009. BJP general secretary Ram Madhav hosted a dinner for a Taiwanese MPs’ delegation in February 2017.
In his famous letter to Jawaharlal Nehru on November 7, 1950, then home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel had out his grave misgivings on the real intentions of Mao Zedong’s China towards India. He said that "Chinese feelings indicate though we may see ourselves as friends of China, the Chinese don’t regard us as friends". Questioning the line taken by Nehru and ambassador K.M. Panikkar in Beijing, Sardar Patel asked the Prime Minister to examine "the question of China’s entry into the UN. In view of the rebuff China has given us and the methods it followed in dealing with Tibet, I am doubtful whether we can advocate its claim any longer".
India’s Iron Man clearly linked China’s suppression of Tibet with our recognition of the People’s Republic. Sardar Patel had grave doubts about Nehru’s placing all his faith in the PRC when Taiwan (then) occupied the China seat at the UN. There is considerable research on the hypothesis that Sardar Patel made up his mind to oppose Nehru’s China policy in a Cabinet meeting on November 21, 1950.
However, he fell ill and couldn’t attend the meeting. Patel’s health deteriorated rapidly and he died on December 15, 1950, leaving Nehru unfettered to pursue his disastrous China policy.
The Jan Sangh, the BJP’s original avatar, always championed the cause of free Tibet and close Taiwan ties. On July 8, 1959, it adopted a resolution on "Tibet’s Independence".
After recounting the tightening Chinese grip on Tibet, the resolution stated: "The Bharatiya Jan Sangh feels it is morally incumbent on India to redeem its past remissness with regard to Tibet, and India should take immediate and effective steps to see China’s aggressions in Tibet may cease, her armies of occupation withdrawn from Tibet, and Tibet’s independence is secured."
The last sentence of the resolution says: "India should direct all its efforts towards securing Tibet’s independence."
This legacy was assiduously nurtured by the Sangh Parivar. The "prime minister" of the Tibetan government-in-exile at Dharamsala, Lobsang Sangay, was invited to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s oath-taking in May 2014. The Vivekananda Foundation, established by the NSA Ajit Doval, has always advocated a more activist foreign policy regarding Tibet.
The president of the Central Tibetan Administration delivered the Third M.L. Sondhi Memorial Lecture in New Delhi in 2017, with Ram Madhav as the chief guest. In March 2018, Mr Madhav attended the ceremony "Thank You India" in Dharamsala organised by the government-in-exile to mark 60 years of the Dalai Lama’s arrival in India.
Sardar Patel’s grave misgivings about the PRC’s real intentions towards India were not heeded by Prime Minister Nehru but were proven true by the subsequent tragic events that led to India’s humiliation in 1962.
Unfortunately, the attitude of Xi Jinping’s government in Beijing is again not friendly towards India. It is critically important that the PRC learns that the Narendra Modi government is not wedded to Nehruvian beliefs and will chart its own independent course.
The Modi government is also not a captive of history, as the abrogation of Article 370 amply proves. There is nothing sacrosanct in the so-called "One China Policy" and the people and the Indian government have the right and the responsibility to recalibrate that policy to suit India’s national interests.
The subtle messages being sent by the Sangh Parivar on Tibet and Taiwan should be examined very seriously by Beijing.