The 13th Summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) in Dhaka has exposed the total isolation of India in the region under the ?out of box? diplomacy of Manmohan Singh. It was a pathetic sight to watch India being cold-shouldered by even traditional allies like Nepal.
Conversely the Dhaka Summit underlined the growing clout of China in the region. It was surprising that Nepal King Gyanendra supported Chinese entry into SAARC with such vehemence and he received unqualified assistance from Pakistan and Bangladesh. Till recently India prided itself as the de facto leader of SAARC. But at Dhaka there was no issue on which India could negotiate its way, be it on free trade, regional economic cooperation, entry of Afghanistan or liberal visa regime.
On November 12th, the first day of the Summit, Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran said that China could not be inducted unless it agreed to all conditionalities of the SAARC. The very next day, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh welcomed China'sentry into SAARC. Reports also say at the negotiation level India was wary of China coming into SAARC even as it pressed for Afghanistan'sinclusion. The proponents of Chinese entry took advantage of India'sKabul obsession and pushed the Beijing line. There is no rationale in expanding SAARC at this stage, unless somebody wants to sideline India or shift the balance of power in the region. Originally SAARC was designed for better economic cooperation among countries of common geographic and cultural heritage.
India can only be a junior, lonely member, if China becomes a member in the SAARC. It could give China unlimited access to the regional market, pushing aside India'sexisting advantage. That India did not find a single ally to toe its line shows the bankruptcy of UPA'sunrealistic foreign policy. It has allowed India to be bullied and pushed around in every international forum. It signed on the dotted line in July, during the Indo-US atomic energy pact. Then it voted against Iran at the IAEA succumbing to US pressure. The dalliance with US has not elicited any regional advantage for India. It is only making India more vulnerable to manipulations by the not so friendly neighbours on issues like Kashmir, infiltration and fighting terror.
An off-the-cuff remark by Tamil film actress Khushboo on pre-marital relations has drawn violent protests in Tamil Nadu, not from women but from fringe political parties. The Pattali Makkal Katchi and the Dalit Panthers Party have chosen the easiest way to hit the headlines. With elections round the corner, the two parties have taken up the task of protecting the ?Tamil womanhood? whatever it means. The fact that the popular film actress is involved in the matter has made sure that the issue remains in the pages of newspapers and TV channels, giving the parties undue publicity. In a State, which has one of the highest figures of female foeticide and disparity in male-female literacy rates (82.33 Vs 64.55), talking of ?protecting womanhood? is a sham. So alarming is the rate of foeticide that the State government had intervened and launched the ?Cradle? scheme, with the active involvement of NGOs for people to drop unwanted, invariably female, babies. Khushboo made the remarks in a magazine interview. They were her personal views and every individual is entitled to an opinion. The readers had the choice not to read the magazine or take the views lightly. Instead of dismissing the petition, the court has issued conditional bail. Surprisingly the two major political parties in the State AIADMK and DMK have been quiet on the issue.
If womanhood was the issue, the protestors should have trained their guns on vulgar movies, especially Tamil ones and artists like M. F. Hussain, who has done a series of nude paintings of Hindu goddesses. We live in a society where insults to Hindu deities are taken with a meek indifference. Humiliation of Hindu religious leaders is fast becoming pass?. Where were these organisations when Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa hurt the sentiments of millions of Hindus world over by arresting the revered Acharyas of Kanchi. Even if these parties claim to be atheists, they did not protest the State action in the name of the faith of the Acharyas? devotees and the prestige of the mutt and its hundreds of years of heritage, which is not merely Hindu but Tamil also. Film stars, sports personalities and all and sundry including Miss Universe, who is in India on an anti-AIDS campaign, have supported Khushboo, blowing the frivolous controversy to a ludicrous level. With the judiciary in Tamil Nadu providing credence to the complaint, the cacophony of the PMK and the Dalit Panthers is only gaining. In truth, the ruckus over Khushboo remarks is a cheap political stunt and nothing more.