It may be a bit late to quote the media on the joint statement issued after the meeting between Dr Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, but in politics nothing is too late. Besides, there seems to be wide divergence of opinion on the issue, at least in the majority of the English language media.
On two occasions, the Nagpur-based Hitavada had some harsh thing to say about the statement. On July 21, for example, it said that “Pakistan is playing games with India” and “making India dance to its tunes”. At the NAM meet, said the paper, Gilani made Dr Singh “eat out of his hands” and felt that Pakistan “is getting better of India in diplomacy”. Pakistan, it added “will play the Hillary tune and when she is gone, they will be back to their old tricks, playing innocent, making an ass of India”. Its conclusion was: “If India wants to put an end to these ugly Pakistan games, it must put a full stop to anything that may look like a dialogue, even informally.” In another editorial, the paper said: “There could be no doubt that Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh has committed perhaps one of the biggest blunders of his life by accepting not to link terror to a dialogue with Pakistan.” “This”, it said, “could also be treated as one of the lowest points in Indian diplomacy”. It added: “It would be in the fitness of things that Dr Manmohan Singh undertakes a huge corrective process so as to minimise the damage already caused to Indian position on terror emanating from Pakistan soil.”
And what did The Free Press Journal say? The paper laughed at Dr Singh’s poor showing at the G-8 meeting in Italy and said he did an encore in a week when he “most gratuitously allowed Pakistan to inject Balochistan into the joint statement allowing Islamabad and its adherents to crow immediately that India had at long last acknowledged its role in the disturbed region”. The paper said that LK Advani might have stopped calling Dr Singh “a weak Prime Minister” but the latter’s actions duly justify that description. It added: “Singh seems unable to resist American pressure. The joint statement… will haunt India in the coming months.”
The Hindu (July 18) tried to save Dr Singh’s face. It said: “There is nothing in the… joint statement to warrant the ill-informed cries of ‘sell-out’ that have rung out at home” pointing out that “the reality is that Pakistan cannot expect India to resume meaningless dialogue if it does not take credible action on terror”.
The Indian Express (July 18) hit hard at Dr Singh. The joint statement, it said, “is a complete sell-out by Singh to Pakistan with the statement equating Pakistan with India as a victim of terrorism”. Singh, said the paper, “will have to explain to a shocked nation the genesis of this joint statement in which Balochistan is mentioned”. Claiming that it is the first time that Pakistan’s allegation on Indian involvement in Balochistan have been “given sanctity” by mentioning it in the joint statement, the paper said: “Pakistan is already projecting this as a major achievement of diplomacy while a stunned Indian establishment is still grappling with an admission that has little basis in reality.” Singh, the paper concluded, “has signed a statement that does not protect India’s interests on any front”.
In contrast, The Telegraph (July 31) said that the Prime Minister has made no concessions on the issue of terror. It said: “Mr Singh has prepared the ground for trust. But he has not done so blindly-Mr Singh’s dealings with Pakistan bear the mark of his personality realism, good sense, sobriety and grace.”
The Economic & Political Weekly (July 25) has its own views on the joint statement. It noted that Dr Singh first managed to turn his meeting with Gilani “into a virtual feast of concord”, only to find on his return to India ‘outraged cries of betrayal- and a conspicuous lack of enthusiasm within his own fold”. The Weekly said: “The composite dialogue has so far failed to address even the more tractable among the disputes that have bedeviled relations between India and Pakistan.” It added: “That it has nevertheless acquired a mystique quite independent of its actual yield of political dividends, is a consequence of peculiar kind of mindset in Indian thinking on Pakistan. Dialogue has become an end in itself and a reward for Pakistan showing insufficient seriousness in tackling militant groups using its soil for attacks on India.” Describing Dr Manmohan Singh’s approach as new one, the E&PW wondered whether long-term dividends will flow from it.
Hindustan Times (July 31) regretted “government’s strange failure to explain the strategy behind the joint statement, not merely to the public but also to the media and even to the Congress Party”. It added: “Even after Singh’s explanation to Parliament, the sense remains that the reference (to Balochistan) amounted to an implicit recognition of Pakistan’s charges of Indian interference.” Even after Dr Singh’s explanation in Parliament, The Free Press Journal (July 29) sounded unconvinced about Dr Singh’s stand. In a bitter editorial, the paper reflected the views of many when it said that “having made a blunder, the Government of India is going in circle to defend the indefensible” and that “the Sharm el-Sheikh ignominy is unlikely to leave the Prime Minister alone”.
The Mumbai-based DNA said that there can be “no equivalence between what Pakistan has done to India and any alleged activities by India in parts of Pakistan that have been restive and rebellious for decades”. It said: “Balochistan will now have pride of place in Pakistan’s diplomatic armoury to be trotted out whenever Indian criticism of Pakistan’s support to terrorism has to be blunted.” It added: “This is thus a betrayal not only of thousands of Indians who have been killed in Pak-sponsored terror but also of numerous officials who fought for India when western governments were actively hostile to us-”
The tragedy of it all is that Dr Singh is proving to be a naive character, easily beguiled by sweet talk. Saints have their place in society, but not as prime ministers. It is clear that Dr Singh does not even represent the feelings of majority of Congressmen, whose voices have been suppressed by Sonia Gandhi for reasons best known only to herself. It would seem that Dr Singh easily gives in to American pressure. President Obama is showing himself to be no friend of India and if this is not clearly understood, we are going to be drawn into the American net at a great cost to India and to the peace and prosperity of the South Indian continent. Perhaps it is time for the Congress to think of an alternate candidate for prime ministership. That is the truth and it cannot be shelved any longer.