BJP president Shri Nitin Gadkari’s proactive approach in dealing with the Chinese leaders during his goodwill visit to Beijing has earned him laurels in diplomatic circles. Shri Gadkari’s candid assertions on India’s core concerns have gone down well with the Indian foreign office establishment as well.
There is general appreciation of Shri Gadkari’s articulation of all the sensitive issues about which there is a strong public opinion in the country in general and the BJP rank and file in particular.
The South Block mandarins have noted with satisfaction that the first ever visit by a BJP president to China has been successful in sending a clear message to Beijing that the principal opposition party and the government stand together on India’s core concerns. The Indian media too has highlighted the sensitivity of these issues from the point of view of the country’s China policy and endorsed Gadkari’s line.
Shri Gadkari’s five-day visit to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, in a nutshell, has reinforced the Indian position that the two countries should work together to strengthen people-to-people relations and party-to-party contacts to create an atmosphere conducive for promoting bilateral relations in political, social and economic fields and at the same time move forward in resolving the pending issues through peaceful negotiations and in a fair, reasonable, mutually acceptable and pro-active manner, and as a strategic objective.
The media in India is generally sceptical about China due to historical reasons. The strong and powerful Indian media is free while the media in China is state controlled. Beijing invariably takes cognizance of the Indian media taking strong position on all the sensitive issues.
Coverage of Shri Gadkari’s visit appears to have made the desired impact. The Chinese leaders during the wide-ranging talks with the BJP delegation did acknowledge the Indian core concerns and appreciated their importance for the party.
Eye-brows were raised in certain quarters, including in a section of the media, when the BJP president Nitin Gadkari embarked on his goodwill visit to Beijing on January 20, 2011, on the invitation of the Central Committee of the ruling Communist Party of China aimed at promoting party-to-party relations.
That the chief of the principal opposition party, a bete noire of the left front in the domestic politics, should venture to build bridges and to understand the cadre building mechanism at the very headquarters of the Communist movement was seen here as an exercise in futility. Many in the party billed it as Shri Gadkari’s personal initiative to boost his image. Some senior BJP functionaries were even sceptical about the party chief’s potential to handle such a sensitive diplomatic assignment which involved fine nuances while putting across the party’s formulations to the Chinese leaders on the party’s core concerns.
Shri Gadkari did discuss the political correctness as well as the timing of his expedition with senior party leaders. And this included the on-going Ekta Yatra, which he had flagged off at Kolkata and the stormy budget session ahead in February as well as the coming assembly elections in five states in April. While in Beijing, the BJP president studied the Bamboo research programme and evinced keen interest in the progress made by China in solar energy.
The delegation of senior party leaders which accompanied the BJP chief was somewhat surprised to see the Chinese according very high priority protocol, warm reception and cordial hospitality to Shri Gadkari’s visit, the first ever by any BJP president. He was accompanied by his wife Smt Kanchan Gadkari and party leaders including Shri Thavarchand Gehlot, Shri Vijay Goel, Shri Saudan Singh, Smt Arti Mehra, Shri Laxman Kova, Shri Vinay Sahasrabudhe and Shri Vijay Jolly.
Shri Gadkari met Li Changchung, a senior leader of the all powerful nine-member Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC, and number five in the party hierarchy, at the Great Hall of Peoples.
Structured talks covering the entire gamut of bilateral ties between the two countries were held with the Minister of International Department Wang Jia Rui and his vice minister Ai Ping. Formal banquets were organised in his honour by Ai Ping in Beijing and the CPC chiefs in Shanghai and Guangzhou.
The two sides identified common grounds of convergence in the bilateral relations and agreed that it was in the long-term interests of both countries to further strengthen and develop good neighbourly and mutually beneficial relations. They underscored the fact that China-India relations are generally on a steady development path.
The official visit of the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee in 2003 figured prominently at all levels of talks and the Chinese leaders did admit that he had held very fruitful and productive discussions with them. It was during this historic visit that the two sides agreed to have special representatives of the Prime Ministers of India and China on the boundary question.
Shri Gadkari agreed with the Chinese leadership that “we must address the interests and concerns of each other on the basis of mutual respect, and appropriately handle the pending issues between us through equal consultations”. But the BJP chief didn’t mince words in voicing his party’s serious concern which was duly taken note of by the Chinese leaders who showed complete understanding of the importance of these sensitive issues. The body language of the CPC leaders, however, appeared focused on enhancing the pace of the current level of trade and economic ties. Their response to the Indian core concerns, particularly the boundary question, was the stock formulation that mechanisms were in place to address these issues on the basis of mutual respect and that discussions were underway at the levels of the foreign offices of the two countries on the issues of stapled visa and Brahmaputra waters etc. Shri Gadkari could not get any formulation on the serious issues of Chinese developments in the POK, Chinese military and fissile material assistance to Pakistan, Islamabad-sponsored cross border terrorism and the Chinese attempts to prevent Pakistan-based terrorist outfits like Jama’at-ud-Da’wah from being black-listed by the United Nations. Jama’at-ud-Da’wah is a banned Islamic organisation that is considered by the United Nations to be an alias of the banned terrorist group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).
The Chinese leaders did take note of Shri Gadkari’s assertion that such disturbing developments have an adverse impact on the BJP’s sincere efforts to strengthen party-to-party contact and also damage China’s image in India. The BJP president hoped that both India and China would work closely with the international community to strengthen the global framework against terrorism.
Shri Gadkari reminded his hosts the influence they enjoy over Pakistan and urged them to use their good offices with Islamabad to ensure Pakistan stops exporting terrorism to India and that the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack are brought to book at the earliest.
Shri Gadkari had set out certain objectives for his goodwill visit to China: To get an exposure to the outside world and gain experience in diplomatic assignments, know and understand the Chinese political leadership and, to convey his party’s core concerns in an effective manner and make an assessment of Beijing’s seriousness in tackling these issues taking due note of the BJP’s sensitivities in this matter.
Back home his visit got a fairly good press. Apparently, he has been to dispel all apprehensions about the visit. He has also won hands down the raging debate in a section of the media about the efficacy of the head of a leading political party in a democracy going to study cadre building exercise in a totalitarian regime.
It seems Shri Gadkari, by any account, has cleared his first test in diplomatic ventures.