ON THE MARGIN: Ex-FS Gokhale’s book may earn little kudos

NEW DELHIWritten By: Shastri RamachandaranUpdated: Aug 12, 2021, 07:22 PM IST

Former Foreign Secretary to the Government of India Vijay Keshav Gokhale Photograph:(Zee News Network)

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In his new book, The Long Game: How the Chinese Negotiate with India, Gokhale has reportedly written that China used its “close connections” with India’s Left parties to “build domestic opposition” to the Indo-US nuclear deal between 2007 and 2008.

I have met Vijay Gokhale, who was India’s ambassador to China and Foreign Secretary, three times. The first occasion was in Beijing when he was posted there. The other two were in New Delhi, at official receptions, when he was Foreign Secretary. He struck me as a modest man. 

In his new book, The Long Game: How the Chinese Negotiate with India, Gokhale has reportedly written that China used its “close connections” with India’s Left parties to “build domestic opposition” to the Indo-US nuclear deal between 2007 and 2008. At that time, Gokhale was Secretary (East Asia). I am now convinced that Gokhale is a man who has much to be modest about. 

Understandably, there is speculation as to why Gokhale has chosen to pick on the Left parties, especially when the Left was not alone in opposing the Indo-US nuclear deal. The BJP was the biggest opponent, and even more fierce in its criticism, of the nuclear deal being pursued by the Manmohan Singh-led UPA to the exclusion of more important national priorities. 

Like using Section 124A of the IPC, painting ‘communists’ as political and social undesirables with extra-territorial loyalties is a habit that the Indian establishment inherited from British colonial rulers. Long after the British left, people belonging to a communist party remained suspect in the eyes of the sarkari-minded. 

In political parlance, the term “communist” was a pejorative used to smear someone as being untrustworthy for responsible public office.  In recent decades though, communist parties have become more acceptable to bigger non-communist players on the political scene.. In serious discourse, no longer does anyone refer to the Left as being agents of Beijing or Moscow or a lobby of their interests. (That the Left, even in its declining phase, is itself waging an entirely outdated and irrelevant, if not futile, (non-) campaign against “US imperialism” is a different matter).

In the present day, only the political equivalent of a Neanderthal would speak of the Left’s agenda and activism at home being actuated by its close connections to a communist party leadership in another country.

Actually, the Indo-US nuclear deal underscored the enormous importance of the Left as a very useful ally for both the Congress and the BJP. Until the CPI(M)-led Left, with 60 MPs, withdrew support to the Congress-led UPA in 2008, it was an immensely valued political prop. When the UPA and Left began falling apart, the BJP’s tallest leader of the time, L K Advani defended the Left most eloquently during the confidence vote in Parliament; and, that was one of the finest debates in recent parliamentary history.

Speaking as Leader of the Opposition, Advani said the political crisis was entirely brought about by Dr Singh and not precipitated by the opposition NDA or even the Left parties. Dr Singh had sparked the political impasse with his interview to a Kolkata newspaper where he had said that if the Left parties want to withdraw support, 'so be it'.

"If the government was so serious about the (nuclear) deal, why is it not mentioned in the Common Minimum Programme or even the Congress manifesto? It is a kind of an agreement between two individuals and one happens to be the Prime Minister," Advani said. He accused the government of speaking in “different voices”. While External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee had assured the Left parties that India would approach the IAEA for the safeguards agreement only after getting the approval of Parliament, the Prime Minister took a different line and the draft agreement was sent to the nuclear watchdog, he said. The draft was described as 'privileged' and 'classified' but it was circulated to IAEA members first.

"I don't agree with the Left. We differ very widely on various issues. But if the government is destablised after four years and two months and faces the likelihood of being voted out then this situation has been brought about not by the opposition NDA or even the Leftists," Advani said.

The UPA government won the motion with 275 votes while 256 MPs voted against it.

There have been other occasions in the past, especially on opening up sectors such as insurance and telecom to foreign entities, when the Left and the BJP have been on the same side.

At a time when the government is determined to discourage retired officials from writing books about what transpired during their time in office, it is unlikely that Gokhale would have ventured forth to write anything that is not calculated and, perhaps, crafted also, to please the powers that be. It is a moot point whether book has served that purpose. 

If Gokhale was only seeking a controversy to spur sales of his book, well, he has got the controversy.

(The author is Editorial Consultant, WION TV.)

(Disclaimer: The views of the writer do not represent the views of WION or ZMCL. Nor does WION or ZMCL endorse the views of the writer.)