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A caricature of foreign policy

Sunday, 19 March 2006 - 10:44pm IST

The Centre's calling off the visit of the Danish PM has set an unhealthy precedent in which community concerns are linked with foreign policy.

Whatever happened to the steely resolve with which the Indian government pushed ahead, in the teeth of stiff opposition, with the nuclear deal? It appears to have vanished in the case of the Danish prime minister’s proposed visit.

The ministry of external affairs has taken the easy way out and asked Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen to put off his six-day trip which was due from April 1, for fear of protests of the kind witnessed earlier over cartoons of the Prophet in a Danish newspaper. The Danish government has reportedly “acceded” to New Delhi’s request.

This sets an unhealthy precedent in which community concerns are linked with foreign policy. Rasmussen is the elected representative of a democratic government, not the editor of the paper in which the offending cartoon was published. He is not answerable for the actions or motives of the cartoonist in question. Yes, his visit may well have triggered off a fresh round of protests but that is the nature of democracy. Would India have asked Margaret Thatcher not to come here because British citizen Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses?

This capitulation on the Rasmussen visit is a shot in the arm for an intolerant minority among Muslims and the vested political interests who fanned the flames of unrest in the first instance. It would be a singular disservice to the Muslim community to surmise that it rose as a body to protest against the cartoons in an obscure Danish paper. It was only after unscrupulous politicians, notably a UP minister who placed a Rs 51-crore bounty on the head of the cartoonist, that things took an ugly turn. Merged with protests over the Bush visit, the unrest assumed larger-than-life dimensions.

The government ought to have stood firm on this issue and not allowed sectarian concerns to hijack policy issues. The government’s only concern should have been to ensure that any protests against the visit do not take a violent turn and result in loss of life and property.

If it had gone ahead with the Danish PM’s visit, it would have been a powerful signal that issues of national importance cannot be given a communal dimension nor can be influenced by the vociferousness of a small minority. By taking this convenient way out, it has paved the way for other pressure groups—communal and otherwise—to try and influence Indian foreign policy.

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