Modi government is facing flak for first issuing and then cancelling visa to two West-based Chinese dissidents, Dolkun Isa and Lu Jinguh, and a Hong Kong-based rights activist Ra Wong. The three were to attend a conference in Dharamshala on democracy and China. US-based 'Initiatives for China' organised the meet with the help of Tibetans who have made Dharmashala their home ever since their spiritual guru Dalai Lama was given refugee during the early years of Indian independence.
As any layman knows, arrangements for international conferences are an elaborate affair; often the spade work begins almost a year in advance. The Dharmashala meet (April 30-May 1) was no exception to the rule as invitations were sent out to a number of experts and scholars around the world. This preparation naturally puts the local government -- civil and police authorities -- in the loop.
Dolkun Isa's credentials are a matter of public knowledge. He is a leader of World Uyghur Congress (WUC) who lives in Germany. Lu Jinghua is a well-known Tiananmen activist and is based in the US. In so far as Ray Wong is concerned, his karmabhoomi is Hong Kong. There is no secret about his activism.
Isa applied for a tourist visa under the electronic travel-authorisation system. So did the two others. All the three were granted the Indian visa without the usual fuss but their visas were cancelled for different reasons. In the case of Isa, the cancellation is attributed to a red-corner Interpol notice. He had "suppressed" this fact, it is claimed. Both Lu Jinghua and Ray Wong, we are told, were ineligible for visa and their applications suffered from 'data inconsistency'.
While granting of visa to Dolkun Isa was hailed by strategic and diplomatic community as a snub to China that had gone against Indian interests in the Maulana Masood Azhar case, the visa roll back has been dubbed as acting under Chinese pressure. Most headlines in and outside India read: "Under Chinese pressure, India cancels visa to Uyghur separatist Dolkun Isa".
This conclusion appears to be based on Beijing's angry reaction. Pointing out that Interpol had issued a red-corner notice for the arrest of Isa, a spokesman of the Chinese foreign ministry said "Bringing him to justice is a due obligation of relevant countries."
It is naïve to assert that India did not factor in the likely reaction of China to Isa's visa. Equally absurd it is to argue that Delhi is not aware of his activities. Yes, whatever be the official stand of India's interior and foreign offices, Delhi cannot feign ignorance about the red-corner notice that exists for Isa's arrest. Interpol has issued several red-corner notices. Isa's is one of them. Interestingly, it has not come in the way of his activities in Munich where his World Uyghur Congress is based.
The WUC is not a new entity. It has been the forum of exiled Uyghur groups like the World Uyghur Youth Congress (WUYC) and East Turkestan National Congress (ETNC) since 2004.
Most WUC leaders are not Xinjiang based. They have been living abroad. While its President Rebiya Kadeer lives in the United States, executive President Isa is operating from Germany. The other office bearers are spread over Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Japan, Britain and Sweden. WUC traces Uyghur-separatist movement to suppression of ethnic minority in Xinjiang province after Maoism became the creed of China in the forties.
China has branded WUC as a terrorist entity and has been accusing it of fomenting unrest and terrorism in northwest China. It also has been accusing its all-weather friend Pakistan of patronising Uyghur Muslim militants, who, according to Beijing, operate off the Talibanised pockets in northwestern Pakistan that borders Afghanistan.
Since China says it has become a victim of Islamist upsurge in Pakistan, it is natural to expect the Communist nation to throw its weight behind India's UN campaign to declare Maulana Masood Azhar a global terrorist. But to Delhi's surprise, Beijing torpedoed the plan.
Obviously, this veto was used to please Pakistan for whom Azhar is a non-state actor, and therefore a national asset in its drive to bleed India through attacks like the one staged on Pathankot air base some weeks ago. Azhar had escaped Indian gallows when he was exchanged for passengers on an Indian Airlines flight 814 hijacked by Jaish-e-Muhammad group to Kandahar in Dec 1999. JeM has staged several deadly strikes on India including the attack on the Indian parliament in December 2001.
So much so, New Delhi's e-visa to Chinese dissidents makes eminent sense. It sent out a message in plain code that China should not take India lightly and be prepared for a diplomatic standoff that could even see China finding doors closed for business with India which today covers a wide gamut from ordinary pen cells to air conditioners, cellular phones, and energy equipment. India should have done this feat a long while ago particularly when the PLA patrols were regularly standing in the way of laying even a water canal in the Ladakh region. Well, better late than never. (To be continued.)