Saturday, April 13, 2024

When Rahul feigned ignorance about West’s view of diplomacy

The recent updates on what Rahul Gandhi said about the Indian Foreign Service at some sort of a gathering in Cambridge can better be explained by a quick unofficial history of diplomacy as understood by the Western World. This, incidentally, was how it was explained to me over the decades by various people from the Netherlands, United Kingdoms and Persia.

But first, what did Rahul Gandhi say:

And what was the official Indian response?

The origins of diplomacy as was explained to me started with an assortment of diktats issued variously by the Spaniards and Portuguese in context with the “discovery” and conquest of South America and almost simultaneously by the rest of the Europeans in context with Asia and Africa. The Antipodes were, of course, simply grabbed without much ado or diplomacy – though they did need ship-building and sailing skills of Indian seafarers to get there.

“Diplomacy” as understood by the Europeans vis-a-vis the Indic worlds was broadly linked with the freedom to trade on all the Indic rivers without a pari-passu return freedom for Indians to trade along the Rhine, Elbe, Rhone, Loire, Duoro/Duero, Rhone, Ebro, Po and smaller estuaries pretending to be rivers like the Thames and Gironde.

Luckily for us Indians, the Gujaratis did not extend this loot-and-scoot by the Europeans known as “free trade” to the Narmada and Tapti river systems, which is also why many new strains of Indian diplomacy’s tough acts can be traced back to the Gulf of Khambat. 

The Gangetic and Padma river systems, however, were not so lucky. They got stuck with the East India Company concept of one-way diplomacy – and these “conventions” carried on till recently. Whether Vienna 1815 or Havana 1928 or (once again) Vienna 1961/1964. 

Incidentally, the Vienna 1961/1964 Convention gave diplomatic immunity to a religion, the Holy See, all 0.49 square kilometres of it. That is about half the size of the built up area of the passenger part of New Delhi Railway Station, to give some perspective. Not including the cargo terminal.

Or 1/100the size of Defence Colony, also in New Delhi. But the power that it wields?

That is what the West understands of diplomacy – subservience by former colonies.

Those days are well and truly over.

(Veeresh Malik was a seafarer. And a lot more besides. A decade in facial biometrics, which took him into the world of finance, gaming, preventive defence and money laundering before the subliminal mind management technology blew his brains out. His romance with the media endures since 1994, duly responded by Outlook, among others.)

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