Security be Damned
All bluebook security protocols relating to the prime minister were thrown to the winds so that Modi could end his Gujarat campaign on a high note, literally, by taking flight on a seaplane along the Sabarmati river. He flew with a foreign (Canadian) crew—one burly bearded gentleman in shorts—in a single-engine aircraft registered in the US.
Moreover, it had arrived in Mumbai from Karachi. Any aircraft the PM uses must be sanitised—parked in a high-security area for a specific period—for checks on airworthiness and security, a protocol that was done away with. The SPG usually has its way where security issues are concerned but this time, the PM himself ordered that normal protocol would not apply.
The PMO website carried a photo of the PM boarding the aircraft and captioned it “the first ever flight by such a craft in the country”. The same aircraft had, two days earlier, been used by Union ministers Nitin Gadkari and Ashok Gajapati Raju for a demonstration flight in Mumbai by Spicejet which plans to buy and introduce amphibian aircraft in India to exploit the transportation potential of waterways. In both photos, the seaplane used had the same registration number N181KQ. The Quest Kodiak aircraft is operated by a Japanese firm but is registered in the US. Sea-planes have been used in the Andamans in 2010, in Kerala in 2016 and recently, to connect Mumbai to Lonavala. The claim on the PMO website was quickly removed.
If Narendra Modi was unusually quick in airing his conspiracy theory about the so-called “dinner of traitors” at Mani Shankar Aiyar’s residence the morning after it took place, he had good sources—the Intelligence Bureau. The IB shadows all visitors from Pakistan who belong to the establishment—in this case a former foreign minister and an ex-army director general—and send daily reports to the home ministry.
The ministry passed on the IB report on the two being at the dinner at Aiyar’s residence to the PMO, leading to the claim by Modi about a plot being hatched against him.
The claim was made more ridiculous since there were three independent Indian journalists present, apart from former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and a galaxy of retired Indian diplomats. The same group, minus Manmohan, met for dinner the next day in a popular restaurant at the Taj Mansingh hotel, with IB sleuths occupying a table across the floor. Aiyar’s foot in mouth remark was uncalled for but ever since he was posted as India’s first-ever consul general in Karachi, he has developed what he calls, a “Pollyanna view” of Indo-Pakistan relations, hence his dinner to promote good neighbourly ties. Moreover, Aiyar and Khurshid Kasturi, Pakistan’s former foreign minister, have been good friends ever since they were at Cambridge University together.
Dalai Lama’s Dilemma
The Indian government is concerned about recent remarks by the Dalai Lama where he expressed his desire to return home, in Tibet. After his initial statement—“the past is past, Tibetans want to stay with China”—came a subsequent one which was more specific, stating that he “would return to Tibet at once, if China agrees”. This caused a great deal of consternation in the foreign and home ministries and officials who have dealt with him in the past have been asked to find out whether he is preparing for a possible rapprochement with Beijing. What they seem to have discovered so far is that a combination of old age and nostalgia has led to dreams of His Holiness wanting to spend his last days in Lhasa rather than Dharamsala. He can barely walk without help and has given up all duties with the Tibetan government in exile.
Further, the inexorable rise of China as a global power has led to a diminishing of the acceptance and support the Dalai Lama receives from other countries. He also has a deal from Chinese President Xi where he can return to Tibet and Beijing will look at greater autonomy for the Tibet Autonomous Region. For India, it will be a huge embarrassment if he were to return, since it would dilute its stand on the boundary dispute and also lose a valuable diplomatic stick to prod the Chinese with.
Indian officials are working overtime to convince His Holiness that he will be better off where he is.