e-Visa in return of stapled Visa – Is this Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s diplomacy?


Modi Xi (1)

By Harshmeet Singh

Before Narendra Modi left for China, his list of agendas included discussion about stapled visas issued to the citizens of Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir by China. So when the Prime Minister overlooked it and extended the facility of e-visa to the Chinese tourists, it drew sharp criticism from many corners.

As expected, the Congress party latched on to this opportunity to criticize the PM and accused him of going too far ahead in the name of diplomacy. “Diplomacy is all about quid pro quo and reciprocity”,Congress spokesperson RPN Singh told PTI. Interestingly, just a few hours before the announcement, S Jaishankar, India’s foreign secretary had said “no decision has been taken yet” on the issue of extending the e-visas to Chinese tourists. While the sequence of events highlight that the decision was taken in haste, it would be worth analyzing the pros and cons of this spontaneous decision by the Prime Minister before arriving at a conclusion.

There are said to be contrasting views about the decision among the ministries. While the Home Ministry put forward its concerns regarding the misuse of such facility, these concerns were overridden by the Tourism Ministry’s support to the proposal.

All this for tourism?

According to the numbers furnished by the World Travel & Tourism Council, 6.6% of India’s GDP in 2012 was generated through tourism related activities. Modi Government’s push towards increasing tourism revenues in the country has been evident ever since it assumed office. According to the new Visa policy, citizens from close to 180 countries would be offered the facility of e-Visa in several phases.

According to the Indian Tourism Statistics 2013, published by the Ministry of Tourism, Chinese tourists accounted for a meager 2.51% of the total foreign tourists visiting India in 2013. At the same time, Indian tourists made up over 5.5% foreign tourists in China. Looks like our deficit with China goes much beyond trade!

Since the Government started offering e-visa facility from November last year, as per the Government’s assumptions, this should have increased the tourist inflow in the country, and made the rupee much stronger. On the contrary, rupee came down to a 4 month low level by the end of April. This is a clear indication of things happening contrary to the Government’s assumptions. May be it is time for the Government to understand that attracting tourists would take much more than extending the e-visa facility.

Would it give us FDI?

Some other experts also say that this move may help in the inflow of FDI into the country, which in turn, would boost the country’s infrastructure. But it would be immature to assume that a mere e-visa facility would open the floodgates for the flow of FDI into the country. Unless the Government gets rid of the red tape in the country and prepares an attractive ground for the investors, such facilities would hardly make any difference on the ground.

All diplomacy and no security?

The national security agencies were also opposed to the Government’s decision to offer such a facility. A Government official was later quoted saying, “The government has overruled the Intelligence Bureau and R&AW. So you can imagine the position of the government. We don’t want to bog down the intelligence agencies. The government has decided to bring their relationship with the most important country to a certain level, we have to take it forward,”

Such decisions which overlook feedback from all the concerned authorities and lack consensus are reminiscent of a Monarchy where one ruler has the final say irrespective of others’ voices.

Did India really have to offer this to China?

India and China have always been in an awkward relationship. Since the time of Jawaharlal Nehru, several Governments have tried to read the mind of the dragon, but failed. In September last year, while Xi Jinping and Modi were on a swing at Sabarmati River Front, supposedly writing a new chapter in Indo-Sino ties, China’s troops were intruding into the Ladakh region.

Just a day before Modi’s gracious e-visa offer to the Chinese tourists, China’s national television broadcaster showed an Indian map sans the areas of Arunachal Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir. While this brought some strong reactions on the Social Media, there wasn’t any ‘official’ complaint from the Indian Government. The channel wasn’t asked to offer any apology either. This reaction is in stark contrast to a similar case in Australia last year before the G20 summit. The Queensland University in Brisbane, in Modi’s presence, showed an incorrect Indian map, with Jammu & Kashmir missing from top. At that time, India had registered a ‘strong official protest’ and demanded an apology from the officials. On the contrary, this time around, Modi went ahead and offered a freebie to China the very next day. It seems like all those strong words about protecting India’s sovereignty have been overlooked just for getting some tourists into the country.

Last month, China called Arunachal Pradesh issue a ‘Huge dispute’ and formally opposed Modi’s visit to the state. All this was done when Modi was supposed to visit Beijing in a month’s time. If the PM wants to go around the real issues and offer freebies in a hope that it will soften China’s stand on various disputes, he would be well advised to refer to the history of Indo-Chinese relations and learn the lesson!