It's not often that you see India taking a firm stand on an international issue. Instead, prevarication, dilly-dallying or confusion are the hallmarks of its foreign policy most of the time. Often, it's hard to understand why India even takes a particular stand on an issue.
So it was surprising to hear about India’s decision to attend the ceremony that awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo on December 10 in what was a very firm and highly symbolic move. At stake, though, was not only the prestige of the country, but also the credibility of the largest democracy in the world.
It’s of course debatable whether Chinese dissident leader Liu Xiaobo deserves Nobel recognition for his political activism in the communist country. Opinions are no doubt divided about the wisdom and politics of awarding the Peace Prize to an activist who’s serving a prison term of 11 years for his political activities.
In India, many feel that the international community is using the Nobel Prize to prick China on the issue it’s most sensitive on and some in Indian society believe that the West is using democracy to beat and humiliate it.
But it doesn’t bode well for India if it falls in line with China on something like this. Being an independent country with a rising international profile, India can’t allow itself to be seen to be being dictated to by China, a country with which it already shares an uncomfortable political relationship.
And anyway, China hasn't been particularly encouraging or friendly towards India in recent months. Take the case of the looming and widening threat from India’s neighbour at the north-eastern border. Then there’s the attempt to humiliate India by issuing separate visa papers to the people of Kashmir who travel into China—these are not indications of a friendly neighbour. India as a country is aiming to play a pivotal role in international politics, and can’t take such gestures lying down.
India has a responsibility not only to strengthen and deepen democracy in it’s own territory, but also to spread the movement to parts of the world where people’s voices are being suppressed and ignored.
The stand taken by India at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony shows that it’s a trend setter, and heralds the emergence of a confident nation that's sure of its values, adamant in its respect to freedom of expression and a voice of those nations and groups whose words and cries are currently not loud enough to be heard in the international arena.