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Natwar says the visit had worldwide implications
The Deng-Rajiv handshake had an
New Delhi: It was after hints were dropped by the Chinese leadership that Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi earnestly started preparing the ground for his historic visit to Beijing in 1988 and sent P.N. Haksar as his special envoy on a “secret mission” to make sure Beijing was keen to welcome him. Mr. Haksar, a seasoned political strategist who served as Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, had extensive talks with top Chinese leaders in May 1987 and on his return told Mr. Gandhi that there was “genuine interest” among the Chinese leadership for him to visit Beijing. Giving insights into the arduous preparations for the visit, in his new book ‘My China Diary,’ the former minister K. Natwar Singh says very few people knew about the mission.
“There were hints from the Chinese side that Mr. Gandhi should undertake the visit,” Mr. Singh told PTI. They knew he was Jawaharlal Nehru’s grandson, Indira Gandhi’s son and enjoyed the full backing of 413 MPs in the Lok Sabha.
On being asked for his assessment by Mr. Gandhi, Mr. Singh told him that the time had come for him to seriously think of paying an official visit to China. The message conveyed by Mr. Haksar was that India was prepared to pursue a forward-looking approach, that it did not consider China to be an adversary and efforts should be made by both countries to put the past behind. A clear signal of India’s keenness to improve bilateral ties and better understanding was conveyed to Beijing.Unanimous view
Mr. Singh said earnest work was started after Mr. Haksar’s return. Leaders from the BJP, the Left and other parties across the political spectrum were taken into confidence. There was a unanimous view that Mr. Gandhi should visit China since there had been no movement towards normalisation of ties. The visit to India by Chinese Prime Minister in April 1960 had failed.
“Only, when we had a feeling that there was a “broad consensus” that he undertook the visit,” recalled Mr. Singh, adding it was a grand success.
From 1988 to 2009, the Sino-India borders have been tranquil. “That is not a small achievement,” he said, noting that bilateral trade today had touched $30 billion. Mr. Singh said the visit was noticed by Pakistan and the Americans and it had worldwide implications.
In his 192-page book, Mr. Singh dwells on the complexities of India-China relations and has come out with interesting anecdotes and the diplomatic manoeuvrings that went on. “I welcome you, my young friend. This is your first journey to China,” Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, said greeting Mr. Gandhi. “The Deng-Gandhi handshake lasted quite a while. It signalled that Deng wanted the Indian Prime Minister’s visit to succeed.” Symbols send messages in China. Had the handshake been a perfunctory one, the visit would have collapsed then and there, says Mr. Singh. The handshake produced an “electrifying effect” and decades of “sterile unfriendliness seemed to melt away.”
“We have moved forward. 1962 (the Sino-Indian conflict) is now behind us,” Mr. Gandhi looking pleased and relaxed told Mr. Singh after his talks.
Sharing lighter moments he had with the Chinese leader, Mr. Gandhi said Deng had said he was now old and that is why he had had called the Indian PM “young friend.”
When Deng reminded Mr. Gandhi that he was 40 years older than him, the Indian leader quipped that a North Korean Minister had during a recent visit presented him with ginseng. Mr. Gandhi told Deng that ginseng would make him 40 years younger.
Mr. Singh said Mr. Gandhi, at times, had “weird notions” about diplomacy. The Prime Minister asked him “Mr. Minister, we are sometimes confused at the manner in which your government works...we do not know who is in charge of this important visit. Gopi Arora, Ronen Sen, K.P.S. Menon or Romesh Bhandar? Mr. Singh told Mr. Gandhi to relax and deal only with Mr. Arora and Mr. Sen. — PTICorrections and Clarifications It is Romesh Bhandari. The last paragraph of an article "Rajiv's China tour was preceded by Haksar's visit: Natwar" (February 16, 2009) gave it incorrectly as Romesh Bhandar. Mr. Bhandari was Secretary, External Affairs Ministry.
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