Idi Amin’s shoes, Shringla’s Dhaka visit and Diplomatic Deviations- Abu Tahir Mustakim


di Amin summoned the British High Commissioner to the capital Kampala. Amin is the powerful ruler of Uganda, newly-independent from the British colony. The British High Commissioner appeared after being summoned. The ruler calmly told him, Measure my feet well. My feet are a little too big. The Queen has invited to attend the Commonwealth conference. If I go there, they will give a complete suit according to the custom. But how can I wear a suit without proper shoes?

It is not the job of any ambassador or high commissioner to measure the feet of any ruler. This little knowledge of the etiquette of diplomacy was well known by Idi Amin, who served in a high position in the British Army. But angry at British colonialism, white supremacy, exploitation and oppression, Amin refused to accept any grammar of diplomacy in their case.

Your Excellency. It’s all right. I’m talking to London about foot size. Saying this, the British High Commissioner left Amin with blushed face. A few days later, a letter from the British Foreign Office reached the Ugandan Foreign Ministry. It is politely informed that London is not expecting Idi Amin’s visit.

The incident did not stop there. On the contrary, it was feared that Amin would attempt to travel to London and join the Commonwealth Conference by force. Britain drew up elaborate contingency plans, involving the anti-terrorist squad and police marksmen, to detain Amin on his arrival in the UK and to eject him from the country. Even Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II planned to hit Amin on the head with a ceremonial pearl sword if he “gate crashed” in the conference. The little-known anecdote of 1977 was revealed by the last Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, in his diary. It is among archive materials disclosed in “Monarchy and the End of Empire”, which details the Queen’s role in the Commonwealth. Idi Amin left the country in 1979 after losing power in a counter-coup in a secret game of diplomacy.

Only a decade and a half ago, in 1961, the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations was adopted. It details the responsibilities, duties, dignity of the diplomats, providing security to the guest country in performing their duties fearlessly. As of October 2018, it has been ratified by 192 states. International training provided to the officials of the signatory countries at different levels.

According to the convention, it is a rule to inform the other party in advance of the status of a state official who is going to tour. Whether the guest will be accorded the highest respect through red carpet reception or gun salute; Who will welcome the guest and who will be present at that time; What color flowers will be in the bouquet and will the bouquet be bound by red ribbons or other colored ribbons; Guard of Honor visit; where and how long the guest will stay; what will be discussed or the contract will be signed; when and what will he be fed, what will be the seating arrangement for lunch or dinner, what will be the dress code, who will sit next to whom; how and who will be introduced at this time, how to exchange visiting cards; how to farewell the visiting guest etc. schedules are fixed by the officials of the two countries by measuring everything in detail.

The term protocol is derived, via French and Medieval Latin, from the Greek word protokollon, means “first glued sheet of or onto a papyrus-roll”. This comes from the act of gluing a sheet of paper to the front of a document to preserve it when it was sealed, which imparted additional authenticity to it. Protocol is an important part of diplomatic practice linked with history, royalty, religion, culture and language. In international politics, protocol is the etiquette of diplomacy and affairs of state. A protocol is a rule which describes how an activity should be performed, especially in the field of diplomacy. There is a history of following these protocol and etiquettes since ancient times. In its continuity ‘envoy is not killable’ and addition to this rule, the provision to exempt diplomats from even killing is still in force.

But world politics has also witnessed anti-Vienna Convention activities. The world has seen the expulsion of US and Russian diplomats many times. Diplomats’ drug business, killing people during drink driving and money laundering has been reported many times. Bilateral diplomatic tensions or the incidents of touchiness are not less in this world.

For example, in December 2013, a tug-of-war between the United States and India over Devyani Khobragade became international news. Devyani, who works at the Indian consulate in New York, was arrested on charges of visa fraud and making false statements. The government of the then Congress Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in retaliation, broke international law and withdrew all security measures from the US embassy in Delhi. At one point in the controversy, Devyani was expelled from the United States. After this controversy, Manmohan Singh’s party, the Congress, lost the national elections of 2014.

The hardline Hindutva party BJP led by Narendra Modi, the winner of this election, formed the government. But naturally, India’s diplomatic debates with various parties and states have continued. The young Prime Minister of Canada Justin Trudeau visited India in February 2018. But Modi’s unusual behavior with Trudeau during the visit created a storm in the diplomatic arena. Trudeau was accused by India of supporting “Sikh separatists” fighting for the establishment of a Khalistan state. Modi refused to meet Trudeau until he canceled his scheduled meeting with Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. At the same time, India sharply criticized guest Trudeau for the presence of suspected Khalistani separatist Jaspal Atwal at official functions. State guest Trudeau was humiliated in an unprecedented manner by violating diplomatic protocol and etiquette. At the same time, the news was widely disseminated in the Indian and Canadian media. In October of that year, Canada had a national election. As Trudeau’s former principal secretary Gerald Butts noted in one of his books accusing Modi of “screwing” the Canadian Prime Minister during his 2018 trip to India and helping his opposition, the Conservatives. Although these diplomatic disputes are supposed to be secret, they are widely publicized without following the rules.

There have also been reports of a diplomatic row between the United States and India over the development of Covid-19 drugs. Although the chemical components of the drug were in India, they did not want to give it to the United States. According to media reports, President Trump sent a plane to Delhi and then threatened Prime Minister Modi on the telephone and took this chemical material in the USA. There are many instances of such deviations in diplomatic protocol and etiquette if one cannot survive strategically with a powerful friend in the international arena.

Harsh Vardhan Shringla’s visit to Dhaka is currently being discussed in the diplomatic circles as an example of such deviation. Former Indian High Commissioner to Dhaka Shringla is currently India’s Foreign Secretary. Shringla arrived in Dhaka on a very dramatic 24-hour visit on Tuesday 18 August. The Indian High Commission in Dhaka and the Bangladesh High Commission in New Delhi did not inform and comment on the visit in advance. Usually such visits at the Foreign Secretary level are officially announced.

Shringla came by warplane as the air service between Bangladesh and India was closed due to Covid-19. He landed at Kurmitola Airport used by the Bangladesh Air Force in violation of the rules. In the absence of Bangladeshi officials, he was received by Indian High Commissioner to Dhaka Riva Ganguly Das. Quoting Indian sources, Bangladeshi media informed, Shringla has brought a special message from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi for Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Although the content of the message was not disclosed but the news said, during the visit he will make courtesy call on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen and State Minister for Foreign Affairs M. Shahriar Alam. Besides, he will have a meeting with Foreign Secretary Masood bin Momen. But the foreign minister was in Sylhet during the visit and there was no courtesy call held between the state minister for foreign affairs and Shringla.

Shringla as the foreign minister was the first foreign guest to visit Sheikh Hasina during the Covid-19 period. During the lockdown, Sheikh Hasina did not have much contact with her party leaders and workers for the last few months. So the media’s eye was on this courtesy call but that courtesy call was shrouded in mystery.

The Indian High Commission in Dhaka told the media, after a surprise visit to Dhaka on Tuesday afternoon, Indian Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla met with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at night and discussed various issues for about an hour. But that night, a spokesman for the Prime Minister of Bangladesh said in response to a media question that the Indian Foreign Secretary had no meeting with the Prime Minister. Usually when a foreign ambassador or high commissioner meets the prime minister, the news is officially released. However, no official statement has been issued by the Bangladesh government on Shringla.

However, the Indian government and the country’s media were upset by the diplomatic blow, but tried to cope with it. In unison, they propagated various issues including Sheikh Hasina-Shringla meeting, agenda, exchange of greetings etc. But the message reached international analysts, including Indians, that it is not so easy for the Foreign Secretary of India to meet the Prime Minister of Bangladesh.

Analysts say it may not be a common thing for the Indian foreign secretary to move to Dhaka with a sudden decision a day earlier. There is a mystery inside. Maybe he has come with a message to normalize the current tense situation between Bangladesh and India. Apart from an agreement or a joint statement, what the two foreign secretaries said about other issues, including the Covid-19 vaccine, seemed to be normal.

Experts believe that India has reaped huge benefits from Bangladesh over the past decade. But in return, Bangladesh did not even get the right to water from the river Teesta without promises. Bangladesh has felt deprived, which Indian diplomats did not consider necessary. In this situation, China is trying to strengthen relations with Bangladesh. They are going to provide one billion dollars for dredging and irrigation of Teesta. A Chinese company has been awarded the contract for the expansion of an airport in Sylhet. Ever since the bloody conflict with China in Ladakh, China has been trying to encircle Delhi with India’s neighbors. Nepal has claimed part of India by releasing a new map. Pakistan has similarly claimed the part of India by publishing the map. In this situation, India will naturally want Bangladesh not to lean towards China. They think that urgency is working behind Shringla’s sudden visit.

In this golden chapter of the relations between Bangladesh and India, a deep analysis is going on in Delhi about the tug-of-war. Some former diplomats and analysts worked in Bangladesh have given their opinion to a Dhaka daily. According to former High Commissioner of India in Dhaka Veena Sikri, even in the Covid-19-related situation, Shringla’s visit shows how much importance India attaches to Bangladesh among its neighbours. Another former Indian High Commissioner, Pinak Ranjan Chakraborty, has a similar attitude towards Shringla’s visit.

However, former Indian High Commissioner Dev Mukherjee disagreed. According to him, the Foreign Secretary’s visit to Dhaka was not required to offer assistance on the Covid-19 antidote. Nor did he need to meet the Prime Minister of Bangladesh. India said the visit did not discuss the creation of a Citizenship Act-CAA or a National Citizenship Register-NRC. There was no talk of Chinese presence in Bangladesh. So where was the need for this sudden visit during the difficult times of the Covid-19? Dev Mukherjee thinks that there is a lot of speculation since there is no answer to these questions.

Recently, the governments of Bangladesh and India have described the ongoing relations between the two countries as a golden chapter. Dev Mukherjee thinks that anti-India attitude has been created in that Bangladesh, because a large number of people in Bangladesh have an idea about the closeness of the Indian government with the Awami League. Maybe the anti-government attitude that has been brewing for more than 10 years is going against India.

None of the former diplomats, observers and researchers are denying all the historical reasons for India’s opposition. According to Dev Mukherjee, a certain quarter of Bangladeshi people have always looked down negatively on India. In their eyes, Hindu-India is always dubious. They blame India for the partition of Pakistan. However, Dev Mukherjee acknowledged that India had handed over new tools like CAA and NRC to these elite.

Other observers say that many are touting the treatment against the Muslim community, including the adopted CAA and NRC, as evidence of historical veracity in the current hardline and extremist Hindutva India. On this basis, India’s ally Bangladesh and Afghanistan have become suspicious. India has lost work on the Chabahar project due to differences with Iran. Two Indian ministers have also visited Tehran to try to mend diplomatic ties in this Covid-19 situation. Observers see India’s strained relations with Malaysia and Turkey as a sign of India’s extremist Hindutva policy and diplomatic mistakes. According to them, India is becoming lonely in international theatre due to extremist Hindutva-based diplomacy.