Posted by: John Elliott | April 17, 2008

New Delhi in lockdown over Olympic torch run

More than 15,000 police and paramilitary security forces today patrolled the center of New Delhi and successfully protected the Olympic torch – and China’s sensibility – from interference and upset as the flame passed briefly through the capital on its way from Pakistan to Thailand.

Under intense pressure from China following the Olympic protests elsewhere, the Indian government sealed off a large part of central Delhi. No spectators, apart from small groups of school children and invited guests, watched the torch being carried along the grand Raj Path processional avenue.

A rival pro-China march was allowed a couple of miles away, but the torch itself had a cocooned and sanitized – and uninterrupted – journey. That may be contrary to the Olympics’ traditionally inclusive spirit, but it pleased China.

India has been wary of upsetting China since it was defeated in a border war amid the Himalayan mountains in 1962. That is the only time India has lost a war since independence in 1947 (it has defeated Pakistan three times) and it has been wary since then of upsetting its larger neighbor.

That virtual fear has been more evident in the past four weeks than for many years, with parts of New Delhi being barricaded to defend China’s embassy against Tibetan protestors. Delhi has not seen such a progressive lockdown – at least since the early 1980s – not even to protect a visiting head of state or to fend off terrorist attacks.

The nearest equivalent is the annual Republic Day parade of massed bands, guns, missiles and dancing children, when Raj Path is closed and nearby buildings emptied – but with a much smaller police presence than was deployed today.

The boundary wall of the Chinese embassy compound has been surrounded with huge rolls of barbed wire and masses of police since Tibetan protestors scaled the wall on March 21. Roads around the embassy have been partially closed for four weeks, including an entrance to Malcha Marg, an elite housing area. From yesterday afternoon, 1,100 security forces guarded the embassy perimeter.

No other country has such a tortuous relationship with China. Many nations try to please the emerging superpower for commercial reasons – to ensure their companies have access for major contracts and trade, and so that they can try to influence China’s economic policies. India mixes a continued stand-off on the disputed Himalayan border with rapidly expanding trade and economic links.

Two-way trade is currently worth over $30 billion, and China has overtaken the United States as India’s biggest trading partner. Cross-border business investments are also increasing – Chinese telecom companies like Huawei and ZTE have made substantial inroads into the Indian market.

But India has never been comfortable about allowing Chinese investments in sensitive areas such as ports and high technology, and has frequently delayed Chinese business visas and investment permissions.

The fraught relationship was demonstrated after Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, made what appeared to be a successful and friendly visit to Beijing in January. Two weeks later, he visited the state of Arunachal Pradesh, in the far northeastern corner of India that China still regards as disputed territory. He described Arunachal as “our land of the rising sun,” which immediately brought diplomatic rebukes from Beijing.

Regular talks are held between the two countries on the border issue. India knows China has no intention of reaching a settlement, but plays along with Beijing’s tactics.” India gets nowhere in these talks,” a former Indian participant told me recently. “We make our presentations in detail. China listens impassively, and concedes nothing, and we issue a joint statement saying progress is being made. India is soft and China knows it.”


  1. Salim Shah, sitting in far away Washington, may feel feel offended with John’s assessment that India has done everything out of fear of the Chinese. But that is the unpleasant truth. And it is not just ordinary fear, but crippling fear, almost as if an irreversible paralysis has set in in the structure of the India government.

    China has been bullying India for decades and India has been meekly getting bullied and tamely allowing China to get relatively stronger and stronger militarily. This, even when there is a serious unresolved border dispute which, as John has highlighted, the Chinese have no interest in resolving. They want to keep India pinned down and submissive, and India’s rulers are content to keep the country there. They are so mortally afraid of exposing their fatal weakness to even their own countrymen that they just don’t want to give the Chinese any chance to humiliate and expose them. But, if things continue like this, will happen one day, in a far more debilitating manner than the recent warning given in a Chinese government publication.

    Perhaps someone should read out to India’s rulers the old children’s story about the Tiger and the Lamb drinking water from a flowing river!

  2. John,

    You got India better then all of my fellow racist Indians….

    But, I am glad…India locked down, and throttled “right to express disagreements” , their zeal to please their Chinese masters…Butchers from Delhi would have shot and killed Tibetan protesters..

    even though human rights LOST in INDIA today(as always) I am GLAD it saved Tibetan lives…

    what did world expect from these Indian goons? which gave us genocide in Gujarat, democratically elected modern day Hitler !!!, Kashmir, LTTE, genocide of Sikhs, xenophobic racists (mharashtrians against north indians, north indians against south indians, kanadigas against tamils..)

    NO its NOT politicians, its people stupid !!

    and before all racist Indians start to shout, i am a HINDU.

  3. It is a pity that an Olympic Torch relay had to be conducted in a prison like atmosphere.Would have been better not to hold it at all.And why were the Chinese allowed to carry offensive placards during the relay? Seems that at times we bend over backwards to please certain countries.Strange people forget about Arunachal Pradesh and China’s continued obduracy in recognising it as a part of India.From the government’s point of view I can understand taht they just wanted it done and over with – but seems such a distortion of the Olympic ideals

  4. As an Indian, I am deeply offended by the tone of the article. It comes across as if India protected the torch relay out of fear and to please china. The writer is almost reckless in acknowledging facts surrounded the torch relay. Due to Chinese action in
    Tibet, the torch has confronted some level of resistance and protest almost in every country and it was protect with the help police or paramilitary forces everywhere. Can we say that every country that protected torch, did so out fear of China and/or to
    please Chine? Probably not. Why does then protection of torch in India is described that way. May be because Indian government used more police force and restrictive measures then other countries. I don’t that was the case (for example security in Pakistan yesterday). However, even
    if it is true, one has to understand the reasons behind it. India is home for Dalai Lama and has more followers in India then any other country, which means more protesters. Therefore, is it not wise to be aware of these facts
    and use appropriate measure to protect the torch relay?

    The writer used the example of security measure to protect the Chinese embassy against Tibetan protestors and compared the situation to a head-of-state visit or to fend off terrorist attacks to bolster the argument that indeed India is protecting the torch out of fear.
    The writer doesn’t seem to know how much security was in Delhi when President Clinton and President Bush visited India. Or
    what happened during “Agra Summit” in which Prime Minister Vajpayee and President Musharraf participated. I can go on and on with examples but
    probably this is enough to show how ignorant the writer is
    about India.

  5. The Olympics should be treated solely as a sporting event (the search for excellence of physical capability in human beings) and not used as an opportunity for political ends.

    India (like any sensible nation) has no intention of going to war with any country unless unnecessarily provoked. There are bigger problems to solve in India and China (both with extremely high unemployment and poverty) than a small patch of land which has been disputed for several decades now.

    The issue of Tibet is a matter between China and Tibet. India does not have to take sides in this issue and use the Olympics as a opportunity to force a resolution.

  6. While CPM communists (a party that supports the current federal govt) has every right to protest George Bush’s India visit in full public view, poor Tibetians are stopped from protesting what seems to be a legitimate concern! This is the heights of hypocrisy. It’s not that India is afraid of China, it’s just that the current federal govt is afraid that the Communists might pull the govt down one of these days. It’s POLITICS stupid!

    And we say India is the biggest democracy, my a***!!

  7. India and China were both humiliated by the west and robbed by them for their natural resources for 150 years of the past 200 years.

    India has the right not to behave like Great Britian, France, Germany, and United States on this Torch Issue.

  8. Hmm. India lost a border dispute to China in 1960’s, so it is running scared NOW? Very funny. By that logic, US should be running scared of Vietnam now. India and China are emerging as superpowers and they don’t want to antagonize each other too much. Indeed, if India is running of China, somebody explain to me why India has been providing shelter to the Dalai Lama since the 1950’s? It is obvious that the author of this article has not done his homework.

  9. This is a very accurate article. Being an Indian, I agree with author that India is spineless when it comes to standing up for itself and its allies.

    It cannot even take actions that are in its self-interest. Just as China keeps India on the backfoot by using Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim as leverage, so should India keep China on the defensive with Tibet.

    This is not to make a pawn out of Tibet and the Tibetans, but at least it will keep the pressure up on Beijing to end the atrocities in Tibet. Moreover it is Western interest to keep China’s expansionist policies in check.

  10. Yeh Same reason why the US does not talk about human right or opening currency with China

  11. May I say once again this is a one-sided story, from solely the standpoint of the view it tries to carry, and the Indian Government. Just change the related countries to different ones (like Argentia, etc.), the analysis will surely contain more balanced views from both sides (in this case, India & China)

  12. Writer has very little knowledge of Indo-china relationship. India’s commitment to peace with China can not be attributed to “India scared of China” thought. India and China are both emerging to be biggest economies of the world and it makes perfect sense for India to keep relations cordial with China.

  13. What is shameful article. Based on rectless behavior of London/Paris politians and journalists, India has every right to protect the safty of torch relay. India does not have to do this if London/Paris did the job as nearly well as other cities. India does not have to please Chinese Gov. and has been critical to Chinese Gov for many years in this issue. India might not please western folks. But it did the job smoothly. (Speaking of inclusive, do you have any idea how polices separate Pope from his people at this moment in DC?)

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