On Tuesday, Tenzing Lamsang, a Bhutanese journalist who is editor-in-chief of the newspaper TheBhutanese, tweeted the cover story of an Indian magazine The Week, and termed it disrespectful (presumably towards Bhutanese people) and distasteful:
— Tenzing Lamsang (@TenzingLamsang) August 22, 2017
The story is on Doklam standoff by The Week comes at a time when India is in a delicate position regarding the Bhutan region strategically located located at the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction.
The cover story in the magazine, which is titled “Dangerous Liaison” goes on to talk how Bhutan seems to be drifting away from India. The story say that even ‘senior officials’ are in awe of China’s charm, thus suggesting a diplomatic shift.
So is India losing the plot in Doklam? That’s what the cover story suggests, which was trashed by the senior Bhutanese journalist.
Let us see why.
In the article, the reporter Rabi Banerjee reaches out to the Bhutan Prime Minister’s office, seeking an appointment, but he is cautioned that nothing on Doklam will be discussed. Considering the gravity of the situation, it is hardly surprising. Bhutan wants to use only official diplomatic channels to communicate.
But the article quotes an unnamed senior government official, who apparently claimed that Bhutan has refused to make any anti-China statements in India’s support because India had not withdrawn fully from Doklam despite an alleged request from Bhutan to do so.
To know more about “Bhutan’s refusal to stand with India”, the reporter decided to meet the Information Minister of Bhutan, D. N. Dhungyel. This is what happened (quoted from the article):
Since it was Saturday, an official holiday, I went to his residence. The security staff let me in after I told them that I was from India and had come to schedule an appointment with the minister.
Dhungyel was not at home. He came back half an hour later and was surprised to see me. He was incensed when I told him that I wanted to discuss India-Bhutan relations. “How dare you come to my residence and talk on this subject?” asked the minister.
When I told him that the prime minister’s office had advised me to meet him, he wanted to know whether I had sought permission from the Bhutanese embassy in Delhi. It was clear that Dhungyel was afraid of discussing Doklam. “Two big nations are fighting and we are caught in the middle. Shouldn’t we feel scared? Definitely we are. We have decided not to utter a word over the issue. You may want us to talk, but we will not do so, never,” he said.
Before I could finish the tea that his daughter had served, the minister asked me to leave. As I started walking to the gate, dodging two dogs that chased me, I could hear the minister scolding his guards for letting me in.
There are multiple things wrong with this kind of reporting. The Bhutanese government has made it very clear they are not giving any official statement on the Doklam standoff. Why is the need to reach out to the Information Minister, that too at his residence, without any official appointment?
Nonetheless, from the only thing Dhungyel is quoted to have said, it is clear that Bhutan doesn’t want to rub either India or China the wrong way. Sensible thing to do for a tiny nation literally caught between two giants. Yet, the reporter wants to use it as a “proof” of Bhutan’s “refusal” to stand with India, and as a sign of Bhutan and China developing friendship.
The reporter then reaches out to Lyonpo Jigme Zangpo, the speaker of the Bhutanese National Assembly, who the reporter claims is next only to the King in terms of stature and protocol. The speaker too chides the reporter for ‘barging in’ and reiterates that the official response was to not issue any statement.
So two named officials declined to say anything, while one unnamed one claims that Bhutan is not happy with China. This was claimed as senior officials being in awe of China’s charm.
To further the assertion that Bhutan and China are developing friendship, the report in The Week quotes a ‘blogger’ who accuses India of ‘interfering’ between an issue that is between China and Bhutan. The article then quotes some citizens, a Buddhist monk, Bhutanese businessmen etc. and goes on to claim that more people want to have better relations with China.
The article also quotes some citizens preferring India, but the reporter ‘feels’ that such citizens are in ‘minority’.
And this article became the cover story of the magazine, which declared that Bhutan and China were coming closer, as if it was a diplomatic development amidst the Doklam standoff, when all it was in reality was a reporter’s private diary.
Not only was it trashed by the Editor-in-chief of the Bhutanese newspaper, it drew a lot of flak on social media, where people even called it the “hit and run” journalism:
Did not expect The Week to do this. https://t.co/g6rGyxIm6F
— Nitin A. Gokhale (@nitingokhale) August 23, 2017
Completely agree..hit n run journalism..in bad taste.. https://t.co/Q2suH63kcM
— Anoop (@newreck) August 22, 2017
A most un-nuanced and one sided reading of India Bhutan relations at a time when both countries are behaving with tact and sophistication! https://t.co/4Q9dHQK6Fv
— Ajai Shukla (@ajaishukla) August 22, 2017
Ignorant, arrogant and not untypical of much of India’s “free” and unthinking press these days. Attitudes to “hill peoples” on clear display https://t.co/rwsWxKrmIs
— Brian C. Shaw (@that_chilip) August 22, 2017
Some Bhutanese citizens also trashed the report, questioning the reportage and its conclusion about what Bhutanese people wanted:
Speaker next in importance to the King? Seems to have got most of his information from a taxi driver and some youth he met. Laughable!!
— Wangdi Gyaltshen (@WGyaltshen) August 22, 2017
It is indeed sad that an Indian media house would unwittingly follow a Chinese propaganda to create rifts and tension between Indian and Bhutan regarding the sensitive Doklam Standoff.
Earlier too, Indian media was called out when they projected a ‘stunning but unsubstantiated claim’ of Bhutan accepting Doklam as Chinese territory, made by a Chinese official to appear like a Bhutanese official had said it. Later Bhutan had denied issuing any such statement to any Chinese official.
It should be noted that the Chinese state media had openly called for attempts to seed discontent between India and Bhutan. And you have an Indian magazine doing exactly that!
Sadly, one can say that it is not really so shocking a behaviour from the Indian media, since in the past it has followed the “Pakistani doctrine” on how media should be used to further Pakistani agenda.