COMMENT DIPLOMACY INDIA CHINA
By Tathagata Satpathy, ex-MP
INDIA’S FOREIGN policy framework and initiatives need a huge course correction. India is losing friends as in the case of Nepal, it is trampled on by China yet again, and its long-established ties with Afghanistan have gone in for less-comfortable times. Pakistan, for most part remaining India’s enemy, is now on a low. At the global level too, over the years, India lost the age-old fraternal relationships it had enjoyed with the Soviet Union, and Russia is distanced by the present system in India.
The end of the Cold War and disintegration of the Soviet Union meant the curtains were drawn on the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which had held India in good stead through a long period. It was seen by many as an apparatus to engage on both sides while slightly tilting towards a socialistic framework as opposed to an outright Communist system. India’s closeness to USSR alienated the US. The American diplomacy required of the US to take Pakistan into its fold to counter-balance the Indian influence.
In the post-Cold War era, India’s strengths impressed the US but only to a point. There is good cooperation between the two nations since the 1990s, also after India discarded its socialist moorings for good. But, India has never been perceived as an important ally in American minds. Meanwhile, Pakistan, which was a somewhat required buffer for a certain time, has become completely redundant now. India chose to adopt the path tilting towards the US but to no avail. All that developed was it lost the old bonhomie it had with the Russians.
This is the context which Narendra Damodardas Modi has enlarged ever since he occupied the PM’s post. With his diplomatic endeavors, which seem to be stemming from his personalized style, he seems to be putting India behind his own image. He adopted unconventional styles in diplomacy, used the external affairs ministers as rubber stamps, and took direct control of diplomacy about which his depth of knowledge is being questioned now.
The impression that most of us citizens had earlier was that his charisma and personality were overwhelming for international leaders. Indians got excited if their Prime Minister was seen standing on the front row of a G-7 after party photograph. An average Indian, with a fetish to hang a photo of his face peeking over the shoulder of a local leader, was happy with such childish achievements. These were amply built up for domestic consumption by the Indian media. All these and many more such immature propaganda helped create an individual’s image but did not take national interests very far.
It started with Modi’s inauguration in Delhi in May 2014, when he invited heads of all SAARC member nations for the event. The presence, among others, of then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif at the event was a sensation. Yet, the relationship between not only Pakistan and India but with virtually all other neighboring countries deteriorated and went downhill very rapidly during Modi’s first term itself. The PM’s self importance was not projected by India becoming stronger but rather it was painted the other way around. The whole exercise was as if any Prime Minister, no matter how strong, could uplift a huge nation like India onto a global platform all alone.
Mody’s unusual bonhomie with China raised many eyebrows. Within months of his swearing in, he hosted Xi Jinping in ‘Amdavad’ and elsewhere in his native Gujarat and took the bonhomie forward to meetings in New Delhi. The PM again hosted Xi in Mahabalipuram with a similar show of friendship.
The two leaders met frequently on many occasions in the past six years, and Xi himself hosted Modi in China. However, Xi’s intentions have never been unclear. While all this show was on, in between came Doklam. India sent its army to defend Bhutan’s soil against a Chinese usurpation attempt but failed simply because India’s political outlook was confused. Also, in these years, China repeatedly blocked Indian attempts to book terror outfit leader Hafeez Saeed fighting the Kashmir ‘cause’ from the Pakistani soil. India’s attempts to gain a foothold on global fora like the Nuclear Suppliers Group were also thwarted by China.
Under Modi, India’s foreign policy apparatus went for a toss. It repeatedly sided with the US which had a now-on-now-off kind of response. As the Chinese media joked, a couple of years ago, India was a beauty seeking to court one and all at the same time. The pitfalls in such a policy are all too clear now. We are neither here nor there, and caught between the Devil and the Deep Sea. We are losing friends and failing to gain new allies.
Diplomacy has a character of its own. A mix of national and mutual interests dictates its contours. A notion to change its content through the instrument of personal friendships is a fallacy and is unknown only to novices in that art. Jawaharlal Nehru as first prime minister trusted the Chinese and ended up in a Chinese aggression in 1962, when China ran over vast swathes of Indian territories in the east as also the west along the northern border. Nehru’s statement that these were barren lands where “not a grass grew” was principally borne out of India’s lack of preparedness to face the Chinese squarely.
The Chinese deceit left bitter memories in Indian minds. But that was in the 1960s. India was not a country as it is at present. It has moved forward and its people are globally recognized as intelligent and capable. Yet a confused leadership is capable of sending soldiers unarmed to face an enemy that intends to kill. And funnily enough, when questioned, the excuse offered is that this was an old agreement of the previous government and needed to be upheld even now. Very few question these vague reasons and ask why such idiotic deeds of the past governments have not been reviewed and acted upon by the present smart ruler.
It is likely that history created by Nehru is repeating itself in this Modi era. Major course corrections in India’s foreign policy formulations and also in their implementation are certainly required but it is doubtful if the present governance system can afford to admit the truth. Accepting the bitter truth may be India’s best course forward.
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