Opinion Columnists 08 Aug 2017 To project India glo ...
The writer is a former secretary in the external affairs ministry. He tweets at @ambkcsingh

To project India globally, show more unity at home

Published Aug 8, 2017, 12:43 am IST
Updated Aug 8, 2017, 12:43 am IST
The Doklam standoff flows from the logic of India dealing with China more stridently.
Representational image
 Representational image

The Lok Sabha debate on foreign policy last week was disappointing on several counts. First, the Opposition could have framed the issues better. Simply itemising worsened ties with most countries based on some recent episodes simplified external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s task as she argued effectively that the roots lay in the Congress-led UPA government’s 10-year rule. Second, regrettably, when the government is enforcing a red line at the Line of Actual Control abutting close friend Bhutan’s boundary with China, Parliament, instead of voicing unanimous support, aired dissonance. Third, the BJP riles the Opposition when each diplomatic move is treated as born of “immaculate conception” the morning of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in when, in fact, the themes are traceable to Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao and his successors. Mr Modi no doubt has brought new energy and a personalised style.
The immediate reason for the foreign policy domestic consensus breaking down is the aggressive attack by the BJP, not only during the Assembly elections but later by stealing mandates like in Goa by forming governments by luring Opposition MLAs, particularly of the Congress. To worsen matters, the BJP is using every agency under its command, brandishing new draconian laws for checking money-laundering and benami deals to browbeat its political opponents.

Dr Henry Kissinger in a recent piece “Chaos and order in a changing world” advises the West to rethink its geo-strategic concept — by redefining Atlanticism. But US President Donald Trump’s isolationist instincts and Britain’s exit from the European experiment render that difficult. Europe’s natural leader Germany is reluctant to lead. This vacuum is accompanied by instability in West Asia caused by the Islamic State’s rise and the collapse of governance in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. Dr Kissinger presciently quips that the enemy’s enemy may also be your enemy. Finally, a resurgent China by its “One Belt One Road” concept, floated in 2013 and with $900 billion so far invested in infrastructure projects, is shifting the global fulcrum from the Atlantic to Eurasia. The Modi government’s performance has to be measured against this background, and not by nitpicking policies in relation to one neighbour or another. What has the Modi government done to prepare India for the new world order or to shape it?

 

Sino-Indian relations can be analysed first. Since 2008, China has progressively become more aggressive in dealing with all neighbours. In case of India, improving Indo-US relations only increased Chinese paranoia. China blocking India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group and blocking the listing of terrorist Masood Azhar by the UN Security Council sanctions committee was already riling India. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) added fuel to it. China then pegged it to its OBOR initiative. At that point India had a policy choice. The Modi government took the nationalistic route, berating CPEC as infringing on Indian sovereignty as it transverses Gilgit-Baltistan, which are Indian as territories belonging to the former Kingdom of Kashmir.  The world not viewing OBOR as such put India in danger of being isolated. Western companies, including American ones, are salivating at the prospect of business deals. General Electric has already sold $2.3 billion of equipment. Caterpillar, Honeywell, etc are in queue to reap benefits.

 

Did the Modi government look at alternative approaches to have China accept in writing, as it does in the 1963 border agreement with Pakistan, that Gilgit-Baltistan is disputed territory as condition precedent to withdrawing its objections? Furthermore, India could have extracted support for NSG membership and China allowing Masood Azhar to be listed. It is possible China would not have agreed, but at least then India could use the Chinese obduracy to justify boycotting the Beijing Belt and Road Forum.  The Doklam standoff flows from the logic of India dealing with China more stridently. India’s neighbours are watching this shadow play carefully. Sri Lanka has already buckled, conceding control over 15,000 acres adjoining Hambantota port to offset the debt accruing from port development. The Chinese vice-president will be in Kathmandu just before external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj arrives there. In the Maldives, a pseudo-dictator is distorting constitutional processes. Worsening relations with China will make Indian management of relations with neighbours more challenging as they play one against the other.

 

Finally, the government’s handling of the West Asian imbroglio is flawed. Sequential dealing with potentates of the Gulf or West Asia without a grand strategy or empathy cannot obtain India influence. The “open mike” remark by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu that Mr Modi had quipped to him that he was unlikely to get water technology in Ramallah indicates prejudice that no Prime Minister of India must betray abroad. To allow gau rakshaks to lynch unimpeded on religious grounds would be noted in the Islamic world. Iran’s supreme leader repeatedly linking Kashmir to atrocities against Muslims elsewhere verbalises this concern. Senior minister Nitin Gadkari’s visit to fast-track the Chahbahar port project will fail unless Mr Modi is seen as abiding by the letter and spirit of the Indian Constitution.  The latest reports indicate a Taliban attack in Western Afghanistan originating in and supported by Iran. Iran, with Russian consent, is filling the power vacuum in a shattering post-World War I construct of West Asian states. Civilisational and historic powers like Iran and Turkey resent being patronised by transactional offers. India may not yet rival China militarily or economically, but India has always had greater soft power fuelled by Indian philosophy, tolerance, democracy, films, and the like. But the purveyors of Hindutva are eroding that. Mr Modi needs a political and socio-religious consensus at home and the moral authority derived from it to have the voice to shape the emerging global order in which old certainties are over.

 

...




ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
-->