Opinion Op Ed 09 Dec 2017 State of the Union: ...
Manish Tewari is a lawyer and a former Union minister. The views expressed are personal. Twitter handle @manishtewari

State of the Union: Amid new realities, India must keep its balance

Published Dec 9, 2017, 1:03 am IST
Updated Dec 9, 2017, 1:03 am IST
Let us see how far we have come from 2014, when the NDA assumed power.
Fake machismo and bombast have been the hallmarks of the current government as against a measured and mature approach required for effective conduct of the foreign policy.
 Fake machismo and bombast have been the hallmarks of the current government as against a measured and mature approach required for effective conduct of the foreign policy.

With the NDA government’s tenure coming to an end, let us take stock of the ground realities so far as the national security strategy and the country’s foreign policy is concerned. Let us see how far we have come from 2014, when the NDA assumed power. Are our medium and long-term interests in place?
In my opinion, the previous 42 months have been a complete waste; the Central government squandered away all its chances of making a meaningful contribution to the world stage.

Let me first talk about foreign policy. Fake machismo and bombast have been the hallmarks of the current government as against a measured and mature approach required for effective conduct of the foreign policy. The results are there for all to see — relations with Pakistan are in deep freeze, the bond with
Nepal has not recovered from the blockade of 2015, Sri Lanka is bending towards China with major infrastructure projects in Colombo and elsewhere being underwritten by our eastern neighbour, the Maldives has brushed aside India’s objections and signed a free trade agreement with China that has portentous implications for India’s national security and even in Bhutan, there are ominous murmurings in the intelligentsia over India’s handling of the Doklam issue.

 

What’s more: India’s relationship with China is strained, with Russia, it has tripped, with the US, it has not moved beyond the rhetoric and with the European Union, it is deadlocked over free trade negotiations. Africa, Latin America and South America have just fallen off the map.

The only exception is Japan, with whom we have a newfound bonhomie, exemplified by the relaunch of the Quad (Quadrilateral diplomatic formation involving the United States, Japan, Australia and India). However, the sheet anchor of this arrangement is going through an incredibly mercurial phase which makes its construct tenuous, to say the least. There is nothing that the government has in its bag that can be touted as a foreign policy success.

 

On the national security front, the government has blundered continuously. It perhaps doesn’t realise that the coercive power of the State has to be used like a stiletto, not a bludgeon. Kashmir is a classic example of misplaced use of brute force that has turned the Valley into a powder keg. The government’s handling of the Gorkhaland agitation leaves a lot to be desired. And the “mythical” Naga Accord is another example of how the government has given the underground Naga groups a long rope to ostensibly re-equip, retrain and rejuvenate.

 

The question, therefore, is how does India move forward on foreign policy and internal security once the current government’s term comes to an end in 2019? The answer lies not in crafting a new doctrine but in restoring the balance that seems to have been lost. First and foremost, India has to recognise that the much-yearned for green shoots of multi-polarity in the international order are finally visible and have to be handled effectively. The elements of this new paradigm that are germane to India’s interests include Donald Trump’s isolationism, Russia’s reassertion, China’s new imperialist assertiveness, the European Union’s reinvention post-Brexit and aggravated Shia-Sunni differences and their militaristic manifestation in the Middle East led by Iran and Saudi Arabia respectively.

 

How should India then handle this new reality? First, it must recognise that when the US says that it want its friends and allies to share the burden of global policing, it means every single word of it. The US is exhausted after its long-drawn engagement in Iraq and its continuing operations in Afghanistan and needs time for its internal reconsolidation. So, India must not be a part of any multilateral security alliance, structure or arrangement that has the US as its sheet anchor.

Russia has remarkably recouped its “net national power” in a short span of a quarter of a century after losing territory, currency, legitimacy and prestige post the dismemberment of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991. This was expected. Anyone who is familiar with the saga of Soviet resilience during World War II knows it was just a matter of time that Russia would bounce back. India should revitalise its relationship with Russia while taking care not to relive the bonhomie of the Indo-Soviet Friendship Treaty era.

 

After the recent party congress, China has entered a strange phase. The carefully-cultivated balance of power within the Communist Party of China in the post-Mao era seems to have been upended by President Xi Jinping, who has his own gameplan. The One-Belt-One-Road initiative isn’t just a connectivity project but the one that has been designed to seek global strategic depth. Hence, along with building its own capacity, India must keep a wary eye on its restive neighbour.

Post-Brexit, Europe is going through an interesting metamorphosis and now is the time for India to reinvest in its relationship with the European Union.
Events in the Middle East are hurtling towards a cataclysm. The soft coup by Prince Mohammad Bin Sultan in Saudi Arabia, Iran’s growing Shia footprint in the Middle East courtesy the Quds Force and the Hezbollah, US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital are parts of a dynamic that can upend the very fragile stability of a region that houses millions of Indian expatriates and workers. India would be very wise not to even touch this region with a barge pole, much less take sides in intra-Muslim conflicts.

 

As far as national security is concerned, what is required is the judicious use of both hard and soft power. A testosterone-heavy Ramboesque is always self-defeating. Whether it was Assam during the days of the AASU agitation or the separatist movement in Mizoram; the era of extremism and terrorism in Punjab or the Bodoland agitation, the successive Central governments, irrespective of their political denomination, have been sagacious while using the heavy hand of the State.

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