India’s foreign policy has been blinkered if not totally swallowed by an obsession with what Pakistan is doing or not doing

Voices Tuesday, April 07, 2015 - 05:30
By Chitra Subramaniam In one of his interviews in the final days of the elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi responding, to a question on India’s relations with the world said, India’s self-interest is India’s foreign policy. No Indian head of government has said that in so few words recently. Shorn of diplomacy and the language of the sherpas, it boils down to just that. Most think tanks, strategic experts and foreign policy pundits in New Delhi got the Lok Sabha verdict wrong. Obviously informed and entertained by them, international media houses also failed to capture that something seriously significant was happening across India. There are several reasons for this, but three bear mention. One, India’s foreign policy has been blinkered if not totally swallowed by an obsession with what Pakistan is doing or not doing. “Slamming” Pakistan in international, bilateral and multilateral forums was a career path in the foreign office – everything else seemed to follow from. Secondly, an entire generation of people who now work in key political and economic positions in Brussels and London, Sao Paolo, Geneva, Moscow, Washington and Beijing, for example, have grown up after 1989, when the cold war officially ended. What is happening between Russia and the Ukraine is not comparable to China’s designs on Arunachal Pradesh for the simple reason and even unique reason that Europe including Russia has been a continent at war for thousands of years and India as a country is 66 years old. China and Russia will jointly conduct naval exercises this month – something which large section of the western media seems to underplay and fail to underline the links that are being forged between Moscow, Tehran and Beijing. China is also very present in Africa and has been for over a decade ensuring raw materials for its own industrial take off as well as a supplier to other developing countries. India woke up late to this reality and opportunity. The rise of jihadi terrorism has also exposed India in new and different ways. Old calculations cannot be used as a road map for new delusions. The decision to not invite Russia to the G-7 party today but meet Vladimir Putin separately in bilateral meetings is an indication of the survival-turmoil. Read more: G7 to meet without Russia in Brussels Thirdly, India has depended far too long on the UK, USA and their relationship with China to define its own. This is important. Narendra Modi and his team would be well advised to look at foreign policy as a result of what India wants and not and a consequence of what others are doing. The overtures from Japan, Israel, Australia and Germany are all signs of new and evolving parametres. The fact that the USA is not able to cut much ice in Europe sends out one message, its rebounding economy and business with China, quite another. The May 16th mandate for change also spoke to India as an emerging power in this new context. Commenting on new challenges and new dimensions, a member of India’s security team told The News Minute (TNM) “It should be in the interest of all countries to ensure India’s economic prosperity and strategic defence.” For that India’s trump card is the country’s domestic market. Till such time as New Delhi-based intellectuals and strategic thinkers continue to ask capitals in western-Europe and America what they think of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s electoral tally, they will remain slaves of their own myopia. Prime Ministers will always be asked questions on foreign policy issues, but when was the last time you saw or heard any journalist anywhere in the world ask a head of state or government about foreign policy itself? That’s because in most countries – including some dictatorships – it is assumed that the starting point of any engagement with a foreign country is driven by what such an engagement can mean for national interest. The Prime Minister has also said economic diplomacy will be an integral part of India’s outward push. There is urgent work necessary in that area – India missed the first turning in the 1990s when many nations were looking at New Delhi as a counter to rising China. While that ship has set sail long, India now has an opportunity to build an entirely new vessel. The BRICS summit in Brazil next month may be an opportunity to begin designing a new approach – or it may not be as Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa (BRICS) never ever took off as an economic and political that it was promoted.One thing is certain. The new regime in New Delhi has rattled the usual suspects and usual diplomacy. The invitation to SAARC countries to attend the swearing-in ceremony in India was a master-stroke - India expects more and nothing less. Chitra Subramaniam, The News Minute's Editor-in-chief, is a journalist most known for her reporting on Bofors. She has been a UN correspondent, reported on the Bosnian war, GATT-WTO, Arms Control, among other issues.

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