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Why India's foreign policy needs strong economic element

Last updated on: September 16, 2011 15:47 IST

Why India's foreign policy needs strong economic element

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Faisal Kidwai

India can be a major politico-economic force, but it needs leadership that understands the power of billion-dollar investments and is not afraid to flex its muscle, says Faisal Kidwai.


A friend visited Ukraine's capital Kiev a couple of years ago and told me that one of the biggest local markets in the city was once under the control of Russian mafia, but then a Sikh businessman came and somehow managed to take over the entire market.

Now, that is India's enterprising story.

Indian businessmen, from billionaires like the Ambanis to small traders from Kerala and elsewhere, are making their mark in far-off, and sometimes difficult, lands across the world, but somehow the Indian government is missing from action in many of these places.

Contrast this with the Chinese approach, where it is the government that goes out of its way to make the first push and then the businessmen piggyback.

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Photographs: Reuters
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Why India's foreign policy needs strong economic element

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The Indian approach has two major shortcomings.

Firstly, it makes the job of those who want to explore business opportunities much more time- and money-consuming; especially in areas where doing business is difficult, such as Central Asia or certain parts of Africa.

Secondly, since the government's role is either completely missing or is limited, Indians are unable to use political muscle to obtain greater access to markets and easier flow of capital.

So while Indian businessmen are investing billions of dollars all around the world, India is failing to play a meaningful role on the world stage.

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Photographs: Reuters
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Why India's foreign policy needs strong economic element

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China, on the other hand, not only makes way for its businessmen, it is also emerging as a major political force in the world.

Take the case of Africa. For the past few years, China has been buying just about everything, including land, there to feed its industry and agriculture needs.

Even the famously inward-looking country like Saudi Arabia has been on a buying spree in Africa.

And India? Well, apparently, our foreign office has much better things to do, such as where to hold the next NAM meeting.

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Photographs: Reuters
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Why India's foreign policy needs strong economic element

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Or take the case of Central Asia, a region blessed with natural gas and minerals.

India's total exports to Central Independent States in 2009-10 were $1418.41 million compared to previous fiscal of $1,666.53 million, which means there was a negative growth of 14.89 per cent.

So, in a region that includes energy-rich Kazakhstan, India's already meagre trade fell even further.

The reasons for the lacklustre foreign policy vis a vis economics are many, but the major ones are our obsession with the Western markets, the foreign office bureaucracy that is simply unable to translate economic power into political one and our leaders' failure to look beyond Pakistan and China.

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Photographs: Reuters
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By the way, it is time we stopped taking Pakistan's name whenever India's name comes up, Pakistan is not by any stretch of imagination in the same league as India.

And, while we are at it, could we also accept the fact that China is economically way ahead of us? Thank you.

With the West facing a decline, Japan still struggling and Australia cramped by distance, the field is wide open for India to become a major politico-economic force, but for it to do that, it needs leadership that is not afraid to flex its muscle, that understands the power of billion-dollar investments and one that actually believes it is fit to sit at the global high table.


Photographs: Reuters
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