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India's time warped foreign policy needs shock therapy

By Pramod Kumar Buravalli
October 22, 2013 16:48 IST
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What is India’s foreign policy? Every external affairs spokesman or ambassador or self-appointed “cultural ambassador” will parrot the same line; “democratic India’s foreign policy is deeply rooted in non-alignment” and in our firm belief in Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’.

But, what about BRICS or the ‘look east’ policy? And by the way are we still siding with the Russians when it comes to military exports or do we want to be seen as a country that apportions its military hardware contracts proportional to trade deficits and other geo-political considerations.

Leave alone far flung western and eastern nations, look at the state of our relationships with our immediate neighbours. Our prime minister cannot go to Sri Lanka because sundry parties from Tamil Nadu have an election round the corner. He can’t sign water sharing and border swapping agreements with Bangladesh because West Bengal-based parties don’t want him to make deals with a pro-India leader lest the opposition comes to power in the next elections. How sad is that?   

And forget anything meaningful with Pakistan or China. These countries seem to have perennial issues with India no matter who is at the helm of affairs in Delhi or what we do. Our very existence seems to bother them to no end.

To say that India has no foreign policy is an understatement. We never wanted to have a foreign policy. I guess the founding fathers were so exhausted debating what should be in our Constitution that they forgot to define the nature of our relationship with the outside world.

In fact, having fought outside interferences and influences all their lifetimes, they might have assumed that the future generations of Indians will be extra careful in their approach but alas, that is not the case! 

Successive administrations in Delhi continued a policy of nonchalance due to their belief that they needed to buy more time in order to ensure India’s survivability but by persisting too much in the ‘survival mode’, they ensured that the defeatist attitude became the mainstay of foreign policy.

Delhi did not bother when Myanmar was calling for help, they never came to the rescue of Nepal when China was standing on its doorstep spreading Maoist tentacles, they were misled into playing both sides in Sri Lanka and with Pakistan, they continued to expect a miracle that will never come!

All this confusion comes from a lack of understanding of whom we really are and our incompetence in making a space of our own in the economy of the day.

If all that has been done is wrong, what in heaven can now be done?

Every single experiment in our foreign policy from the past has not been a failure. We continue to have bi-partisan consensus on relationships with Israel, Japan, France and some of the major African and ASEAN countries. Not all is lost with Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar but these are not days and times when you can wear the sleeve of your myriad culture and strut the world claiming to have taught about peace and harmony.

No matter how much India would like to portray itself as a land that talks and walks for “world peace”, foreign policy cannot be shaped or defined based on the confused construct of Indian secularism.

You talk secularism, Pakistan will talk jihad. You talk world peace, China will bulldoze its way into Arunachal Pradesh and you talk non alignment, America and Russia will continue to treat you as a dumping ground for older and obsolete technologies.

When Indian businessmen or political leaders sit at the high chair of world powers, the first question that is asked of them is what is unique from India?

Does India produce anything other than services or low cost manpower, does its technical prowess extend beyond reverse engineering and more importantly what is worth propagating in terms of your economic theory?

Unless India goes back to re-defining its own identity based on civilizational ethos and evolves an economic school of thought that is based on Swayam Shakti, Karma, Trupti and Moksha, all efforts to portray itself as a modern republic will fall flat on its face.

India may never go to war but war has always come to India. It is better that India defines its identity first before embarking on writing foreign policy guidelines and trade doctrines.

And with that I quote a person that many in India hated:

“A country that demands moral perfection in its foreign policy will achieve neither perfection nor security” -- Henry Kissinger

Image: Activists wearing masks of G-20 leaders US President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former Chinese President Hu Jintao wave during a protest in Mexico.

Photograph: Edgard Garrido/Reuters


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