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Indian foreign policy: Foreign or provincial?

[MISC, Saturday, 31 March 2012 07:32 No Comment]

(The Economic Times) The democratically elected political executive and Parliament are held solely responsible for the formulation and implementation of foreign and defence polices. On the basis of this logic, the Constitution makers had clearly defined and demarcated jurisdictional boundaries by assigning foreign and strategic policy making roles only to the central government and limited the role of regional-state governments to deal with local law and order and developmental activities. So, in the more than six decades of post-Independence phase of democracy, foreign and defence policies have been pursued by the central government on the basis of its perceptions of national interests.

Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi as prime ministers followed the policy of non-alignment with two power blocs in the post-world war phase of the international structure of power. The collapse of the USSR meant this bipolarity in international relations was replaced by a unipolar global order and India adjusted and adapted its foreign and defence policies accordingly. But, unfortunately, we are now witnessing a new process where foreign policy-making is becoming subservient to short-sighted political interests of regional-state parties and leaders who are working contrary to the logic of our national foreign policy interests and objectives.

For example, Sheikh Hasina, as PM of Bangladesh, and leader of the secular and pro-India Awami League, extended a hand of friendship and PM Manmohan Singh, recognising the strategic importance of friendly neighbours like Bangladesh, decided to visit that country with a view to strengthen and cement the bonds of friendship. Mamata Banerjee, the maverick and temperamental chief minister of Bengal and a troublesome ally of the Congress-led UPA government, acted as a spoiler by not only vetoing the Teesta River water sharing talks but also by not joining the prime minister’s delegation to Bangladesh. The national interest was subordinated to the minor river water issue of one state government and the UPA abdicated its national responsibility by keeping its alliance partner in good humour.

Then, M Karunanidhi, the electorally rejected leader of the DMK of Tamil Nadu, inflicted a long-term injury on foreign policy by raising the issue of the Sri Lankan Tamilian cause at a most inopportune time. The US-sponsored Resolution seems quite innocuous because it asks Sri Lanka to implement recommendations made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission to probe the killings in the 2009 war against the LTTE.

But the real goal is to investigate the ‘war crimes’ of a ‘toxic war’. What happened between March14, when Pranab Mukherjee said that ‘India does not vote on country-specific resolutions in the UNHRC’, and March 19, when the PM told Parliament that ‘We are inclined to vote’? It’s just that a discredited DMK woke up from slumber to act as champion of the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils with a view to curry favour with a section of the Tamil Nadu population. And Manmohan Singh bent foreign policy by mortgaging it to region-state leaders.

Was there a national consensus behind the government’s foreign policy misadventure? Was any attempt made to involve all parties on such a serious issue? The vote in the UNHRC has not only isolated India from other Asian countries, it has conveyed a message that India is an interfering Big Brother as far as small neighbouring countries are concerned. The Sri Lankan government is not going to forget India’s role on the US-led resolution and it will definitely exercise its options to provide more space and facilities to India’s rivals like Pakistan and China.

India is likely to pay a very heavy price if it makes foreign policy a football game where ‘regionalists’ begin to dictate and decide the directions of policy. How would India react if Pakistan gets support in the UNHRC for gross violations of human rights by India in ‘Indian-occupied Kashmir’? Would America allow a probe into its own war crimes in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan? If India cannot agree to any probe on human rights violations in the ‘disturbed’ states of Jammu and Kashmir and the North East, it should, clearly, have remained neutral on Sri Lanka.

India is gradually losing the larger picture if its role in global affairs is to be determined by regional-state parties. It is a dangerous trend in foreign policy because ‘local factors’ cannot be allowed to dictate strategic and defence policies for the whole country.

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