Hug that failed

Hug that failed

Foreign policy bloomers

Hug that failed
Last year, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited top leaders of India’s neighbours for the oath-taking ceremony of his new government, it was hailed as a ‘master-stroke’ of diplomacy. Several heads of the SAARC nations were prominent by their presence there. Most important of them was Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan.

The heads of India and Pakistan hugged each other and that was commended as signaling a new and cheerful chapter in the relations between the two countries that had warred with each other several times in the past nearly seven decades of their existence as sovereign nations.

A year has passed and unfortunately we have not seen much to cheer in the bilateral relations between India and Pakistan. The violations across our border continue to happen in the Jammu and Kashmir region. Terrorists who are responsible for many killings in India continue to get safe haven in Pakistan. Encouragement of anti-India elements by Pakistan is going on unabated. Did the new government and all those scribes who hyped the hug really think that a hug would translate to happy times?

Similarly, our new government had raised excitement levels when the Chinese President visited us. Before and during the visit, it was said that China would invest huge amounts – hundreds of billions of dollars – in India’s infrastructure projects. While those hundreds of billions have yet to reach our boundaries, it was very disturbing for all of us that the Chinese President, right during this visit, allowed transgressions by the Chinese troops into India’s territory.

A slap in the face of hosts? We pooh-poohed it as some error by the Chinese military men ignorant of their President’s good intentions. However, China has once again given us a pin-prick. It expressed its displeasure when our prime minister visited Arunachal Pradesh recently. So, Sino-Indian relations stand as they had always been if not become worse.

Our NDA government’s penchant for interpreting visits, handshakes and hugs between the Indian and foreign top dignitaries for turning points in the two nations’ relations is really amazing. Among much of the rural and some of the urban areas in our country, people invite neighbours to major functions at home; such invitations and visits are considered to be an indication of cordiality between the neighbours. In a similar vein, our government too seems to equate neighbourly relations between nations to the personal hugs and handshakes. Is it naiveté on the part of the new government? This is really baffling.

The NDA government has been eager to portray our prime minister as a global statesman. However, statesmanship is neither conferred on a person by the number of high-level official visitors to his/her country nor by the number of countries s/he officially visits. Statesmanship is in his/her ‘being’ and in ‘doing’ – that is, her/his ‘state of the mind’ and ‘the results produced’.

While there are no permanent friends or enemies in global politics or in any politics, there are certain ‘basic principles’ or ‘points of general agreement’ on which the relations between two countries depend. These basic principles form the bond between the nations. During Jawaharlal Nehru’s time, it was Non-Alignment Movement.

Of course, one need not always have similar high-level ideals. Even a common general agreement on economic-and-political methods can be a base for a more permanent friendship as seen in the case of the US and the UK. They agree on establishing supremacy over nations that are resource rich.

Damp squib meet

If India helps its geographical neighbours like Bangladesh, Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka into supporting them in becoming economic hubs, their friendship with India would also grow. But, this is not happening. The SAARC meeting of 2014 was a damp squib. Statesmanship is in understanding their aspirations and lending a helping hand towards the realisation of those aspirations. Did we – India – offer such a helping hand to our neighbours? Obviously, we have not.

The result is that after all the personal honour being bestowed on the Sri Lankan President during the oath-taking function of the new government in India, the new Sri Lankan prime minister has rudely stated that “If any Indian fisherman crosses into Sri Lankan waters, he may be shot at.” That is where the relations between India and Sri Lanka stand today. Inter-personal equations may work in inter-country relations once in a way, but what matter are the politically sensitive and the economic issues.

It is not important whether our Prime Minister Modi calls President Obama of the US by his first name ‘Barack’. In a public meeting in India, during our Republic Day celebrations this year, Modi referred to the US President as “Barack” signifying that they were on first name terms with each other. It may have impressed a few Indian citizens, but when President Obama went back home, he expressed his concern about what he thought as ‘religious and other intolerance’ in India.

Did this diplomatic ‘one more master stroke’ of inviting the US President as the Chief Guest at our Republic Day function help us? The answer is obviously in the negative. Americans are good businesspersons. What they need is real ‘ease of doing business’ which we will not be able to provide in the near future. The US wants India to be a part of the ‘Asian pivot’ strategy to contain China; which we should never agree to.

Crux of the foreign policy is in knowing what we can deliver and what we could get in return. Diplomacy is not run on global political naiveté but on a realistic assessment of give and take.

(The writer is former Professor, Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore)
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