By Vijay Darda | 19-04-2016
A lot of our energy is usually expended in deliberating over our troubles with Pakistan and China whenever attention is focused on foreign policy affairs. This is quite natural because bulk of our security and strategic challenges emerge from Islamabad and Beijing. The fact is that these two countries in our neighbourhood have been fired by their hurt India policy objectives to such an extent that that they can even ignore the global threat posed by jihadi terrorism that gets protection from them. By acting in unison at the United Nations to block the decision to name Masood Azhar a terrorist at Pakistan’s behest China proved that when it comes to hurting India, it does not let any consideration make a difference.
From a moral standpoint this may seem a negative for Beijing, but then for quite some time this is the cornerstone of its foreign policy when it comes to India and its neighbours. Whether it is Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh or even the island of Maldives the entire Chinese game plan is anchored in its anti-India approach. In this respect, it is deploying not just its diplomatic and strategic resources but also pouring in financial assistance. It’s largest infrastructure building programme-One Belt,One Road-OBOR- also has the same strategic design, but the added feature is that extends beyond South Asia. It s economy may be witnessing a slowdown now but the Chinese geo-strategic ambitions are also now guided by its successes in the past few years in the global marketplace.
But it is not the hostility of the Chinese and the Pakistanis that is the only source of discomfort when it comes to our foreign policy affairs. Even countries like Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives are no longer ‘ completely friendly’ in any sense of terms. Indeed, none of these neighbours misses an opportunity to embarrass us, and then profit by striking a deal with China.
In the recent past, there have been instances of all these countries embracing the Dragon for economic gains. The consequences has been that there have been massive infrastructure investments or plans for making these resources available by Beijing. The fact that these investments and relationships fit neatly into the ambitious Chinese-one belt, one road project that seeks to enhance the land, sea and rail linkages to open up as many markets as possible for the utilisation of the over-capacities of the Chinese industry and to feed its monster economy is an added advantage for Beijing.
However, the fact that we have cultural, linguistic, ethnic, religious and even regional linkages with all our neighbours seems to have a curious negative effect on these relationships. So, although the Nepali citizen in India is treated at par with an Indian citizen, Nepal does not care for the sensibilities of the Madhesis who are closely linked with the Biharis. Similarly, the Tamils suffer in Sri Lanka, whereas the Malayalis are harassed in Maldives. It may be a matter of sound principle that domestic issues should not interfere with foreign policy approaches, but in India’s case it is not practically possible to create such an insulated divide. For instance, our dealings with Bangladesh cannot be immune from the politics of West Bengal.
If we look into the globalised context it shall emerge that the challenges of the foreign policy in the contemporary world are interwoven with the foreign economic policy objectives and we can succeed only to the extent that we are able to create an external environment which is conducive to all inclusive growth in the neighbouring countries as well. We cannot afford to create a situation where India as the bigger country is seen as the big brother, but it should be an equal partner using all diplomatic skills and political leverages with neighbours who are who are willing and eager for the joint exploration of natural resources which in turn can lead to win-win situations. But the reality is that instead of this approach being followed, we are bogged by irritants like a blockade against Nepal, or the throwing out of the GMR company from Maldives, or Chinese building ports in Sri Lanka, and getting exclusive rights from Pakistan for Gwadar port and infrastructure projects in the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
We have to accept the reality that economic growth and strategic strength are the twin elements of a country’s standing in the world order. So, even if we have the fastest growing economy in the world, and it is not backed by an equally strong strategic mechanism then it is also a drag on our overall national growth. In effect as the only South Asian major with borders across several countries, one of the tests of our strength is the way in which we manage our neighbourhood. If we keep suffering setbacks vis-a-vis our neighbours, then it casts an adverse reflection on our standing in the global order. Moreover, foreign policy is also more a matter of optics, and this has to be kept in the right shape at all costs.
It may not be possible to go back to the golden old days when as leader of opposition Atal Bihari Vajpayee was all praise for the then prime minister Indira Gandhi for the handling of the East Pakistan ( later Bangladesh) crisis, but then it should not be difficult at the bare minimum to hammer out a national consensus on the foreign policy, so that any setback can be faced unitedly. This challenge to put up a united face in the context of setbacks abroad is the most troubling aspect of the foreign policy disarray. It also needs to be pointed out that a policy that does not avoid disastrous consequences does not credit to those who practise and propound it.
Before I conclude…
In the context of the acute water shortage and drought in Maharashtra, it is good thing that the water guzzling IPL matches have been shifted out of the state from April 30th. But this is just a symbolic remedy. It has now be accepted by all experts that Maharashtra needs to adopt a judicious pattern in its use of water, and agriculture that suffers most during a drought is sector that needs urgent attention. The cropping pattern needs to change, and an open debate on sugarcane cultivation has become inevitable. We cannot afford to merely talk about such issues. The time is now for action, and one expects chief minister Devendra Fadnavis to take the lead and do the needful.