India’s foreign policy has become ‘vote bank’ oriented

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By Syed Ali Mujtaba

India’s foreign policy is in a transitional mode. There are some conspicuous features that have visibly crept into India’s foreign policy.  Earlier foreign office handled the foreign affairs with well-defined objectives goals and end results but now it’s PMO that is directly controlling the external affairs ministry.

Since our beloved Prime Minister is the sole architect of the new foreign policy, no one can dare question his super human wisdom and his tough decisions are drummed as a statesman’s statecraft . As such what is visible in India’s foreign policy is the urgency to break from the past and redefine the objectives in ultra nationalist paradigm. Under Prime Minister Nrandra Modi there are few conspicuous features in India’s foreign policy that needs to be highlighted before doing any surgical operation on it.

The first visible feature is to re-calibrate India’s foreign policy by aligning it with ultra-nationalist considerations. In the Modi government’s foreign policy agenda there is a strong link with internal consideration of vote bank politics with the external affairs of the country. Earlier, the internal consideration had had no reflection on the foreign policy, the two were treated differently. And there used to be continuity in foreign policy objectives irrespective of government in power. But now there is a break from the past and two are being aligned in the new foreign policy discourse. This is reflected in the foreign policy fixation on Pakistan, Terror, And Jammu and Kashmir. While the sole focus of Indian politics is to wring much mileage from these three subjects, the external affairs department is also preoccupied with the same fixation to satisfy the ultra nationalist vote bank.

The second feature of India’s new foreign policy is the make believe assumption that India is militarily and economically no push over. The current government believes that India’s economic and military clout is so huge that it can be used as tools to gain advantage vis-à-vis other countries. The “Kashmir victory” has given confidence to the Indian leadership that spineless international community cannot influence its arbitrary decisions due to country’s growing military and economic clout.  The wisdom of the foreign policy makers is that democracy can be redefined as “will of the state and the larger international community will not question such assumption due fear of loosing the gains from vast Indian market.

The third striking feature in India’s foreign policy is risk taking attitude of the policy makers. In the new strategic thinking the buzz word is to be offensive in foreign policy practices.  The 2016 surgical strikes against Pakistan after the Uri terror attack. The Doklam standoff in 2017 with China. The Balakot air strikes against Pakistan in Feb 2019 after Pulwama terror attacks, are all examples of risk-ridden moves in India’s foreign policy agenda. The decision taken by the Central government on August 5  to in-operate Article 370 and 35 A in Jammu and Kashmir is yet another example of such risk-taking taking attitude introduced in India’s external diplomacy.

The fourth feature of India’s foreign policy is to do away with the pretenses of normative behavior and moral high grounds in external affairs discourse. India has broken away from the past where it was a fashion to be internally liberal and externally realist but now there is black and white like clarity in India’s foreign policy on many complex issues. Be it defiance of UN on India’s Kashmir policy, relations with Israel or ties with the US, the political rhetoric is merged with foreign policy realism. The current regime is peeved to advocate ambiguity in statecraft but prefer clarity in India’s foreign policy  to achieve desired goals. Now speech is act too and that is a big break from the past in foreign policy agenda.

The fifth hallmark of the new foreign policy is the external behavior is being domestically politicized.  It seems that the leadership of the country does a cost and benefits analysis while taking foreign policy decisions with an eye on vote bank politics. The surgical strike on Pakistan and later the Balakot Air Strike on Pakistan and recently abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A are all decisions to cater to domestic consumption and gain political mileage.

A high-pitched rhetoric around Pakistan, Jammu and Kashmir and terrorism is another hallmark in India’s foreign policy. Country’s obsession with Pakistan has been there since the Partition of India. But there have been many phases of peace and conflict in India- Pakistan relations. However, now ultra-nationalism has become the dominant feature in India’s foreign policy while dealing with Pakistan. Couched in ultra-nationalist lingo, India’s external affairs managers are teaching a lesson or two to Pakistan. Instead of forward-looking and system-shaping narratives with Pakistan, India’s foreign policy makers are setting terms and conditions to mend relations with Pakistan. The new India’s foreign policy pursuit’s vis-à-vis Pakistan is another yet striking feature in external affairs discourse.

In India’s new foreign policy thinking a new narrative is being scripted. on Kashmir. Now Kashmir is no more a disputed territory between India and Pakistan. The accession of the territory by the King is the final verdict in according to the new definition democracy which means will of the ruler and not the people is supreme. The way article 370 and 35 A has been made inoperative, political leaders arrested, youth taken into custody, communication system blocked, a large number armed forces being deployed all points to the fact that the will of the people do not matter in the new definition of democracy which is all about the will of the rulers. Currently Kashmir is ruled under shadow of gun. The state terror is manifest in the valley and its no go area for any Indian. So far India’s new policy on Kashmir has worked well to satisfy it’s the ultra-nationalist constituency but it has a disaster for India at the global stage. India has become a talking point in international arena and its image has taken a beating because of the ill conceived policy on Kashmir. Even three months after the announcement to make Kashmir a developmental paradise there is no forward movement happening there.

Another another striking feature of India’s new foreign policy is to blow the trumpet of zero tolerance towards terrorism. India is milking the adage to the hilt for its advantage, so much so that with one  broom is has swept aside both Kashmir and Pakistan. India feigns ignorance about how the  international community has made Pakistan a hub of terrorism and instead of showing sympathies it is asking the international community to  label Pakistan as epic center of terrorism. This narrative of India on terror has proved to be costly. It has lost Afghanistan because of its refusal to recognize Taliban as the legitimate contender of assuming power. How can India talk to Taliban when it is adamant not to engage Pakistan or the militant groups in Jammu and Kashmir as it does not fall in line of its antics of zero tolerance on terrorism.

In sum one wonders whether these foreign policy shifts are for the betterment of the country or meant for the ruling dispensation to perpetually remain in power  India’s unrelenting obsession with hyper nationalism in foreign policy has hardly produced any results. Even a sophomore monitoring foreign policy antics can point falsies in India’s new foreign policy discourse. The new foreign policy has not fixed any of the contentious problems rather it has them more complex. There is no forward movement being made in any of the fancy subjects since new foreign policy agenda is being practiced. The new foreign policy is not based on realism but on self-aggrandizement and make believe assumptions. It has been pushed to a level from where there is no retreat and if that is done it may amount to national shame.It means that the country’s valuable diplomatic assets and accumulated goodwill are being compromised. There is virtually no achievements made by the current government by the pursuance of new foreign policy antics. The shifting sand of India’s foreign policy is more hype than pragmatism attached to foreign statecraft.

Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba2007@gmail.com

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