These are times when Indian foreign policy keeps meandering. It ducks and then it resurfaces, it stands still lost in thoughts and then it dashes forward – only to go subterranean – and the next thing you know, it reemerges and begins dashing backward.
No coherent foreign policy vision seems to exist at the top, conceptual thinking seems to have dried out. Paucity of brain power? Difficult to say – because, Delhi doesn’t lack the ‘apparatus’ or the mandarins to push the files or the resources.
Anyway, in these times of pedestrian thinking, any flash of originality immediately catches the mind’s eye. Amidst the recantation of India’s China policy by Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai in his Wednesday’s address at the National Defence College, I found a nugget of incredible originality. ‘Eureka!’ I am tempted to call it the ‘Mathai Doctrine’. No matter whether it has been his ingenuity or the result of collective brain power in the PMO, Mathai did articulate the doctrine and so it rightfully belongs to him.
Mathai said: “The rapid strides in economic and military capabilities of China and the manner in which China exercises its power is being followed carefully not only by us but by other neighbours in East Asia, ASEAN and beyond.” I surmise this is not an off-the-cuff remark, since Mathai always reads out from briefs even during his rare press briefings.
The doctrine is at once a brain teaser and a provocation to the intellect. It is intriguing that India is taking up a collective ‘grievance’ about China just as a Special Representatives meeting with China is due. Can it be that there has been a secret mandate given to PM Manmohan Singh by the ASEAN to represent their interests and concerns vis-a-vis China when the Chinese SR arrives in Delhi? Or, can it be that India is suo moto insisting that it articulates the collective voice of the southeast Asian and far eastern countries of the Asian continent regarding China’s rise?
Either way, there is novelty here. Even Jawaharlal Nehru was not given such a sweeping mandate as the voice of Asia. Certainly, Nehru wasn’t immodest, either, despite his stature as a Colossus on the world stage to arrogate to himself the prerogative to voice third countries’ collective opinions regarding China.
Or, can it be that PM Manmohan Singh had a nasty showdown with his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao at Bali last week and Mathai is gradually letting us into that dark secret? Beijing gives the contrary impression that Manmohan Singh and Wen hit it off well in Bali and took quite an exciting excursion exploring the potentials of ‘win-win’ situations in the two countries’ bilateral relationship. Was it all bluff? Maybe, Mathai knows something we don’t know.
What is absolutely clear, though, is that the ‘Mathai Doctrine’ poses challenging questions. India should be consistent. If this is a new foreign-policy doctrine, India shouldn’t hesitate to speak about the US or France, too. There are dozens of countries in the world which throughly disapprove of the ‘manner’ in which the US and France have ‘exercised their power’ in the most recent period since last December when a street hawker in Tunis took his life in sheer despair and all hell broke loose in the Middle East and North Africa.
In fact, it is reprehensible that US is threatening Iran (India’s ‘civilisational’ partner) and indulging in covert operations to destabilise that country and this is happening right in front of our eyes at India’s very doorstep. So much is happening in our extended neighbourhood and yet India is speechless.
India’s foreign policy is not one-dimesional. It is not just about China. It is also about a multipolar world; it is also about the centrality of international law and the UN Charter in the conduct of inter-state relations; it is also about settlement of differences through dialogue and negotiations and not through bloody violence; it is also about justice and fairplay and equitable relationship in the world order; it is also about an international system that rejects unilaterlist interventions in sovereign countries.
We would do well to keep in mind the perennially green maxim in life – ‘Do what you’d like to be done by’. Our mandarins should take time out, sit alone, lock up the door and switch off the telephone and ask one straightforward question: How would India’s neighbours view its ‘rapid strides in economic and military capabilities’ and what dark fears they could be harbouring about the ‘manner in which India exercises its power’ or about the intentions behind India’s massive militarization programme. They do ‘follow carefully’ India’s moves.
But then, it doesn’t matter to India a wee bit what others think about it. Suffice to say, there should be a limit to hubris – especially at a time when the Indian rupee is nosediving, the economy is visibly slowing down, chronic poverty is rising, foreign investors are calling back their money, repayment burden looms ahead and an indecisive leadership presides over all this.
Posted in Politics.
– November 24, 2011