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The Mathai Doctrine poses problems

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. 

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3 Responses

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  1. Mahendra Patel says

    SO FAR I CAN TELL, THERE IS NO WELL DEFINED FOREIGN POLICY DOCTRINE
    BY PUA I or UPA II.

    THEY MAKE FEW STATEMENTS HERE THERE AND EVERY WHERE – THAT INCLUDE, OUR PRESIDENT, VICE-PRESIDENT AND OUR GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS AND MINISTERS, NONE MATCH EACH OTHER NOT ONLY THAT THEY SOME TIMES CONTRADICT EACH OTHER, THAT INCLUDE OUR VOTE IN UN, IN RECENT CASE IN SECTION AGAIST IRAN.

    PUBLICLY WE SAY WE ARE WITH IRAN BUT OUR VOTE IN UN IS COTRARY TO WHAT IS SAID PUBLICLY IN INDIAN MEDIA OR OUR SPOKE PERSONS.

    THAT’S THE STATUS OF OUR FOREIGN POLICY INTITIAVES IS, AND CITIZENS NOR OUR POLITICAL PARTIES ARE TAKEN INTO COHERENT FOREIGN POLICY FORMULATION.

  2. tick says

    What is absolutely clear, though, is that the ‘Mathai Doctrine’ poses challenging questions.
    ———————————–

    Fortunately The For Sec was talking in less than formal setting. Such internal communication may not cause any damage. However, the issue raised by Mr Bhadrakumar is pertinent. This veering away from an Indian context to a bloc mind-set may have been subconsciously induced here by For Sec’s personality profile, but such second-fiddle mindset abounds in this establishment where placements are probably directed by shades of opinion owing allegiance to the dynastic dispenser of power, who it appears are brokers for Western nations.

    This lack of adherence to swatantrata ideals is a come down which has been prevalent in our administration and body-politic for decades. We have not so much a governance by free men, but governance by a darbari mindset beset with reservation, favoritism, personal loyalties, sharing of spoils etc. Yet, within this ossified structure the soundness and vitality of rest of India somehow permeates through, mostly due to osmosis of ideas and emotions via vibrant rough and tumble of our truly amazing politics. One such effort is that of Mr Bhadrakumar which hopefully would serve as an effective foil to taming of Indian independent foreign policy discourse.

    One swallow does not make a summer, there is no need to press a panic button here. Under our able PM, there is much good which is being done, and checks and balances are very much in place for measured and perceptive inferences for quality policy making. Though it would be of interest to know how India would react to a new set of sanctions by Western nations outside the ambit of UN. It would a real test case for our diplomacy.

    If India is unable to counter, atleast ignore the sanctions, if it chooses to abide by the sanctions either openly or surreptitiously via some convenient device, it would indicate inability to handle policy on legal merit consistent with swatantrata spirit, it would be triumph for Mathai doctrine of joining the bloc under the leadership of a Super power.

    While it is true that western hawks shall try to show Indian move to resist sanctions as joining Russia and China, but that is clearly not the premise on which such an India policy stance on Iran sanction would be formulated. These western hawks need to be countered effectively, and sober policy makers in the developed nations are likely to respect India which can not be messed with, and they will also find distancing themselves away from India in a process to pressure India counter-productive. The role of non-aligned India as a provider of stability in the extended neighbourhood would be real only then. While, any role to be a bloc player can only amplify instability in the region.

  3. Force Kirpan says

    I beg to raise few minor objections. Trivial ones at that. I am very keen to know what Iranian diplomats, leaders and public think about their ‘civilisational partner’ India. I assume, persians invaded India, settled here but continued to speak in native persian, as an official court language in those times. I don’t see many persians ever learned hindi words, apart from what they watch in bollywood movies. Iran can be a strategic partner of India. And because of our close proximity our civilization was often invaded by persian civilization. Nevertheless, after the dust and din of battles settled, brisk business was done. I even read somewhere that Iranians showed generous solidarity to pakistan in its engagements with us. All in all, we risk our neck and defy US and help Iranians…. is there a gaurantee they will help India on Kashmir ? …even if Iran wants to help India as sole crusader of Indian cause in OIC, saudis will then show active aggression against us. The Broth is continually under boil, it tastes good, but it also burns your mouth ….so lets wait for the day to see who really cares our friendship.

    Regarding Mr. Mathai’s comments, I feel he was suggesting Indian concerns were same as others. Maybe he wants to draw comfort along with other’s and indirectly telling chinese, that look, you have to accommodate us in your economic miracle and not intimidate us.

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