The diplomats and foreign policy ‘advisors’ whom Nehru and Indira Gandhi allowed themselves to be surrounded with were extraordinarily lucky folks. They have not been subjected to any scrutiny. Obviously, they had a whale of a time — good wine, great conversation, lots and lots of travel and all the loaves of power.
But at the end of the day, no one asked the blunt question: ‘Pray, what did you achieve for India, Respected Sir?’ Their halo, consequently, remains untouched. Some even created nasty problems — Siachen, for example — but no one cares.
The occasion in Delhi is a remembrance of things past — regarding “contributions of former diplomat and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s advisor, late G. Parthasarathi, to India’s engagement with Pakistan.” From the media account, much praise was showered on ‘GP’ and again the conclusion reached was that he was a great diplomat. But no one was willing to explain how such a definitive conclusion was reached.
That is, except former foreign minister Natwar Singh who neatly sidestepped the question and cast GP as an ‘advisor’ par excellence who was “sound 99 percent of the time.” The beauty about ‘advisors’ is that they are not accountable. They give their advice — and then they move on. And, given the style of diplomacy, advice in those primeval times was mostly rendered as pillow talk. Records weren’t kept then.
Alas, we can’t assess NS’s judgment. What role did GP play as high commissioner in Karachi, for example, in averting — or not averting — the breakdown of Swaran Singh-Bhutto talks in 1963? Any intelligent guesses?
But one startling thing that NS said stood out — namely, that a prime minister cannot make a critical difference to the core issues of India’s foreign policy such as ties with Pakistan or Kashmir. He was speaking with biting sarcasm about PM Manmohan Sigh’s dialogue with Pakistan. NS felt tempted to think that PM MS’s primary motivation is not regional peace and stability, but securing a Nobel for Peace for himself (which of course eluded Nehru and Indira Gandhi.)
That was an unkind cut bordering on cynicism. The point is, the climate of India-Pakistan relations is better today than at anytime in living memory. As for the Valley, the situation there is calmer than at anytime for an entire generation. Isn’t worth having, too? Isn’t the MFN that Pakistan granted something useful?
The problem is that India is saddled with an ideology from the past that diplomacy is all about management and not problem-solving. GP is a fine example of that old school. There is not an issue he touched, which he solved. Two, at least, got exacerbated.
Sri Lanka, for example. When historians write about it, they will retrospect that Annexure C which GP ‘negotiated’ with J R Jayewardene by arm-twisting the latter inevitably led the wily Sri Lankan leader to bowl that lethal ‘googly’ at Delhi once he recouped his poise, inviting the Indian forces to his country. The rest is painful history. It ended with the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Sri Lanka will never accept Annexure C . Period. Even GP would admit by now.
GP’s earlier record on Indira-Sheikh accord of 1974 was, again, another classic overreach that produced a backlash that was inevitable, leading, inexorably, to the catastrophic faith by the ‘powers that be’ in Pakistan years later that a luscious fruit is hanging low in the Kashmir Valley ripe enough to be plucked.
In both instances, GP acted as a ‘fixer’ par excellence. We won’t know what passed through his erudite mind about the wisdom of what he was doing, and all we can be certain is that he probably knew he was ‘managing’ things for Indira Gandhi.
How relevant is GP today? Clearly, the era of ‘fixers’ in Indian foreign policy ended with the late 1990s with Brajesh Mishra’s entry into the First Circle. BM was the first Indian diplomat who took a ‘result-oriented’ approach to his work which he grabbed with relish when it came his way after all those frustrating years in the India International Centre sipping whiskey.
One may disagree with BM such as when he expounded an Indian-US-Israeli concert of democracies on the world stage, but even then, one suspected that his probable motivation lay elsewhere in gaining some tangible outcome somewhere else.
In the contemporary world, ‘managing’ problems simply won’t do. The nature of problems has changed. You can’t stall ad infinitum on climate change or cyber space or terrorism. Solutions are needed.
You need to end the Afghan war and, therefore, you bite the bullet and get Pakistan on board so that the latter can ensure that the Taliban reps indeed show up at Paris at the appointed hour to meet Ahmed Zia Massoud, Yunus Qanooni and Mohammed Mohaqiq.
You work hard so that you get results. You build bridges toward Baghdad so that you get oil, replacing Big Oil. You go to Naypyidaw, albeit exhausted after a bruising election back home in Iowa and Florida, and then you choose to forget to call Myanmar by its real name ‘Burma’, because your Bangkok and Singapore-based companies are competing there for business opportunities and it is a tough world out there swarming with Chinese businessmen.
The ideology of ‘managing’ is hopelessly archaic in the contemporary world setting. It won’t do to muddle along. The plain truth is that unless India normalizes with Pakistan (and China), its foreign policy will be nowhere near optimal. Besides, no one else in the world cares two hoots why these gifted Indians are cleverly ‘managing’ their foreign policy. Only, we get left behind.
GP had the great luxury of practicing diplomacy in the sedate waters of a bipolar world. More important, he didn’t have to co-relate the Sri Lankan problem or the Pakistan/Kashmir problem with India’s ambitions as an emerging power.
Thus, his legacy of ‘managing’ problems for the PMs he advised remains in sync with the spirit of those times. But the unfortunate part is that his camp followers today are also part of his legacy. Read the Hindu report here.
– December 9, 2012