EAM Jaishankar’s Defence Of PM Modi’s Vision – A Questionable Conclusion

EAM Jaishankar’s Defence Of PM Modi’s Vision – A Questionable Conclusion

The foreign policy of any country is a process in continuum, passing from one government to the next

K C SinghUpdated: Friday, May 03, 2024, 10:02 PM IST
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EAM S Jaishankar | File/Twitter

External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has been writing op-eds, amidst surcharged electioneering, relating BJP’s foreign policy to Hindu religious texts or terminology. Despite getting prized postings from various Congress governments, including as envoy to China and the US, he now operates with selective amnesia. His latest piece titled “The Vishwa Guru” demonstrates it.

He is right that the current unsettled world order presents India “opportunities and challenges”. That a nation’s foreign policy must ensure access to “resources, markets, technologies and best practices” is also undeniable. But his conclusion is questionable that India, distracted by ideology for four decades after Independence, is now more sharply focused.

The nation, he claims, is on the path to “Viksit Bharat” or developed India. India will consequently become “Vishwa Bandhu” or Kinsman of the Universe. The phrase from the Puranas was used by Lord Vishnu for Kartikeya, son of Lord Shiva, characterising him as “purifier of the universe”. This high benchmark has a strong moral undertone.

The foreign policy of any country is a process in continuum, passing from one government to the next. There may be differences of style, nuance and personal chemistry between any Indian prime minister and his foreign counterparts. However, the national consensus has not altered much since Independence. Each government safeguarded India’s strategic independence. But foreign policy is also shaped by the mutating global environment.

Facing financial meltdown in 1991, as well as the collapse of the Soviet Union, a new national consensus developed to meet the emergent situation. Accidental Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao moved the left-of-centre Congress to centrist, pro-business economic policies and more pragmatic foreign policy, reaching beyond old ideological divides. His then finance minister Manmohan Singh returned in 2004 to take the process forward. In between A B Vajpayee moved the right wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) also to a more centrist position, adopting economic liberalism with a compassionate face. His more conservative colleague L K Advani kept the right-wing socio-religious agenda in play.

On foreign policy Vajpayee merely took the next logical step of testing India’s strategic nuclear capability. Although that shattered existing Indo-US engagement, including with US allies, it enabled rebuilding of genuine trust. Manmohan Singh pursued the same to finalise the Indo-US nuclear deal, despite endangering his government.

President George W Bush attended a newspaper-hosted public seminar in Delhi immediately after demitting office. He candidly explained that the nuclear deal was not merely about nuclear energy. It was about unshackling India from technology denial regimes like the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) or the Missile Technology Control Regimen (MTCR) etc. Minister Jaishankar was the joint secretary dealing with the US during that crucial negotiation.

However partisanship now compels him to ignore achievements of past governments when he sees the road to Viksit Bharat and “critical and emerging technologies” as envisioned and paved only by the present BJP government. As someone first posted to Moscow as a language trainee he knows that India’s leaders in the first four decades after Independence successfully faced impossible choices during the Cold War. India was denied access to western markets and technology due to its strategic independence. The Non-Aligned Movement’s birth and growth would have been impossible without Jawaharlal Nehru.

But all is not rosy even in Jaishankar’s account. He bemoans that cooperation with foreign partners is possible only if they appreciate “Indian values and practices”. The government is troubled by negative coverage in Western media over two subjects. One is the recurring charge of the Indian government’s involvement in the conspiracy to eliminate perceived anti-Indian residents of US and Canada by hit-men. The Washington Post even named the R&AW operative and his bosses, allegedly including the Indian National Security Adviser. Another is finger- pointing at India in the annual report of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released on May 1. The report notes, “In 2023, religious freedom conditions continued to deteriorate.” It underscores “hateful rhetoric” and discriminatory policies. As if confirming the allegation, BJP’s electoral rhetoric sharply deteriorated after the first two election phases. The Commission recommends listing India as a “country of particular concern”. India may well argue that a worse-behaving Israel has not been similarly named. But Israel is not claiming to be a Vishwa Bandhu.

Similarly questionable are some other claims of diplomatic success. A US sponsored proposal called IMEC (India Middle East Economic Corridor) is a bridge too far due to Israeli unwillingness to accept a Gaza ceasefire or a two-nation solution involving an independent Palestinian state. The original 4-nation BRICS group, with South Africa added later, has after its further expansion become a China-Russia dominated platform spewing anti-US proposals. The proposed Trilateral Highway connecting India to ASEAN faces a civil war en route in Myanmar. India’s destabilsed neighbourhood, successfully exploited by China, hardly heralds success.

Minister Shankar is thus marketing a fractured vision, lacking moral values from India’s best cultural and religious past or its diplomacy.

KC Singh is former secretary, Ministry of External Affairs

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