NEW FOREIGN POLICY? “Kiss Up, Kick Down”?
Seven phases of Indian foreign policy may be identifiable since Nehru; the current phase seems to involve subservience to the strong, jingoism otherwise
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Sunday Statesman, Oct 8 2006, The Statesman Oct 9 2006 Editorial Page Special Article, www.thestatesman.net
The outlines of a new tri-partisan Indian foreign policy may be becoming discernible. That it is “new” or that it commands near unanimity among the Congress, BJP and “Left” and their respective friends in the Indian media and political classes, does not make it sound or robust in any way. In fact, its basis in the history, geography and economics of India is wholly inadequate, and it is also entirely divorced from any clearly enunciated new Indian political ethics for the modern world.
The new policy, which may be fairly dubbed the Jaswant-Manmohan policy after the BJP and Congress politicians who have been its putative authors and leading practitioners, is as likely as not to lead to an India that is no longer a free decision-maker in any meaningful way in world affairs by 2047, one hundred years after Independence. Our great grandchildren may well be taught that for some decades in Indian history a sovereign unitary republic actually existed which then came to be effectively lost.
Indeed the new policy may amount to being less a coherent new doctrine of India’s role in international relations than a mere change in attitude on the part of politicians, bureaucrats and their intelligentsia friends: from seeming universally arrogant in the world to becoming pliant and subservient towards those world powers perceived (accurately or inaccurately) as strong, combined with a vainglorious jingoism towards all others. It is an application to international diplomacy and politics of the classic bureaucratic principle of “kiss up, kick down” in an organisation, and may reflect the fact the two main institutions the Mughals and British used to run their empires were the bureaucracy and military ~ both of which have grown and continued to run New Delhi (and Islamabad) afterwards, co-opting whatever domestic political development that has arisen. There is plenty of wishful waffling too about India becoming a “great power” or being a “swing state in the global balance of power”, and about how well the economy is supposedly doing ~ as if what Government spokesmen say about the economy is to be believed at face-value. Indian Leftists and their fellow-travellers ~ as great lovers themselves of bureaucracy, collectivist groupthink and propaganda on the USSR or PRC pattern, and fearful or envious of all individual criticism, creativity and achievement – have taken to the same principle like fish to water.
The first phase of Indian foreign policy was Nehruvian in that it began with Nehru’s Fabian misperception of Stalin’s USSR, and ended with the military debacle he led the country into at the hands of Zhou’s “human wave” armies in the mountains of Ladakh and NEFA.
A second phase was Kashmir-centric, overlapping with the first insofar as it may be traced to Karan Singh’s iniquitous dismissal of Sheikh Abdullah’s first Government, but really beginning after Nehru’s death with the Ayub-Abdullah summit, and being marked by Ayub’s 1965 attack in J&K ~ Shastri’s riposte reaching the Ichogil Canal signalled that no longer would war over J&K be confined to J&K.
A third phase was forced on India by the Pakistani civil war that led to Bangladesh’s creation, and was marked by the Indira/ Haksar alliance with Brezhnev’s USSR, as well as by Pokhran-I.
A fourth phase of Indian foreign policy may be identified in the late 1970s and 1980s, marked by rebellion of the fundamentalist Sikhs whom Indira and Sanjay Gandhi had provoked, which led in due course to her assassination. The turmoil that followed in Punjab and North India was financed by anti-Indian Sikhs from Vancouver,California and Britain, with gleeful help from the Pakistanis, and Indian diplomats had their hands full in trying to counter that phenomenon. It was during this phase of domestic Indian turmoil that New Delhi wholly missed the seismic changes occurring in the USSR, East Europe and international relations generally, and completely failed to predict its consequences for India.
The phase came to end when the Narasimha Rao Government (upon advice of a well-known communist cabal in the IFS and JNU) instantly showered praise on the anti-Yeltsin coup in August 1991. When Yeltsin returned to power, the new anti-communist Russians took their revenge on New Delhi, exacting hard dollars for the soft rouble-trade of friendlier times.
A fifth phase may be seen in retrospect as one of relative success.The main plank of Indian foreign policy in the late 1980s and early 1990s was to get Pakistan designated a “terrorist state” in American eyes, as well as to warn of the dangers of a Pakistani nuclear bomb. It had been prompted by the end of American involvement in the Afghan war, which caused the ISI to shift the jihadis to J&K, and the Indian policy was destined not to succeed. No matter how hard Kanwar Sibal tried in 1992-1993 as Minister-Political in the Washington Embassy to tell the Americans that their Pakistani friends were dangerous, he was destined to fail as the MEA had entirely failed to realise how far ahead the Pakistanis were in their lobbying power in Washington ~ the Pakistani super-elite has been entrenched among the K-Street lobbyists and in expensive real-estate along the Potomac River for more than two generations. Yet after the 9/11 attacks several years later, the Indians were able to look back at that fifth phase and say to the Americans, “We told you so”.
In the late 1990s came a short-lived sixth phase of Pokhran-II and the Lahore bus-trip, which may be credited as Vajpayee successes, and also contained the Kargil War and Kandahar hijacking, which were more dubious. This overlapped with the last and currently continuing seventh phase of Indian foreign policy with Jaswant Singh breaking the ice with the Americans when they had recovered from the fact the CIA’s failures included not foreseeing Pokhran-II; it coincided too with Osama bin Laden’s declarations of jihad against the USA. The Americans enlisting themselves on the side of the Northern Alliance to defeat the Taliban after 9/11 was beneficial from an Indian standpoint since Afghanistan had been effectively lost to secular Indian influence for two decades, and the Taliban had shown themselves no friends of India during the Kandahar hijacking.
But the BJP’s anti-Muslim thought processes quickly took over, as did its proximity to organised business lobbies. When Iraq was attacked and occupied in 2003, there was hardly a whimper from the BJP leadership, and instead their businessmen friends started to fly to Amman hopeful of “reconstruction” contracts. The Sonia/ Manmohan Congress/Leftist combine has effectively continued and expanded that trend, though now the business lobbies have been much more muted and subtle, especially in their backroom dealings and payoffs with respect to the nuclear deal. There is also an occasional burst of anti-Americanism from leftists though it is hard of course to beg for American foreign investment in Marxist-run areas while also being sincere in quaint street demos or agitprop.
Running through the new foreign policy is a fiction that it is driven by a new economic motivation to improve development and mass well-being in India. The bizarre idea of creating hundreds of so-called “Special Economic Zones” (reminiscent of 17th and 18th Century colonial fortifications) illustrates this. India’s ordinary anonymous masses ~ certainly the 850 million people entirely outside the organised sector ~ have little or nothing to do with any of this. Benefits will accrue only to the ten million Indian nomenclatura controlling or having access to the gaping exit holes to the outside world in the new semi-closed economy with its endless deficit finance paid for by unlimited printing of an inconvertible domestic currency.
It is as fallacious to think private investment from foreign or domestic businessmen will support public “infrastructure” creation as it is to think foreign exchange reserves are like tax revenues in being available for Government expenditure on “infrastructure”. Such fallacies are intellectual products of either those who know no economics at all or those who have forgotten whatever little they might have been once mistaught in their youth. What serious economics does say is that Government should generally have nothing to do with any kind of private business, and instead should focus on properly providing public goods and services, encourage competition in all avenues of economic activity and prevent or regulate monopoly, and see to it all firms pay taxes they are due to pay.
That is it. It is as bad for Government to be pampering organised foreign or domestic business or organised labour with innumerable subsidies, as has been happening in India for decades, as it is to make enterprise difficult with red tape and hurdles. Businessmen are grown ups and should be allowed to freely risk their capital and make their profits or their losses without public intervention.
An economics-based policy would have single-mindedly sought to improve the financial condition of every governmental entity in the country, with the aim of improving the provision of public goods and services to all 1,000 million Indians. If and when budgets of all governmental entities become sound, foreign creditors would automatically line up before them with loans to sell, and ambitious development goals can be accomplished. As long as public budgets (and public accounts) remain in an outrageous shambles, nothing can be in fact achieved and only propaganda, corruption and paper-money creation results instead. Whatever economic growth does occur is due to new enterprise and normal technological progress, and is mostly despite and not because of New Delhi’s bureaucrats (see “The Dream Team: A Critique”, The Statesman 6-8 January 2006).
The first aspect of the new Indian foreign policy has been for Government to become wholly ingratiating towards any and all “First World” members visiting India who may deign to consider any kind of collaboration whatsoever. The long line of foreign businessmen and heads of government having photo-ops with the Indian PM began with Vajpayee and has continued with Manmohan, especially when there is a large weapons’ or commercial aircraft or other purchase to be signed. The flip-side has been ministerial and especially Prime Ministerial trips abroad ~ from Vajpayee’s to a Singapore golf-cart immediately after commiserating Gujarat, to Manmohan receiving foreign honorary doctorates while still holding public office.
Subservience to foreign business interests in the name of economic policy extends very easily to Indian naval, military or diplomatic assets being used to provide policing or support services for the great powers as and when they may ask for it. Hence, Indian naval forces may be asked by the Americans to help fight pirates in the Indian Ocean, or escort this vessel or that, or India may be asked to provide refuelling or base facilities, or India may be requested to vote against Iran, Venezuela or whomever here or there. But there would be absolutely no question of India’s role in international politics being anything greater than that of a subaltern or comprador whose response must be an instant “Ji, Huzoor”. The official backing of the Tharoor candidacy was as futile and ridiculous as the quest for UN veto-power or the willingness to attend G-8 summits as an observer.
While subservience towards the First World’s business and military interests is the “kiss up” aspect of the new foreign policy, an aggressive jingoism towards others is the “kick down” aspect. One influential voice among the media friends of the new foreign policy states it as follows: “The search for `equity oil’ has been the single most important new element of Indian economic diplomacy in recent years… Equity oil raises India’s stakes in the stability of regimes or even individuals who preside over these resources… the big question is how far would India go in defence of `regime stability’ elsewhere? And if it’s assets fall into hostile hands, would India be prepared to consider promoting `regime change’?” Just as surely as a pacifist Fabian socialist Nehru misperceived Stalin’s USSR, New Delhi’s new capitalistic jingoists have misperceived the Cheney-Rumsfeld grab for “equity oil” and have even defined Bush-Blair adventurism as being “the side of the angels”. How they must love to want to project Indian military force ~ paratroopers in the Maldives perhaps, though they need to recall what happened with the LTTE too!
Multiple Jallianwalla Bagh massacres may have been occurring in front of us in Iraq, Afghanistan and Balochistan, and there may soon be an attack on Iran too. New Delhi’s new “kiss up, kick down” attitude has rendered India’s once-dignified and sober voice silent, our eyes closed or our face turned away.
The obvious alternative to bureaucratic “kiss up, kick down” would be “kick up, kiss down” loved by all individualists and anti-bureaucrats. In other words, it would be for India to take each case and circumstance in international politics on its merits; be seen to stand up seriously to the powerful in world politics wherever and whenever necessary; seek to protect those who may be vulnerable to international or other brutality in world affairs, while getting on properly with the mundane business of ordinary government and commerce at all other times. That mundane business may call for a gradual withdrawal of India from all or most of the fancy, corrupt international bureaucracies in New York, Washington, Geneva etc, focussing calmly but determinedly instead on improved administration and governance at home. Such was what Rajiv Gandhi was advised in January 1991 (see “Memos to Rajiv,” The Statesman 31 July-2 August 1991; Freedom First October 2001), when for one futile moment he even formed a peaceful bridge between the Americans and Saddam during the first Gulf War. The New Delhi establishment may be too intoxicated with power and insecure intellectually to be able to reflect on such sober alternatives.