Millennium Post

Mixed legacy of accidental PM

He has survived the vicious politics of stepping on an Indian bureaucratic ladder, rising to its pinnacle as a chief economic adviser and Reserve Bank of India governorship, before embarking on a direct political career of becoming first, the finance minister of the country and subsequently, the prime minister.

As the subject that buttresses this point, it can be taken into consideration that he was a chosen man of PV Narasimha Rao, who at point in time had his ambition to wipe off the imprimatur of the Nehru-Gandhi family from Indian political firmament; while, on the other hand, Rao’s bête noir Sonia Gandhi made Singh the prime minister. Such was his ability of being a shapeless fluid that adorns the shape of the container it is kept.

This Manmohan Singh wants to leave a legacy. Speaking at the annual jamboree of Indian diplomats posted abroad, Singh pronounced five principles, on which, in his opinion the Indian foreign policy should be structured. These principles need retelling in his words. First, recognition that India’s relations with the world – both major powers and our Asian neighbours – are increasingly shaped by our developmental priorities. The single most important objective of Indian foreign policy has to be to create a global environment conducive to the well-being of our great country.  Second, that greater integration with the world economy will benefit India and enable our people to realise their creative potential.  Third, we seek stable, long term and mutually beneficial relations with all major powers. We are prepared to work with the international community to create a global economic and security environment beneficial to all nations.  Fourth, we recognise that the Indian subcontinent’s shared destiny requires greater regional cooperation and connectivity. Towards this end, we must strengthen regional institutional capability and capacity and invest in connectivity.  Fifth, our foreign policy is not defined merely by our interests, but also by the values which are very dear to our people. India’s experiment of pursuing economic development within the framework of a plural, secular and liberal democracy has inspired people around the world and should continue to do so.

At first glance, these principles seem just so commonsensical that they seem an organic part of any foreign policy. But the question to ask is this: since India is an aspirant for a UN Security Council permanent membership, shouldn’t its foreign and security policy reflect a higher goal – a goal that goes beyond the narrow confines of ‘national interest’ – which has been defined in this case by Singh as India’s ‘developmental priorities.’ These five principles are supposedly an expression high ‘realism.’ But isn’t it realism that Indian interests lie topmost in its own region. A relationship based on sharing the developmental fruits of the Indian experience can counter the suspicions of the sub-continental neighbours about New Delhi wielding its weight in a manner deleterious to their own individual interests. Does this seem like idealistic drivel that cannot be espoused as a policy?
Singh talks about cooperation, connectivity and institutional growth, but when it comes to sharing the ‘commons’ of the region, it fails to deliver. To wit, the Teesta river water sharing imbroglio?

Relations between States are usually defined by ‘give’ and ‘take.’ But Singh’s foreign policy precepts in the penultimate season of his prime ministership talks only about ‘take’ and ‘take more.’ It can be a state of mind, but not necessarily policy that drives an aspiring big power.

Not even the United States, a country that is most driven by nightmares about its national interest, is so self seeking. Evidently, despite its waning influence as a result of its imperial over-reach, funds the most of the United Nations corpus. Hence, though it tries all the time to manipulate the UN to serve its own interest, it still has to share power with the other four members of the P-5. While it is true that India has gained much from the globalist turn of the world on account Capitals need for constant growth, it should also note that being a low wage island it can gain from transference of jobs from the developed world, but its internationalism should guide the deprivation it causes in rest of the world. This again is not an idealistic Xanadu, one is talking about. If the rest of the world is in turmoil, Indian interest cannot be served for too long in the medium term.

Monamohan Singh’s obsessive focus on relations with the major powers of the world is a direct contravention of the Nehruvian construct that the solidarity of the developing world is far more important than pandering to the major powers. For, the stardust that one gathers from interaction with big powers wear off quickly, especially at a moment of need when the rest of the alienated world also stay away from extending their hand of cooperation.

To wit, the civilian nuclear deal that was garnered after such stupendous trampling of opposition, has not yet got the country memberships in the big league like the Nuclear Suppliers’ group. Singh considers himself a statesman. Only, he does not have the cheerleaders.

The author is a senior journalist
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