NEW DELHI: Minister-diplomat S Jaishankar’s comments at an event organised by the Indian Express on Thursday, could be seen as both an indictment of India’s foreign policy failings, and showing the way forward. The points he made are unexceptionable:
- India’s unsettled borders 70 years after independence
- The failure to understand China’s intentions and its power
- No visible strategy against Pakistan-backed terrorism
- The failure to integrate hard power in foreign policy making
He wonders whether India could have pre-empted the 1962 war by doing a deal with China’s Premier Zhou Enlai two years earlier. Economically, could India have followed ASEAN’s example by opening up to the world even before China did in 1990? He suspects the “dogmas of Delhi” stood in the way, faulting the ideological debates and the liberal fundamentalism of that time. He slammed the Indian decision to take J&K to the United Nations.
He makes the argument, embarrassing to the diplomats and politicians of the recent past, that “India built up an image of a reluctant power” and ended up being influenced by its own narrative. So whether it is China or dysfunctional relations in the neighbourhood, India was on the back foot, always reacting, never able to fully seize the initiative.
He contrasts that with current policy where “apparently contradictory approaches and objectives may seem baffling. How do you reconcile a Howdy Modi, a Mamallapuram and a Vladivostok,” he asked, “or the Quad with the SCO. The answer is in a willingness to look beyond dogma and enter the real world of convergences”.
He warned that in a multipolar world, “this game is best played on the front foot, appreciating that progress on any one front strengthens one’s hand on all others. It is having many balls in the air at the same time and displaying the confidence and dexterity to drop none”.
If that gave the impression Jaishankar was beating the BJP drum, he gave other political parties their due: He lauded India’s “triumphal victory” which created Bangladesh; and the reformist policies post 1991, underscoring the point that all events or trends will bear scrutiny for the lessons they hold.