Foreign Policy

What is Rahul’s world view?

By Dr DK Giri
(Prof. International Politics, JMI)

Rahul Gandhi, president-in-waiting for quite some time will finally take over as head of the Indian National Congress, a 132-year-old party, the second oldest democratic party in the world after the social democratic party of Germany born in 1883. The Congress was the principal agency for our freedom struggle against British colonialism. For good or bad it was responsible for building independent India simply because, out of 70 years since independence Congress was in power for 50 plus years. The party has been led by men and women of great ideas and vision.
Interestingly, RaGa’s ideas on politics, governance, development etc are derided in social media. He has also been perceived as a reluctant politician. Natwar Singh, once close to the family, wrote in his autobiography, “One Life is not Enough”, Rahul is not cut out for politics. All these perceptions and slurs notwithstanding, Rahul is in thick of politics, leading the oldest political party and the largest Opposition in India of 1.3 billion people.
I will focus in this piece on his world view, how he may like to see India in world politics. Because the measure of the power of a country these days is the position it occupies in the constellation of world forces, and the role it plays in world affairs.
Let me throw a caveat here. Foreign policy or world affairs are remote to the concern and comprehension of many politicians let alone the common people. India’s foreign policy is made and articulated by career diplomats who pass the examination called IFS. That is why foreign policy is left to the ruling party which controls and secures the services of diplomats.
Political parties do not even designate a foreign policy spokesperson, do not speak much or often on foreign policy issues. This is an anomaly. RaGa can begin by correcting this by naming a foreign policy spokesperson of his party. Surely, RaGa understands that foreign policy in a globalised world deeply affects each individual and community in a country. Hence, it should be a popular political subject forming a part of public discourse.
One is not sure of RaGa’s perspectives on India’s foreign policy except his occasional reactions to NaMo’s policies. Besides, RaGa’s international engagement has been seen as faux pas when he ‘secretly’ met the Chinese ambassador as Indian soldiers were in a face-off in Doklam, or as flip-flops on Kashmir when he said NaMo’s policies have created space for foreign militants in Kashmir. This is the second correction he ought to make by formulating a well-thought-out, robust foreign policy instead of giving knee-jerk reactions.
In dearth of RaGa’s foreign policy pronouncements, until they unfold through his exalted office of national president, we could draw on the latest manifesto of the party released in the last General elections. In past three years much water has flown down Yamuna but the main contours of their approach can be discussed. Curiously, foreign policy figured towards the end of their 50-page manifesto and was captured in less than 2 pages.
The major formulation in the manifesto document was that the Congress party saw India’s role as a “critical bridge between the developed world and the developing world”. It mentioned countries like China, Brazil, South Africa, Pakistan, Afghanistan, SAARC and Sri Lanka. Intriguingly, there was no mention of the single super power, USA, India’s major ally since Manmohan Singh’s premiership of 10 years, nor of Russia, India’s long-standing supporter. It made a general and vague reference to these two countries and others like EU and Japan as “building peaceful, stable and mutually beneficial relations with all major powers”.
Alternatively, and quite correctly, the manifesto emphasised the party’s commitment to contribute to global challenges such as climate change, sustainable development, non-proliferation, cross border terrorism. The party holds on to the so-called heritage of non-aligned movement and pledges to continue to support many developing countries. It, however, saw India’s role as ‘a bridge’ rather than a ‘power’ which the world is anticipating India to become. That is why there was no mention whatsoever of India’s relations with major powers – the US, EU, Japan, UK, France, Germany, Australia, Israel, etc.
Although not a part of foreign policy platform, Congress made a bold commitment to regain eight per cent growth in the economy and promised greater integration with the global economy and encouraged foreign direct investment, the name of the game in the era of globalisation.
The Congress party believes in ‘continuity and change’ in India’s foreign policy but it is more continuity than change in its approach. In dealing with the neighbourhood, there is no change, no fresh initiative on Kashmir, no new ideas to revive SAARC, which is a dead duck at present.
More worrying, it fumbles on seeing India as a rising global power. This is the third correction RaGa has to introduce. The nature of Asian politics will catapult India into a much higher position in the world. India needs to grab the opportunity. RaGa will do well to understand that if he fails to comprehend India’s geopolitical advantage, aspiring Indians will not be enthused by his leadership.
Admittedly, foreign policy is usually based on consensus and has less impact on electoral process. But since NaMo’s major claim to success as PM as his so-called acceptance as a world leader, RaGa can tease him into making a wrong posture.
For example, Donald Trump has shocked the world by recognising Jerusalem, the sanctum sanctorum of three religions as the capital of Israel. NaMo has assiduously built close partnership with both Israel and its mentor USA. Will NaMo endorse Trump’s audacious declaration of moving his embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem? Will he follow suit? Likewise, what is NaMo’s policy on China? The Doklam stand-off was resolved but the details of the rapprochement is not known and what is reported is Chinese are still active around the disputed site. What about NaMo’s policy towards Pakistan? Shall we treat Pakistan as a permanent enemy or a potential friend?
RaGa is known for saying things unexpected. He is not predicatable. That is the quality of a leader who breaks the mould and sets the pace. His great grandfather, grandmother, all prime ministers were world renowned. Will he follow their footsteps in world politics? It should not be in terms of policies but in active engagement with the world. More importantly, will he break away from the Nehruvian legacy of our foreign policy which has cost us dearly? —INFA