Throwback to non-alignment?

Congress Foreign Policy

By Dr. D.K. Giri
(Prof. International Politics, JMI)

The Indian National Congress in its 84th plenary session held last weekend, strongly censured Modi government’s foreign policy. The Resolution read: “Congress expresses its concern over the conduct of foreign policy in a cavalier manner, which has damaged India’s profile globally and undermined its national interest”. More significantly, Congress President Rahul Gandhi talked of a third alternative in international politics, clearly recalling the ghosts of non-alignment. He said, ‘World politics is dominated by two models, one of USA, and the other, the Chinese.’ In coming 10 years, he vowed ‘to build a third model with love, brotherhood, and non-violence’, which will be drawn on the Nehruvian vision.
To recall, in 1950s, after the 2nd World War, as the world was divided in influence of two super powers -the US and the Soviet Union, Jawaharlal Nehru in the company of Mashall Tito of Yugoslavia, and Abdul Nasser of Egypt, created the non-alignment movement (NAM), to maintain equi-distance from both super powers. When Janata Party came to power in 1977, it talked of genuine non-alignment. However, NAM became inactive with changes in world politics, disintegration of Soviet Union, radical geo-political changes in many countries. In the 21st century, Soviet Union is said to have been replaced by China as a ‘super power’ with its economic might. Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party steeped in Nehruvian approach, see another ‘historic opportunity’ to create a third alternative led by India with unique Indian political values of non-violence etc.
How sound and viable is a third alternative? We have experienced the unviability of policy of non-alignment, a utopia in international politics. No country can remain non-aligned in an interdependent world. A country may have to surrender parts of its sovereignty to a group of countries integrated in a common purpose and ‘shared future’ like the European Union or other regional bodies. To remain self-reliant, independent and non-aligned was unpragmatic.
It was no secret that Nehru was ‘blackmailed into silence by Soviet Union when he was about to condemn Soviet occupation of Hungary in 1956, as he had already criticised the Anglo-French attack on Suez Canal in the same year. Second, India had to sign a friendship treaty with Soviets in 1971 in the wake of Bangladesh war.
Strange that the Congress President should talk of a third alternative to the so-called US and Chinese models. Even these two models are not defined or detected world-wide. True that US is militarily the strongest country today, and China has some surplus money, and both are drawn into some undeclared conflict over their respective spheres of influence. But, surely, unlike in the past, the world is not split into two blocs, it is rather a multi-polar world, and that is what we should aim to consolidate, while strengthening our bilateral and regional relations.
Congress foreign policy formulations appear to be altruistic, with a heavy moral overtone like that of Nehru, and less pragmatic. One is not evaluating it vis-a-vis government’s policy. That is competitive politics between two adversarial parties. We assess it on its merits in terms of diplomacy and national interest. Take this statement, for example. Congress suggests that “India should recalibrate its equations with USA, arrest the slide in relations with Russia, and improve communication and trust with China.”
At the same time, the Congress upbraids the government for allowing China to entrench itself in neighbouring countries, encircling India which threaten the regional balance and stability. Congress President ruled, “China is present everywhere, Doklam, Nepal, Sri-Lanka, Maldives, Myanmar and so on. It is buying influence by giving money”. The nexus between China and Pakistan is dangerous for peace, and security of South Asia. It goes on to caution about the increased Chinese presence in Maldives, “there is a need for internal vigil to safeguard our interests and to thwart attempts of any country to establish bases, that will restrict India and make the Indian Ocean area vulnerable”. On countering Chinese influence on Myanmar, the Congress calls upon the private and public sector companies to invest in the key infrastructure of the country.
Under these circumstances, how could one preach love, brotherhood to China? We did that once under Nehru and chanted “Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai” (Indians and Chinese are brothers), but Chinese respond to such entreaties by incursion into our borders, and claiming disputed territories.
Yes, the Congress, or for that matter, any practitioner of foreign policy should realise that international peace will be secured through ‘balance of power’ and even ‘balance of terror’, not by platitudes. If India does not stitch strategic alliances, partnerships, it could be vulnerable. Non-alignment or third-Indian alternative is a no-go option at present as it would incur heavy expenditure and risks for us to defend ourselves against multiple threats.
Congress is right in suggesting that we have bilateral tensions in our neighbourhood. Modi began well by inviting eight leaders from SAARC countries to the inauguration of his premiership. But, down the line, the government seems to have lost the plot with our neighbours; on Nepal, India’s support to Madhesis, not the entire country in their difficult transition to democracy, in Sri Lanka, meddling in their elections, in Bangladesh, prevaricating on Rohingyas, in Maldives, not acting swiftly in their times of crises, at least putting international pressure, and issuing unequivocal condemnation of the repressive regime and so on. But most of India’s discomfort or challenge in handling the neighbours is owing to Chinese interference in these countries.
I asked a foreign correspondent who is friendly with India, why is India losing out to China in its neighbourhood. India is democratic, non-aggressive, whereas China is predatory, and undemocratic. He smilingly said, “When you give a ship to Sri Lanka, the Chinese give them a port”. So is the story with other neighbours as well. The Nepalese ambassador once said, “Everyone is trying to tap into the surplus money, China has, so are we”. China, obviously, is using its economic might in conducting its foreign policy. Can India do the same? Not really, not now. May be in future.
In Marxian approach which holds by and large across the world, it is the economy which maintains the super-structure. India needs to catch up with China in its growth and development by heavily attacking mismanagement, corruption and bureaucratic inertia at home. We have to come up in human development index — health, education, skill building and gainful employment. These strengths will reflect on our foreign policy and in dealing with other countries.
Undoubtedly, China has invested in skill-building, infrastructure, technology and so on. You name a product, it is and can be made in China. Can India boast of such outstanding innovation? Yes, indeed, we have the human resources, knowledge base but we do not have a system that can harness these.
Finally, a word about Pakistan which is our immediate concern. Even the Congress foreign policy document admits that China and Pakistan, especially their nexus is the biggest challenge for India. What is the novel idea in dealing with Pakistan? We have suggested, in the past, options in this column. Fresh approaches will help. We know Pakistan will not rest until Kashmir is out of its aspirations. How do we ensure this? Criticising any government, NDA or UPA will not help the cause without a new radical approach. All political parties, and stakeholders in the country, stay engaged on it, until we achieve peace and stability with Pakistan.—INFA