Indian Prime Minister Falls Short
on Personal Diplomacy
Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh from 2004 to 2009 has fallen woefully short in terms of personal diplomacy in reaffirming India’s ties with her traditional friends and cultivating new friends for India. Personal diplomacy by Indian Prime Ministers like Jawaharlal Nehru and Rajiv Gandhi added strength and substance to India’s foreign policies in those years. Regrettably the time span from 2004 to 2009 in terms of India’s foreign policy has been wasted years. The Prime Minister failed to add any laurels or luster to India’s foreign policy. The Indian foreign policy establishment during this time followed a monochromatic policy thrust obsessively fixated on the United States. Imperceptively an impression has gained ground that New Delhi has been reduced to a position in 2009 that instead of following an independent foreign policy, the Indian Government awaits cues from Washington on the foreign policy thrust lines it needs to adopt. It leads to India’s strategic diminution on the global stage.
The Prime Minister’s failure in terms of personal diplomacy has been singularly been noticeable in South Asia. The Prime Minister may have visited Bhutan, Sri Lanka etc, but these were as part of obligatory attendance at multilateral forums meetings. The Prime Minister has failed to visit Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka as country-specific visits to enhance India’s image and standing in these countries and whose support India needs badly both in the regional and global context. It would be futile for anyone to maintain that this is not noticed by India’s neighbors and could be misconstrued as India’s regional power arrogance.
Curiously, Dr Manmohan Singh has been more than eager to visit Pakistan all these years. He was held back by the force of Indian public opinion arising from Pakistan’s persistent terrorist attacks against India. Yet that did not prevent him from Pakistan appeasement policies stretching from the ill-advised Havana Accord to the shameful Sharm-al Sheikh Agreement. These arose from India buckling under US pressure which at India’s cost was attempting to mollify Pakistan Army Generals insecurities pertaining to India.
Dr Manmohan Singh’s obsessive fixations with currying favors with Washington would have been worth the effort had strategic gains accrued to India in the bargain in relation to lessening of adversarial postures of Pakistan and China. Nothing of that sort has happened. On the contrary, India’s national security interests were compromised and India’s national security perspectives distorted.
India lost Iran’s traditional friendship and trust when Dr Manmohan Sigh elected to join the United States and Western countries in voting against Iran on the nuclear issue. Iran was another country which has been missed out in a terms of a country-specific diplomatic Prime Ministerial visit.
Turkey as a long standing military ally of the United States and member of NATO has struck an independent stance to establish close ties with Iran fully well knowing that Iran is disfavored both by USA and NATO. Both Turkey and Iran are prominent regional powers of the Middle East and India should have tried hard to organize a Prime Ministerial visit by Dr Manmohan Singh to these important countries.
In South East Asia Vietnam is a country that has stood out for decades as a country which has attached premium and value to its ties with India. In fact a ‘strategic partnership’ exists between the two countries. It is strange and more regrettable that Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh could not find time during the last six years to visit a valued friend of India like Vietnam.
In South East Asia, another country which should have received the Indian Prime Minister’s focus should have been Indonesia. A Prime Ministerial visit to Indonesia should have been a priority event as a country-specific personal diplomacy bilateral visit.
The Indian foreign policy establishment needs to recognize that in India’s ascendancy up the global power ladder can not take place only on the shoulders of big powers. While that may be important too, but it equally is dependent on a wider network of Indian diplomatic relationships with regional powers, India’s traditional friends and India’s neighbors in South Asia and all this arising from sustained personal bilateral diplomacy of India’s Prime Minister.
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Dr. Subhash Kapila
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