India: Is there a moral compass?

Posted by Admin On Sunday, 13 October 2013 0 comments
Yet again, India has been struggling to become a mere non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC). The country aspires to join the Big 5 as a nuclear equal, […]
Yet again, India has been struggling to become a mere non-permanent member of the UN Security Council (UNSC).
The country aspires to join the Big 5 as a nuclear equal, but it is unable to muster the votes to be in the top 15 for a two-year term, or so the reports say. The flip side is perhaps just as untenable for a country that once strove to fight for the poor and the subjugated. With 70 pc people living on food subsidies, India is developing a complex range of more destructive MIRV missiles, more than it needs for nuclear deterrence. Perhaps these two strange trajectories are rooted in a badly advised foreign policy. Let’s see.
It is generally believed the 1983 Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) Summit in Delhi was Indira Gandhi’s swansong on the global stage. It may have been Indian foreign policy’s high point too. True, her son took the limelight briefly with Mikhail Gorbachev in a valiant attempt to cleanse the world of nuclear weapons, but he would be the first to admit he missed his mother’s gravitas.
At home, potentially fatal trouble was brewing, most notably with Sikh separatism. On the communal front, Mrs Gandhi personally removed copies of India Today from the media centre adjacent to the NAM summit venue. It carried on its cover Raghu Rai’s telling pictures of the horrific massacre of babies and mothers in Nellie in Assam. Evidently the prime minister did not want to expose her Third World guests to the vivid details of the anti-Muslim carnage, which was credited to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the future moderate leader. Narendra Modi was still in diapers.
Be that as it may, the Delhi summit saw Fidel Castro handing the gavel to Indira Gandhi as the chosen leader of the developing world. There is a lovely picture of her trying to dodge the burly Cuban’s bear hug. The issues at the conference were lofty and by today’s standards utterly idealistic. From the corner of her eye Mrs Gandhi would have relished the sight of Gen Ziaul Haq sitting largely ignored in the august audience as she dispatched landmark resolutions and waded into global disputes with alacrity and purpose. Her close aide, the late Romesh Bhandari, was marched off to what became an endless tour of Iraq and Iran to allay their fratricidal misgivings towards each other.
Eventually, the Iran-Iraq war ended when the USS Vincennes accidentally shot down a civilian Iranian plane with hundreds of casualties. But India had the kind of credit with both warring sides that they both welcomed its proposals, and some of them were followed up on, too. The brief point is: India was taken seriously. Whether it was South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle or the Palestinian quest for self-determination, the morally sound call to vacate Diego Garcia or to keep nuclear weapons away from the Indian Ocean, there was principled politics all round and its leader at that particular moment was India.
By about 1991 that moral worldview was taking a hard knock. India’s free market initiative, prompted partly by the fall of the Soviet Union, triggered an amazing surge of energy. It gave a segment of Indians the power to drive new brands of motorcars though it didn’t do much to improve the sub-Saharan fate of millions. On the foreign policy front too, the Nehruvian Brahmin was elbowed out by the upstart baniya. A rain-fed economy began to lean on the lure of the open markets to woo foreign friends. It bartered its principles for deals that were flaunted euphemistically as pragmatic. It looked the other way when its only steady and secular ally in Iraq was overrun by foreign military might. It connived with the new friends when Iran was collared to comply with an unequal distribution of nuclear power. And it remains silent as Syria, the only pluralist Arab country that remains, is being torn asunder.
Foreign policy has been commandeered instead by a generation of home-grown carpetbaggers. They exploit India’s diplomatic capital abroad to ply convenient tax havens. Indian companies venturing abroad should be an indicator of India’s newfound economic status. But little is known about how these companies are flexing their political muscle in poorer countries, grabbing the land of impoverished people. India had once accused the West of doing this.
Is there a moral compass that could be harnessed to pragmatic pursuit, a convenient word for opportunism? It’s a tall order. So what do Indians get out of this self-inflicted pragmatism? To begin with there is very little credit with the neighbours. From the Maldives to Nepal, from Bangladesh to Sri Lanka, there is fear laced with contempt. In West and Central Asia you would still find people who adore the memory of India, but it is a tribute to Raj Kapoor and Awara and ‘Mera Joota Hai Japani’, not respect for the motorcars India makes or the nuclear missiles it flaunts. Yes, there is some space for Delhi in Afghanistan but that is more out of a rejection for religious fanaticism that Pakistan is alleged to have bred there, not for India’s fabled camaraderie.
Yet there are analysts and lobbyists who seek to push the country towards more missiles, never mind the cost they impose in the realm of real, quantifiable influence the country once had. Take one example: India is developing a navy and an accompanying battery of missiles that should be welcomed by Vietnam as an anti-Chinese gesture. And it is Vietnam that will impede India’s membership of the UNSC. The other country in the fray for the UN post is Afghanistan. Should India try to displace it? Can it?
Too many missiles, very few friends.


Post a Comment