India needs a whole new world view! 

PM at Havana and the usual anti-American rhetoric won’t make news anymore. After 5 years of 11/11 the world today is a wholly new place!

Foreign affairs are first and foremost recognition of the global realities. To adjust constantly the emergent realities! To play the role in war and peace is a matter of our own economic strengths, past legacy and the many tangibles and intangibles too. On all these counts, India has many advantages. But our current lack of confidence in ourselves, this owing to our current leadership syndrome, is the only stumbling block!

We are a polite nation, in spite of our other failings. So, we can’t expect the newsmen who accompany the PM on his jumbo jet to speak in any discordant voice. There is one thing about those accompanying the PM on foreign tour. Those who are owners of big newspapers and commercially successful glossies. Then, the paid employees as correspondents. So, when the employers, as correspondents, from The Hindu or India today write home, we have to learn to doubt the veracity of their observations. That is how we read about N.Ravi, the owner of The Hindu accompanying the PM.

Never the more critical correspondents get invited or we have any clue whether the PM takes along with him experts or scholars in those particular regions or subjects. So, we have no way to know whether the PM is taking seriously or routinely, as is the wont of our current incumbent of the South Block. The PM while on his foreign tour to attend the XIV NAM summit at Brazil has said that India will soon have a foreign minister. This he said in the context of too much time it takes for him to attend to so many issues in foreign policy. It is a welcome news, as also seen from others observation.

The PM is already engaged in the Indo-US nuclear deal and that had consumed lots of his time. Now, on a foreign tour to South America that comes after a very long gap, after Indira Gandhi days is  good when India ,again after a long gap, is proposing to revive the NAM, nonaligned movement. This is, rather this news is as good as it goes. But in our opinion, the idea of NAM in the new century, in the post 11/9 world context begs too many questions. And that too when Dr.Manmohan Singh government does this idea, there would be too many skeptics, both inside and outside India, both among the friends of India as well as the doubters in our own neighborhood.

First, the original world map when the Nam evolved had been wiped out of the memory of the current crop of world leaders. Second, the NAM leaders today are no clear group; no shared thinking exists among any of the group of leaders in Asia, Africa or the other Third World countries, more importantly in the Middle East. If at all there is a case for Nam it must start with the Middle East peace. India has, honestly speaking, played not a very transparent role in any of the recent conflicts; in fact we chose to keep our mouth shut for the most part.

Of course, we have saved our honor by not sending troops to the US intervention in Iraq. Otherwise, our strategic inputs for any of these conflicts had been as good as nil. This is in marked contrast to the days when Nehru and Krishna Menon were very much on the scene. Menon used to say often, those words resound coming back to us even now:” India counts in the world”. Yes, India mattered a great deal even when, yes we have to admit that when we were being cheated by China and when we lost, Kennedy mocked at India’s loud talk in world forums. Now, Kennedy gone, rather Kennedy type American idealism, if any also gone and we live in a totally different world, terrorism today has a different meaning and poses a bigger challenge.

Is India taken seriously? Fortunately, yes, for various reasons. Its economic performance is one reason, though our current friendship with USA has also helped and though low key we seem to be treating carefully on many sensitive issues. But there is a fairly objective view India is not demonstrating any independent thinking or independent line that adds to the peace environment in the world. Our traditional friends, Russia and in the Nam countries, are lying low, India tries to tag on to the US foreign  policy, to the detriment to the good of the smaller countries in the neighborhood or in far off countries like Palestine.

The point is that India needs some fresh air, needs a new interest in foreign affairs, all this calls for some wider initiative from university campuses to actual engagement of leaders, experts and scholars in the world around us. Again, we shouldn’t lose our focus. UN is one agenda we seem to have given up. Just to please the USA? UN reforms is at India’s and the world’s peace security and so too our revived, if any, of NAM. Brazil, South Africa axes is okay, but then what counts is the ideas and initiatives.

India’s democratic credentials, the track record of the past 60 years, our IT prowess all have to be brought to bear in policy making. There is to be a new foreign affairs minister. But then the new face has to inspire a whole lot of things if at all India is to be taken seriously in the Bush era and later. To put it rather bluntly, India even today is not in a position to articulate its views on the so many international issues in any coherent manner.

The reasons are simple as well as complex.

India doesn’t have a leader with a vision. Without a vision no leader is also made! Our present polity is peculiarly placed. We seem to be coping with a challenge from regional leaders, most of them pigmies and they don’t know the world beyond their state borders, some not Even beyond their caste groups. Suddenly India seem to be a country with small people, very unworthy persons are placed in very high positions and high responsibilities. That is why we, India, are placed at so many disadvantages.

So, when the Prime Minister who for greater part had taken upon the role of the Foreign Minister himself, is placed in a double disadvantage. He has not much time to devote to more general issues, to draw up any grand vision for the country’s over-all development, our economic development itself calls for more concentration on some strategic sectors like agriculture, poverty, FDI, faster economic growth rate etc. We think the PM is best qualified to tackle these nitty-gritty of issues, rather than for taking on the world!

Now, all our foreign affairs focus seems to have boiled down to certain set issues. Nuclear deal with the USA, peace talks with Pakistan counterpart and tackling terrorism inside our own country. Yes, they are in themselves are very important. But then India has another dimension. India must have a regional power role; India has a global visibility role and a role that would enhance India’s many positive strengths.

It is here we need ideas; we need new talents, India need to foster an open society. There must be higher principles in the conduct of the government, there must be transparency, and there must be openness of mind to search for new talents and to take new initiatives. How to judge a government that is not even open to new ideas and new suggestions.

Kuldip Nayar, the veteran journalist and diplomat, a former Member of the Rajya Sabha publicly bemoans that his letter to the PM doesn’t get acknowledged; his letter to the Delhi Chief Minister doesn’t get acknowledged. We have to have civilians, high profile individuals as Ambassadors and envoys, the current practice of going for faceless bureaucrats, retired ones as a pension gift. India’s varied talents are not tapped by the present government. This has to change.

We as a nation seem to have become so small-minded, we seem to be preoccupied with small aspirations, a posting here, or a posting there, the impression that goes around the country is that those leaders, not in ministerial berths, those hovering around the AICC,are all lobbying for jobs in several raj bhavans! What a pity!

The PM surely, at least does this much of a minimum job. He must ensure that there is some minimum performance on the part of ministers. The PM has at least this prerogative. He can reshuffle the Cabinet, change ministers or hold one to one talk with ministers and see they improve their performance. The employment guarantee programme is not working, it seems. The food scarcity, as we find now reducing the distribution of the food component in the scheme, needs addressing. Surely, there must be some national level norms to implement the PDS, in the states. As in TN, there is now clear wastage. Populism in some states has exceeding the limits of reason.

So too to tackle other issues of governance. Transparent governance? Is there such a concept in the Central government? Lok Aykta? The PM never for once mentioned about tackling corruption. What is the message?

India’s image, then and now!

India’s image in the good old days of Nam was one of fierce independent line in foreign affairs.

The Cold War, the bipolar world counted of course. Nehru was at the helm. Now, a unipolar world and yet there are opportunities and challenges for India. Yes, India is now an economic power of sorts, we dominate in IT, software, BPO etc. Yet, there is this danger of too much seen to be aligned with the US in its current war-waging avatar. See the other equally economically developed countries like Japan or South Korea. They are seen even now as American protectorates! So too even the UK, as a very selfish, unprincipled “poodle” tagged on to US. India should not be seen as leaning too much on the US. More so in such current issues like Iran, Palestine and Lebanon. Nothing should stop India to take up other high priority items like UN reforms. There is a great heritage of Gandhi-Nehru era. We have to exploit the tangible with the intangible. It requires enormous imagination and a capacity to dream! An Indian dream or a vision for a peaceful world, without violence. India’s time is perhaps now!

Brazil and South Africa can at best help to boost trade. But still the big picture is the WTO talks and also American help in trade and civilian nuclear deal. The nuclear deal is facing hurdles already and the opening up of our economy to US goods and services is at best only has to be slow. Defense Minister Pranab Mukkerjee’s reply to American Ambassador in the India-American business meet shows the many hurdles to open up the Indian economy. The Ambassador’s rather blunt message is that if India wants to maintain and increase its 8 per cent growth, privatization and large-scale (American) investments must flow into India. PM’s discourse in far off Brazil is all academic exposition in abstract visions that is mere wishful thinking. He of course cant and didn’t touch upon any substantial issues, either issues of interest to India(not even ethanol technology in which Brazil is a leader or other agri sectors, Brazil is a great agri economy)or of the many international issues like peace in Middle East or Nam’s next steps(obvious there are none!). The point is that economic growth in India can’t come about without really attending to sectors like agriculture where there is simply no interest for those in Delhi).

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