In the debate on the 123 agreement, commentators have overwhelmingly supported the prime minister and lambasted the communists. It is difficult to decide whether this is based on the relative merit of their positions, or whether those who have access to television and newspapers are just fond of the gentlemanly prime minister and dislike the communists. Amongst the communists, those with the most ferocious scowls win beauty contests, and use of abusive and violent language is mandatory; how otherwise would we know who are the real enemies of the enemies of the people' But when commentators react adversely to the faultlessly off-putting communists, there is a danger that in their hurry to shoot the messenger, they are erasing the message. Behind the communist verbiage, there is a real issue lurking: that we have options in foreign policy and Manmohan Singh is closing some of them.
Every nation is an area; beyond its borders lie other countries. If they were wilderness, there would be no need for a policy towards them. But countries have governments and people which are friendly or unfriendly towards us. So we have to take steps to protect ourselves against the hostile acts of some, and ally ourselves with others to gain leverage against hostile nations. These steps constitute foreign policy. As long as there are unfriendly nations, foreign policy cannot be avoided; and it will always have a confrontational aspect.
It is difficult to see us achieving an uncontaminated, friendly relationship with Pakistan; Pakistan would have to commit suicide if we ceased to be its enemy. That is one unavoidable reason why we would need a foreign policy. It might not be important if only Pakistan were involved, for its economy is only a seventh the size of ours. But China has overtly aided Pakistan in ways that are not entirely peaceful; that makes foreign policy a far more serious matter.
The Chinese economy is twice as large as ours. The Chinese are at least as capable technologically as we are, and given their much larger economy, they can muster far more economic and military strength. They are also incomparably better than us in producing material goods. For these reasons, foreign policy cannot be a matter of matching China plus Pakistan. We cannot match them; that is why we need allies.
The allies cannot be the size of Gambia and Zambia. There are only two entities that can match China’s might: the European Union and the United States of America. Of the two, the EU has defined its foreign policy goals in such a way as to rule out an alliance with us. At the time of its formation 50 years ago, it decided to take Africa under its wing and told India to get lost. At that time, India was still smarting under the extended insult of having been a colony and was therefore being unfriendly to Britain. EU was trying to enrol the United Kingdom; between Britain and India, the EU chose Britain. Further, the EU consisted of countries that were America’s junior partners in Nato; so it too abjured an independent role in world politics, and acted like America’s dutiful Muslim wife. At that time, the EU was afraid of being abducted by the Soviet Union. Now Russia has shrunk so much that it cannot think of abducting anyone. But the EU has not yet come out of purdah.
Although we never ceased to call ourselves a non-aligned country, Indira Gandhi went to Moscow and signed a ‘friendship treaty’ with the Soviet Union in 1971. The signature got her immense quantities of planes and tanks, which she used to trounce Pakistan and separate its eastern province. We benefited enormously from being a client of the Soviet Union, and so we remained till the Soviet Union collapsed.
At that point, the considerations I have spelt out in the beginning should have impelled us to seek a new patron. But the threats were not compelling. Pakistan was just a mouse, and China’s economy was much smaller than it is today. So P.V. Narasimha Rao simply put off a decision. He maintained good relations with the new Russia; it in turn continued to favour us in small ways — helped us make fighter planes, gave us some oil once in a while, and so on.
In the years since then, however, the relationship between Russia and China has been transformed. When the Soviet Union collapsed, its successor Russia could no longer afford the military and technological establishment it inherited. Many of its scientists and engineers became unemployed; China took them away and gave them jobs. China also bought up much Soviet military hardware from bankrupt Russia in a fire sale. Since then, Chinese businessmen have moved massively into Russia’s sparsely populated far east. Today, the economy of Russia beyond the Urals has become dependent on Chinese trade and investment. Russia is no longer capable of independent action against, let alone military confrontation with, China. So it floated the idea of a trilateral alliance between China, India and itself. Eventually India kept or was kept out of it, and it became a group of China with Russia and its central Asian satellites. Japan, the only other large economy in Asia, has invested massively in China — so much so that its manufacturing output in China probably exceeds its domestic output by now. So it too would find hostilities with China extremely uncomfortable.
So should the US, since it receives such a large proportion of its consumer goods from China. But George W. Bush has revived the idea of the US as a global power — acting as a policeman, rewarding and punishing smaller nations, intervening in local conflicts and generally throwing its weight about. He also had the idea of ending the nuclear pariah status of India. Manmohan Singh responded with enthusiasm; he was being offered a gift horse, and he took it.
But the leftists say they have looked the gift horse in the mouth, and found that it is really a Trojan horse — that inside it lurks a whole military alliance directed against China. Manmohan Singh says it is not and it does not. But if it were, it would make good sense. For it is Bush who has made a mouse out of Musharraf after 9/11. He has served our interests, and it makes sense to keep him on our side. And the leftists can think of no alternative, unless it is neutralism Fifties style.
Old-fashioned non-alignment is not an entirely stupid idea. It is what China’s foreign policy is about. For China sees that its economic growth is making it increasingly dependent on the rest of the world. It does not have the strength to subdue the world, so it befriends everyone — some more than others, but otherwise without discrimination. Maybe the leftists think that it would be possible for India and China to be friends. Before they can be friends, however, China would have to stop helping Pakistan and, in general, to stop interfering in the Indian Ocean area. Maybe the leftists, with their phonemenal powers of persuasion, can bring China around. The prime minister should send a delegation of the Karats, Raja, Yechuri, Pandhe to China. Maybe they will like it there.