It is very special for India to have Aung San Suu Kyi in New Delhi to deliver a lecture on the birth anniversary of the greatest prime minister this country has had the privilege to have after Independence. She, too, acknowledged that truth. But it is equally sad to witness how, over the years, India’s ‘foreign policy’ has played an untenable role in its immediate neighbourhood. We have managed to successfully alienate the South Asian countries that share a border with us as well as those that do not.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s foreign policy made great sense. As the years rolled on, rather than fine-tuning India’s foreign policy to deal with the changing socio-political situations in the region, successive governments discarded the sane, unusual and intellectually creative tenets of the earlier policy that had made sense to the region and contributed to its stability and growth. Today, India has failed to command the respect and trust of the countries that come together under the banner of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation. We have managed to rub all the member states the wrong way by our inept management of bilateral issues and by playing the game like an arrogant ‘big brother’.
For a democracy as large and dominant as ours, to have supported the junta in Myanmar instead of extending unqualified support to Suu Kyi is unacceptable to those who believe in human freedom. Whatever the economic, geo-political and other compulsions, nothing merits what India did as a neighbour which claims to believe in the democratic rights of individuals. Surely we should have persuaded the junta to explore alternative options.
When Suu Kyi won the election and was freed, leaders over the world paid her a visit at home but India chose not to. Then when the prime minister visited Myanmar, he did not do what some other world leaders had done — call on Suu Kyi at her iconic family home. Instead, she was asked to call on him at the hotel.
India has become insular, and is unable to reach out in a genuine and open manner. Everything seems to be crafted by the babu and put into an archaic, corrosive straitjacket. Pompous, disconnected from ideas and the diversity of thought and action, living within isolated ivory towers of self deception, the men and women who rule India’s relations with the neighbourhood and the larger world have managed to disengage us from them all. In the process, we have become the pet of a declining and fading global power. Instead of taking advantage of its closeness to the United States of America, India seems to have abdicated its mind and soul.
Our peculiar response during the Maldives crisis — where the elected president was illegally overthrown in a coup — was as unacceptable as our blind support of the junta. If the ousted president were to be re-elected at a later date, he may well be because of what he has been put through by a dictatorial regime and has age on his side — the last country he would trust is India, and rightly so.
After the abject failure of the Indian government on the Teesta waters issue with Bangladesh, that country, too, would never trust us. We continue to bungle in Sri Lanka where India’s assurances carry very little weight. India’s relationship with Pakistan has not improved. The United Progressive Alliance government has expended considerable energy in this area but failed to get results. This is because neither Pakistan nor India has faith in each other. India’s foreign policy is in urgent need of a radical overhaul and new thinking.
Salman Khurshid has a great opportunity to re-write the script and embrace the region with a sense of equal partnership that will re-ignite trust.