India’s foreign policy seems to be on a reset mode. Over the past few months, it has gone out of its way to lock horns with the United States of America on the Devyani Khobragade episode, and even made a determined effort to rekindle its friendship with Russia by remaining a silent spectator to the latter’s take-over of Crimea. Given these antecedents, India’s change of stance during the vote against Sri Lanka at the United Nations human rights commission meet would be less surprising. Contrary to its behaviour on the two earlier occasions when it voted against its southern neighbour by overturning its own policy to not vote in favour of any country-specific resolution of the UN, India this time abstained from the vote. As reason, India argued that it found the resolution favouring an independent international inquiry into Sri Lanka’s war crimes too intrusive, too damaging to the nation’s institutions and too contrary to the spirit of the earlier UN resolutions. India, however, did not stop at that. It went on to pay a back-handed compliment to Sri Lanka’s own efforts at reconciliation by citing the northern provincial council elections and the country’s cooperation with the UN human rights commissioner. This change of tack may not have Sri Lanka swooning in India’s arms, but it does save the situation for India at a time the rest of the region — Pakistan, Myanmar, the Maldives, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Vietnam, and the overlords, that is, Russia and China — was firmly rooting for Sri Lanka. India’s third vote against Sri Lanka at such a juncture would have established it as a permanent adversary of the island country, and perhaps lost for it a say in Sri Lanka’s treatment of its Tamil minorities.
But India’s move, undoubtedly expedient, does not cover it in glory. The United Progressive Alliance government has failed to establish that it has the strength to free the nation’s foreign policy from domestic political considerations. The UPA’s shift of strategy was made possible because the absence of an alliance with any of the strident pro-Tamil Dravida Kazhagam parties made it possible for the Congress-led government to breathe easy. But an abstention is a half-way house. By refusing to take a vote, India has neither upheld its commitment to the cause of human rights nor has it been able to re-establish itself as a regional power that is unafraid to speak its mind.