Except for the Nehru and Indira Gandhi era, India’s diplomacy was more reactive and passive after independence toeing the non-aligned movement (NAM) spirit. In fact, Narshimha Rao’s Congress government not only took measures to initiate economic reforms but started looking for friends in Europe, the US and erstwhile Soviet Union. The BJP’s Atal Bihari Vajpayee carried forward an economic liberalization process initiated by Narshimha Rao laying emphasis on development of the IT sector, FDI, and Special Export Processing Zones (SEZ). He improved relations with China, the US, Israel, Russia and his initiatives in traveling to Lahore and opening the Delhi-Lahore bus service with Pakistan and to resolve bilateral disputes under the Lahore Declaration through peaceful confidence building measures (CBMs). However, the Kargil War unleashed by General Musharraf was a rude stab inflicted by the all pervasive and dreaded ISI and the Pakistani Army that did not produce any conducive results during the Vajpayee-Musharraf talks in the Agra Summit after the military general had led a bloodless coup, toppled Nawaz Sharif to became the president and visited India in 2001.
But all credit must go to the humble economist, Dr. Manmohan Singh, who actually initiated economic reforms in stagnating the Indian economy when Narshimha Rao who was the PM that were carried forward by the Vajpayee government that fundamentally changed the functionalities of the corporate world and improved the lives of the middle class citizenry.
The Indian PM Modi’s blitzkrieg-like offensive of Indian diplomacy kickstarted with inviting all the six South Asian neighbors and Mauritius during his swearing-in ceremony two years ago, followed by visits to Bhutan, Bangladesh and interaction with the BRICS heads of states, under looking east policy Modi-Abe talks in Japan and the bilateral deals with South Korea, the complex talks with Putin, Obama and President Xi Jinping toeing improving trade, crude supply, commerce, militarily improve Indian posture, resolving border disputes, selection as nuclear supply group (NSG) membership and create conducive environment favoring India’s nomination in the UNSC. Everyone was bowled with his stopover at Lahore to meet PM Sharif on his way back home from Kabul. Modi has visited the US three times, visited all important EU players, Saudi Arabia; in all 26 countries in 2015 and four countries in 2016 that include Belgium, the US and Saudi Arabia and as this column is printed while the Indian PM would be back from his 2 days visit to Iran, President Pranav Mukherjee would be gone to visit the People’s Republic of China, notwithstanding hiccups over Uighur visas, Azahar Mehmood and China rejecting India’s NSG stand.
PM Modi signed a $500 million worth tripartite agreement with Iran and Afghanistan to develop strategic Chabahar port 72 Km west of Gawadar port being developed in Pakistan by China. The Chabahar port will provide Afghanistan direct sea link with world to the land locked Afghanistan circumventing Pakistan. It will also provide a link for India to central Asian republics (CARs) for its energy needs and boosting trade and commerce while eclipsing China-Pakistan economic corridor. It will provide Afghanistan with much needed economic aid and trade to stabilize its war worn-out economy. India, Iran and Afghanistan appreciate their trust deficiency with Pakistan bullying around on sitting on Chinese shoulders and compulsive military and economic aid from the US.
In the complex and changing scenario, India’s diplomatic initiatives are not to keep aloof BUT offer itself as PM Modi says ‘neutral and natural allies’, to all the countries that matter and getting vote for election to the UNSC, every big and small country matters for India, not withstanding the veto powers and meeting mutual expectations amicably.
While media reports indicate massive Chinese military build up and upgrading military command structure in Tibet to counter India along with development of roads and rail links right up to Indian, Nepalese and Bhutanese borders, India needs to gear up to meet future Chinese challenges. We need to develop our northeast region at a faster pace along with developing border roads and rail links not only within India but both in Nepal and Bhutan also. These efforts will usher India with good relations with these buffer countries and also provide access to them to blue seas as Chabhar port would do for Afghanistan bringing peace and prosperity in South Asia. While it is the US prerogative to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. India desires that morally all the nations including Pakistan and China and the UNO must ensure that there is durable peace, the Taliban is eliminated, and security and all-round development of Afghanistan is ensured. Likewise, conflict with all its complexities in the wake the ISIS havoc in Syria and Iraq and immense problems of refugees’ influx in EU and elsewhere addressed. It is also time to declare Pakistan as a rouge state while many consider it a province of China. China also needs to realize that with development of Pakistan, the China-Economic corridor with the Gawadar port development, Taliban and al-Qaida terrorists will have direct access to Xingjian Uighur militants and pro-independence elements compromising Chinese national security and integrity.
India has major security issues with Pakistan and China due to long drawn border and river water disputes. If these complex issues are amicably resolved with assertive China and its terror supporting ally Pakistan, the rest of the problems India can resolve with others with good governance and favorable IT, trade and commerce practices.
Smaller countries like Cyprus, Turkey, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand etc. earn more from tourism than India. We are blessed with the Himalayas with an Alpine-like climate in Jammu and Kashmir, Ladakh, the North-East and the Uttrakhand region, over 7500 km of coastline, numerous islands, beaches, deserts, rivers and cultural and heritage offer immense tourism potentials. India is the cheapest destination for advanced medical tourism. Right infrastructure and initiatives can make us the most sought after destination, giving a bigger boost to the economy.
Many within and outside India are critical of Modi’s tours and travels or shuttle diplomacy and what Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi calls as ‘suit boot ki Sarkar’, literally meaning the government that “Suits the rich and boots the poor and or the government that believes in artificial showbiz. However, with stigmas of corruption and poor governance, the Nehru- Gandhi family-based leadership has no alternative solutions to offer to India’s myriad problems. No wonder the Congress Party is the elections constantly in various states to either Modi’s BJP or the regional parties. It needs to drastically do some soul-searching and connect with the masses.