The Economist magazine of UK has just recommended India over China to foreign investors. The point it makes has been made before, which is that India may be chaotic on the surface but is calm below. The opposite is said about China.

But despite such high-powered recommendation of India by a world-class publication, some caveats are necessary, especially in respect to the conduct of foreign relations. Some great powers and puny states alike, including the US, China and Pakistan, take our democratic skirmishes at face value, and seek to make divisive interventions that could someday prove costly.

Consider the Indo-US nuclear deal. It might be argued that as contentious as its earlier "positive mandate" from Parliament proved to be -- the Left pulled out of the government and the Manmohan Singh regime at best won a corrupt confidence vote in the Lok Sabha -- the subsequent consensual parliamentary approval of the nuclear liability law put a permanent lid on the controversy.

But in the middle of the nuclear-deal scrimmage, at least one unfortunate incident happened. The US approached the Manmohan Singh government about the BJP's opposition to the nuclear deal. You may or may not accept the BJP's opposition (this writer, for the record, does), but the Centre handled the American interrogation wrongly. It asked the US government directly to speak to the BJP, when it would have been wiser to say the opposition was being engaged.

If, thereafter, an unconvinced US took the matter straight up with the BJP, that would be the call of a sovereign state. But the Indian government wouldn't in any way be implicated. By directing the US to the BJP, the Manmohan Singh government was ceding its authority and diminishing the Centre. It was putting the official stamp on internal political differences which ought never to be done. For its part, the BJP should have heard out the US, but politely closed the conversation by saying its points of differences would be conveyed to the government. At all times, the government should be the single window of interface for any foreign state.

The US is not the only country to attempt to play upon perceived internal political differences. Pakistan and particularly its ex-dictator, Parvez Musharraf, have tried it all too often in the past and continue to do so. At Agra, Musharraf worked on the alleged differences between A.B.Vajpayee and L.K.Advani. When the UPA-I government was formed, Musharraf tried to show Manmohan Singh down by saying Vajpayee was a doughtier peace-maker. Then Musharraf invited Sonia Gandhi to visit Pakistan to exploit the fact that Manmohan Singh was PM at her pleasure. Now again, as Musharraf attempts a desperate political comeback in Pakistan, he has reversed his stand, hailing Manmohan Singh as a bigger conciliator than Vajpayee. Musharraf's game is obvious. But his bait should not be taken.

China too carries the misimpression that India is weak because of its democracy. In a recent phase of downturn in Sino-Indian relations, the Chinese had articulated the possibility of Balkanizing India along its linguistic "faultlines", forgetting that they were overcome long ago. More currently, to prevent any Chinese extrapolation of India's Commonwealth Games (CWG) fiasco as somehow reflective of the country's strategic confusion, this writer had argued about India's core strengths, one of which happens to be democracy. The message got home to the Chinese, who quickly sympathized with India's CWG predicaments in their regular foreign-office briefing.

The point is this. In any democracy, political differences cannot artificially be capped. They make a democracy both weak and strong, but stronger by far. It is most important that foreign powers do not misconstrue India's democratic chaos for weakness, as some examples given above show. How that is done, particularly in the realm of foreign affairs, is to make government the sole point of official contact for other countries. This might appear to be obvious, but when there seem other locations of appeal, like, say, Sonia Gandhi or the BJP or (for the Chinese) the CPI-M, then India weakens. This is not to say foreign countries should be barred from engaging non-government notables, opposition parties, etc. But they should understand that the policy of divide and extract won't be tolerated.

The strength of chaotic but calm India can no longer be taken for granted.