New Delhi: The conduct of foreign policy is solely geared to secure the best advantages for your country in the international sphere. You may do this alone as a great power or lead an alliance or work with like-minded states. You could also possess satellites or have such force of national character and the will to power as to become the middle kingdom. Soft power, smart power and the many other neologisms, some bogus and a few that are valuable, frequently are joined to the conduct and advance of foreign policy.

But domestic strength and political clarity are keys to foreign policy success. You cannot win laurels in the second by neglecting the first. The second, indeed, flows from the first and not vice versa, as India’s inaugural and rather disastrous prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, thought. But for Sardar Patel, India would have fragmented within some years of independence, and Nehru’s record, among others, of misdealing with the country’s two principal enemies, China and Pakistan, proved his utter unworthiness to be prime minister.

Moreover, as the general flow of history of the country’s biggest and most hegemonic political party at independence, the Congress, suggests, the organization was not with Nehru. It was with Vallabhbhai Patel, and wanted him to be prime minister, but someone who held the whiphand, decided otherwise, and rather autocratically, whereafter the aberrant Nehru took over, and successfully built a personality cult, which survives to this day. It is another matter that after his death, the Congress satraps returned to life, and strengthened Lal Bahadur Shashtri, who went on in 1965 to reverse some of the military ignominies suffered earlier.

The point is rather plain. You are only as strong overseas as you are powerful within. This straight correlation was established with Indira Gandhi and the creation of Bangladesh. Equally, her own insecurities and paranoia after 1980 made India insecure and ripe for Pakistani terroristic intervention. Rajiv Gandhi was compromised as prime minister and consequently blundered in Sri Lanka. You can indubitably make foreign-policy mistakes while being domestically impregnable as with George W.Bush and the Iraq invasion but that was a case of hubris. But you can never impress the world by being weak internally. This is Manmohan Singh’s story.

The United Progressive Alliance presently is tied up in knots over the prime minister’s attendance at the Commonwealth Summit in Sri Lanka. The Commonwealth is a dead grouping, deader than Nehru’s Non-Aligned Movement. Why India should remain in it is anyone’s guess, unless it is to perpetuate Nehru’s failed political legacy, because the Commonwealth’s sole object is to keep the non-existent British Empire’s flag flying. As a “une nation de boutiquiers”, Britain has a perfect entitlement to be proud of Oxford Street, and you may throw Conservative RP into the kitty, but it is scarcely a great power. Why keep on and on about the Commonwealth?

But the controversial Sri Lanka summit is merely a symptom. Manmohan Singh ran into trouble with his Baluchistan concession to Pakistan and admitting it into the league of terrorized nations. He was precocious to sign the border enclaves’ agreement with Bangladesh without taking Mamata Bannerjee into confidence whose state stands to lose the most. To appease the Chinese border aggressors, a pact was inked, which is Manmohan Singh’s version of the Panchsheel... How do these serial compromises become doctrine, as his aides insist, unless appeasement is the new virtue? But, perhaps, they are not new at all, but a continuation of Nehru’s naive Hindi-Chini-bhai-bhai sentimentality.

To be sure, international diplomacy is a highly competitive domain, where negotiated settlements are not unknown, but India is rather miserable at the game. It surrendered victorious territory in 1965, missed the chance to settle the border with Pakistan in Kashmir in 1972, failed in imposing the peace in Sri Lanka and in the surrounding Indian Ocean, and generally permitted bullying by the pipsqueaks of South Asia. When you are a big, powerful country, you have to act the part, whether you like it or not. It is the law of nature. Revolutionary China learnt this critical lesson from the “bainian guochi”. All foreign policy must be conducted on the profitability principle. You cannot recklessly sign free trade agreements faithful to a text read at university. Soft power is nice till it is not overrated and is backed by military muscle. Such isn’t the Indian case in Afghanistan. All our Afghan investments have gone to waste. They were predicated on the foolish assumption of endless American occupation of the country. How unreal we have got in international affairs.

After Manmohan Singh’s government is voted out, there has to be an overhaul of India’s foreign policy and its conduct. Nehruvianism has failed. The Indian diplomatic cadre in its present orientation and form has ceased delivering. One would be hard-pressed to find any diplomatic mission that can justify its existence outside the requirement of servicing political exigencies. This includes the high commission in London and the embassy in Washington. What is our diplomacy in Sri Lanka reduced to, for example? The essence of the argument for Manmohan Singh’s presence in Sri Lanka is to prevent its drift China-wards. But a show of minimal naval might should have produced that outcome long ago.

India needs reinvention in the vision of Sardar Patel. Six-and-a-half decades have been lost following the dangerous and flawed course of Jawaharlal Nehru. History does not give a second chance.