Trouble at home
Internal schisms are impairing Narendra Modi’s foreign policy.
New Delhi: The success of a country’s foreign policy is directly proportional to its internal strength, unity and coherence. Internal strength, unity and coherence are partly located in the natural characteristics of a nation and partly fostered by statesmanship. It is a classical theorem of people and leadership. Each is dependent on the other. But a failed leadership cannot promote internal strength, unity and coherence however well-endowed the natural assets of a country; and this deficit will ipso facto produce an infirm and failed foreign policy.
Dramatically weakened by social unrest, and the 1905 defeat to Japan serving as a psychological shock to Imperial Russia, it was in no position to successfully participate in the First World War, in whose midst it collapsed in disarray and revolution. In this denouement, the failed leadership of the last Tsar was self-evident. In the case of contemporaneous Hohenzollern Germany, the state was strong and the people united, these being the singular contributions of the Iron Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck; but the leadership that succeeded him was disastrous. Germany endured one world war after another and withstood foreign occupation, but it was no longer possible for it to become a Great Power again when a long peace was established in Western Europe after 1945.
The people-leadership theorem was tested in the United States as well and it produced no different results. While the Vietnam War was not initiated by Richard Nixon, he having inherited the conflict from his predecessor, Lyndon Baines Johnson, he faced its worst effects nevertheless. The Peace Movement virtually nullified Nixon’s foreign policy, compelled the Congress to choke US defence spending, and indirectly resulted in massive expansion of the Soviet footprint across the globe. At its core, American strength remained unimpaired; the leadership failed. In not very different circumstances and perhaps in an even tougher climate, Ronald Reagan united America and gave coherence to its foreign policy. The Soviet collapse became unavoidable and indeed shocked everybody with its speed and irreversibility.
A. B. Vajpayee, one of the country’s most reflective Prime Ministers, had some sensible observations to offer in the context of the second Gulf War. American intervention had occurred although its disastrous outcome was still some years ahead. Vajpayee used the Iraqi context to speak of internal unity and neighbourliness. In a peace message to Pakistan, he said disunity and tension invited foreign intervention. Vajpayee was clear what that meant for India: Its plural society had to be preserved at all costs. Pakistan took his message lightly. Not only did it spurn peace with India and wage terrorism, it looked the other way as sectarian groups indulged in wanton killings within Pakistan. Never very mindful of its sovereignty, Pakistan became a playfield for assorted Great and regional powers to pursue their dubious interests. The result is that Pakistan is no longer in control of its territory.
This short tour of history should give pause to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to evaluate the country’s internal strength, unity and coherence. To this writer’s mind, these have been damaged. The minorities feel threatened with the anti-cow slaughter vigilantism: Two men have been killed by mobs so far. The Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh says he will hang cow-slaughterers: When has cow slaughter, although illegal in some states, become a capital crime? The Rajasthan government has imposed a tax to save cows: It is so crude that it dishonours the purpose. In Bengal, the BJP opposition is encouraging public processions with weapons, which is downright illegal. In Hyderabad, a BJP legislator threatens to behead those opposed to a Ram temple in Ayodhya. And the urbane Tarun Vijay references South Indians in a lowly conversation on skin tone. Is the BJP serious about becoming a national party? Would schisms such as this strengthen the Prime Minister’s foreign policy?
India has embarked on a contentious strategic course with China. The cause is just. But a disunited India would be at China’s mercy. China will avenge the Dalai Lama card. Some joint naval action against pirates won’t alter China’s deep animus for this country. It makes good copy here but China has ignored it. The world has entered perilous waters. The Indo-Pacific region is primed for explosion. The US targeting of North Korea could lead to uncalculated Chinese actions against US partners, including India. India has to be on guard. The violence unleashed by sections claiming proximity to the Sangh Parivar must be put down with a firm hand. In no circumstances must a state permit vigilantism (including the anti-Romeo squads of Uttar Pradesh, which are scandalous). The state cannot secede from its obligations to uphold the law. Doing so would weaken the state. Its consequences should be amply manifest to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Internal turmoil is wrecking Indian foreign policy.
Editor’s Note: The speed and secrecy of Kulbhushan Jadhav’s death sentence by a Pakistan army court ties to Chinese pressure, with the aim to warn Baluch separatists who are impeding the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Pakistani politicians have admitted there is no evidence of the charges of espionage and sabotage framed against Jadhav. India must most strenuously demand his safe return. This is a test of Prime Minister Modi’s foreign policy resolve.