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India’s lanka vote at the un

INDIA’S LANKA VOTE AT THE UN By Prem Chandran What did India prove, as the resolution against Sri Lanka came .....




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INDIA’S LANKA VOTE AT THE UN

By Prem Chandran

What did India prove, as the resolution against Sri Lanka came up at the UN? If anything, it proved yet again how weak-kneed this country’s foreign policy apparatus is today.

To begin with, the establishment let the idea spread that it would not back the UN resolution, and stand with Colombo. Then came the DMK supremo’s ultimatum to either back the UN resolution, with amendments, or be ready for a parting of ways – meaning, a DMK exit from the UPA. Ultimately, India backed the resolution against Sri Lanka, even as the UPA lost the backing of its key ally. Should India take a policy decision after so much public haggling between partners of the ruling establishment, especially on matters of foreign policy? And, finally what has come of it? A typical case of the tail wagging the dog, and yet to nobody’s benefit.

Can a nation worth its salt take, or be seen to be taking, a stand at a top international forum based on the dictates from the ruling establishment’s political ally— and a regional entity at that? Or, even granted that it was in such a position as being duty-bound to heed the word from one of its support bases, should the government not have done it in a way it ultimately is projected as the nation’s well-thought-out stand; and not one adopted under duress. What are we trying to prove, or not to prove?

We have, for a long time, been fooling around – literally so – when it comes to handling our neighbours. In this particular case, what impression have we conveyed to Colombo? It is that the Indian establishment was willing to back Sri Lanka in espousing its cause, or in defending itself, had it not been for the hard line its southern ally has adopted. But, in the end, did it help India in diplomatic terms?

Well, what then is diplomatic term? Concept is that we as a strong nation use every development in the neighbourhood in ways as would, with due regard to the collective conscience of the humanity, benefit us either in the short term or in the long run; and use opportunities to put errant neighbours in their place. Former president George Bush had taken this policy to a higher level: If you are not our friend, you are our enemy! Our policy is simple: If you are not a friend, so be it – which perhaps is, something that gives the neighbours the strength to keep fiddling with our nerves.

That the two Dravidian parties would do their best to make India back the resolution was without doubt; that has been the way they are; and that has been the way they seek to protect Tamil interests, even as they might be knee-deep in corruption and other acts of omissions and commissions – and talk is that there, too, even a part of the booty goes back to the ‘Tamil’ people at large – unlike the case of other politicians and political parties! The result: between them, they have developed over 300 cities, making TN among the two top urbanized states in the country.

So, what could a government badly in need of one such party’s support do? Simply, it could persuade it to lie low or try and accommodate its interests when a decision was taken; and not let it be known to anyone, least of all the media, what it would do -- until a final decision was taken either way. Play cards close to one’s chest, rather. So, when the decision is announced, it becomes all our decision. As if a nation is standing up and saying it this way or that way. If it turns out to be a decision that goes against a neighbour, so be it! It has the collective backing of the nation and its people.

That’s how a nation shows its strengths. And, that is how a nation earns its respect. But, is the nation’s pride a priority for those at the helm of affairs here today?

The drama that preceded India’s voting at the UN is not an isolated instance. It rather fits into a general scheme. When it comes to foreign policy, feelings are that this nation keeps groping in the dark, or, like a boat, is adrift in mid-sea, for decades on end. Other than the support in some measure from the US, which we have begun to earn in recent years thanks due to efforts from the prime minister himself, there is little of good tidings for this country on its foreign policy front. Even a small entity like Italy takes us for granted not because Sonia Gandhi is sitting in Delhi, but because it thinks too low of this country. We are one billion plus, a fifth of the world in here, but we have very little of international clout.

It is nobody’s argument that Salman Khurshid does not have the experience required to handle the external affairs ministry. But, yet, there are strong misgivings about the way the ministry is handled today, and in recent years as well, though it, prima facie, fits in well with the general make-up of the present establishment. Khurshid’s well-thought-out pronouncements, their tones targeted more at his own support bases, and less at the wider audience, have only added to the anguish of the foreign policy watchers in this country. Looks like, we are sending out so many wrong signals to India watchers abroad.

Despite the positive and hands-off approach New Delhi adopts in respect of India’s neighbours, feelings are that we hardly have friends; and, almost every nation in the vicinity is keeping a distance with India; and some of them, including Sri Lanka, are openly courting China even to an extent it posed grave danger to our geopolitical interests. The small nation of Maldives was one close ally, other than Bangladesh, but not any more. Even opinion inside Bangladesh is evenly split today, as one side is dead set against this country, even boycotting a presidential visit; and the future of alignments there is uncertain. What is left for India? Not even the only other Hindu nation of Nepal, while Pakistan’s Zardari is getting a treatment matching that for a son-in-law when he visits Beijing – and frequently at that. That is, China in our neighbourhood.

Sri Lanka’s president Mahinda Rajapaksa has, if anything, proven how leadership should be all about. Till he landed on the political horizon, Sri Lanka was a nation adrift, its life shattered by rebel violence and its economy hard-hit by the steep fall in revenue from tourism, its main money prop. He called the bluff of the LTTE, and Prabhakaran at that, through tough, ruthless and well-planned operations. That the Tamils have a cause to uphold and fight for was without doubt; and all our sympathies are with the harried Tamil population in Sri Lanka. India would have been in a better position to guide the destiny of the Tamils and ensure peaceful co-existence there, had we had a more effective foreign policy framework; rather, we have not only failed in helping the Tamils, but also failed in keeping Sri Lanka on our side. There was no gain either way.

In dealing with children, chocolates alone won’t suffice; and a surfeit of it will only spoil them. So with foreign policy matters. Who will take India seriously when India does not take itself seriously? Today, Colombo couldn’t care less about New Delhi, for the reason that we have given it the feeling it could take us for granted, and even cock a snook at us, a la the Chinese route.

The perceived vacillation in respect of supporting the US-sponsored resolution, and then voting in support half-heartedly, might be seen as yet another proof of New Delhi’s weak-kneed approach to foreign policy matters, especially in respect of our neighbours – something that is evident more prominently in respect of Pakistan. By the way, what would Pakistan have done if a similar resolution came up at UN on the situation in Kashmir? Certainly, they would not have toed New Delhi’s line? --premcee@gmail.com

Last edited by Premchandran; 03-22-2013 at 12:09 AM
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