Mohan Guruswamy | Stop meddle & muddle: rethinking regional policy

Just as we would like to extol our first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as the founder of modern India’s foreign policy, like all other great countries, our policy also draws its basis from one man, the French Cardinal Richelieu, who has enshrined the national interest as the sole guiding principle in conducting business with other nations. The French have an elegant expression for it. reason of state. Richelieu rejected the idea that politics should be based on values ​​and sentimental considerations. He believed, like all of us still, that the State has permanent interests, the singular pursuit of which requires a great deal of intellectual and moral flexibility. He believed that the only challenge a decision maker faced is deciding what the national interest was and what it required? It is this singular pursuit that made Catholic France intervene in the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) alongside the Protestants to block the growing power of the Pope. Under the impetus of Richelieu, the philosopher Jean de Silhon defined the concept of reason of state as “a medium between what conscience allows and business requires”.

How we see our national interest depends on how we see ourselves. Here is the catch. The Rump Republic of India sees itself as the successor to the British Raj, who left these shores in 1947. During the two centuries that Britain was the supreme power in India, India’s national interests were synonymous with those of Great Britain. The primary interest of the supreme power, as far as India was concerned, was to keep the goose that laid the golden eggs healthy. Lord Curzon of Kedlestone, who was Viceroy of India (1898-1905) and later British Foreign Minister (1919-24), is still regarded by many of our foreign policy elites as the man who describes India’s grand strategic vision and its goal of mending limits. These people argue that while the political context may have changed, the geography has not. The physical geography may not have changed, but the political geography has changed a lot. Afghanistan is no longer the glacis on which the war for India will take place. Tibet and Xinjiang are no longer buffers against threats from the north. Threats are upon us now.

Immediately after 1947, India’s foreign policy was still conducted by the Western educated elite who had absorbed their lessons in Cambridge and Oxford and believed they were the legatees of the white man’s burden, including defense. from India. India’s immediate neighbors, for their own reasons, still largely regard India’s conduct towards them as a continuation of the British heritage. It didn’t help much when the Oxbridge elite were followed by the St. Stephen’s elite who were also chosen for the same last “laat sahib“mold.

As a result, our diplomats have tended to be bossy with small, non-hostile neighbors, often treating them like stray schoolchildren. This is the constant complaint heard in the neighborhood, whether in Colombo or Kathmandu. More and more such voices are being heard in Thimphu as well. With Bangladesh too, we quickly moved from the status of liberator to that of neighborhood tyrant. The dominant Indian discourse of “demographic aggression” by the Bangladeshis “ghusbaitis”Created a certain unnecessary mentality in both countries. After all, what must a nation think when its largest neighbor sees it as an inexhaustible source of human vermin?

To add to our woes, we always seem to wear those Curzonian blinders that have bequeathed us the Great Game mentality by emphasizing highways, railways, sea lanes, and ports as military threats. South Block still does not seem to have realized that modern military means and technology have made Mahan and Mackinder’s theories largely irrelevant. It’s this kind of infantilism that makes us see every Chinese investment in the cash-strapped region as a threat to India’s hegemony, when even our worst fears about Hambantota or Gwadar make them juicy targets. and easy.

While excoriating Foreign Secretary Earl Russell in the House of Lords on February 4, 1864, Edward Stanley, Earl of Derby, said:. “But we are no longer prepared to behave like Lord Curzon either. The tension between this Curzonian tendency to interfere and Jawaharlal Nehru’s passive mind to become confused still persists. We see that manifest in the responses. policies from New Delhi to the current situations in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh or the Maldives – with more confusion than interference. The muddle in South Block is not due to the limited number of options. there’s no embarrassment of riches, but a poverty of clarity.

The most important development of this century so far has been the rise of China as an economic power, with its military not far behind. Former Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jeichi, responding to criticism of China’s assertiveness, just said, “China is a big country and the other countries are small countries, and that’s just a made. far too small to be able to compete with him in his checkbook diplomacy frenzy. Most of India’s regional neighbors are poor countries and if their adversity forces them not to look Chinese gift horses in the teeth, then we have to understand that. Under other circumstances, we too could have done it too? Debt doesn’t kill. I remember the saying used by Walter Wriston, the legendary president of Citibank, who told my class at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy over 40 years ago: “Countries don’t sink, they turn.”

But our inherited Curzonian vision and now a little of the notion of containment induced by the Americans push India into a posture of confrontation with China. India will do well to remember that of the four countries that are part of the “Quadrilateral”, only India has a long and controversial land border with China. Quad’s other three players are linked to China’s growth engine and are also most responsible for its rise: America with its commercial lavishness and Japan with its massive investments and technology transfer. They really created today’s China. India must be wary of becoming her cat’s paw.

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