The Fact File-A standoff between two largest “Democracies” Devyani Episode
An Undiplomatic Affair 15 Jan 2014
If democracy entails policy making that must be responsive to public and electoral sensitivities, then the Indian government couldn’t really have acted differently. This is not to suggest diplomacy must be surrendered to street rhetoric and visceral emotion. It is only to contend that as India’s polity has become more fragmented and as electoral competition has intensified, sources of foreign policymaking too have multiplied.
A variety of domestic constituencies –many of which only had a peripheral foreign policy role 20 years ago-now influence the external affairs ministry (MEA). These range from a loud media, particularly news television, to middle-class opinion that can be overdone but is difficult to entirely ignore. Finally, there are state governments and regional voting groups that come into play.
A distant observer could well dismiss the end result as not being ‘mature’. Yet, a democracy’s foreign policy does in some manner have to reflect its democratic pressures, good or bad. America knows this. In 1960, a US Air Force pilot, Gary Powers, was shot down over the Soviet Union and put in prison. Public and media reaction was significant. Powers’s father gave a series of interviews and even wrote to Nikita Khrushchev, “father to father…one old coalminer to another.
No foreign policy relationship can be nurtured (or destroyed) by just diplomats and ivory-tower in terlocutors, having a discussion in a closed room. If domestic factors can harm India-US ties, it is necessary to encourage countervailing domestic factors that can remedy this damage. Here India needs to do some course correction.
Where has India gone wrong? Powerful sections of the Prime Minister’s Office have let the US relationship decay, while advocating a quixotic and starry-eyed approach to China. It is no secret that the State Department bureaucracy is not packed with enthusiasm for India. The Pentagon and American business have been better constituencies for India but New Delhi has neglected both.
A critical drag has been India’s lethargy in economic decision-making. President Barack Obama took office in 2009 not as a grand strategist with any abiding interest in India but as a transactional president who thought of jobs and economic benefit. To some degree, his goals were never going to be compatible with India’s. Nevertheless the UPA government didn’t help by putting economic reforms on the slow burner and downsizing GDP growth.
In turn, a sliding economy gave India less space for strategic thinking and, for example, a maritime role in Southeast Asia that may have brought it to While House’s attention. Finally, cussed reversals in tax and trade policy caused a situation where India was and is being (overstatedly) pilloried on its intellectual-pro-party record even by companies that had invested heavily here, and by a US IT industry that was once its greatest champion.
TOI 10 Jan 2014 Ashok Malik
A small affair blown up to a war like situation. Cant the two countries sit down and resolve to a amicable solution, specially to plug the weakness, for the future.