In the everyday politics of the chaotic democracy that India is, foreign policy issues figure down the priority list except when it comes to matters of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and the Kashmir dispute.
The recent border impasse with China, however, has brought foreign policy and strategic analysis to the forefront. It is likely that the current crisis would lead to a change in the direction of Indian foreign policy. The shibboleth of Indian foreign policymakers has been the mantra of ‘strategic autonomy’, which might as well be a repackaged version of Non-Alignment.
As the balance of power is clearly skewed in favour of China, some analysts have argued for a closer alignment with the US to balance against China. The proposal also includes sustained cooperation with middle powers in the Indo-Pacific region like Japan, Australia, Indonesia, among others, which goes against the grain of strategic autonomy.
As the debate over contours of foreign policy continues, produced below is an excerpt advocating revision in the then well-known Indian external affairs strategy of Non-Alignment. On November 15, 1965, Minoo Masani gave a speech in the Parliament outlining his vision of foreign policy for India. After diagnosing the failure of the government on matters connected to India’s external relations, Masani came up with his own agenda. The measures proposed included the formation of a regional security alliance, support to Tibet and Taiwan, diplomatic relations with Israel, normal relations with Pakistan in order to focus on the biggest threat and acceptance of help from both the US and USSR.
Mr. Speaker, Sir, I rise to support our (the Swatantra Party’s) alternative motion which says: “The House … is of opinion that, in the face of the combined hostility of Communist China and Pakistan, the country needs a radical revision in its foreign policy, the discarding of dogma and the adoption of realistic diplomacy involving, inter alia,
(a) measures for building a system of regional collective security for all countries between India, Japan and Australasia;
(b) forthright support for the defence of South Vietnam and Malaysia against aggression;
(c) steps towards the liberation of Tibet and the recognition of the Dalai Lama as the head of a Free Tibetan Government; and
(d) the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Republic of China and Israel.”
Sir, on an occasion like this, we in this House speak from a sense of heightened responsibility, both because what we say may have implications for our national interests which we must bear in mind, and at the same time, because we are anxious that the advantage that this country possesses over its opponents in Pakistan and China, of being a Democracy in a crisis, where free discussion, free criticism and free opposition prevail, that advantage this country should not lightly throw away. As the Foreign Minister has said, this country has gone through a tremendous experience. We cannot do otherwise than to start with paying our tribute to the gallantry of our Armed Forces; we have had the unfortunate memories of 1962 thus wiped out, and the prestige and pride of our armed forces, which they had over centuries, have been re-established. Let us hope that there will be no tinkering or tampering with the morale of our forces, which has thus been re-established. The Foreign Minister was also right in paying a tribute to our people for rallying to the defence of the country, for the unity of purpose that they showed and for the communal harmony that was maintained throughout.
But I wish I could share the smug complacency with which he referred to the successes of our diplomacy and our foreign policy. These recent events have also some very hard lessons to teach us. The hardest of them was that, in the face of that crisis, India was isolated. I do not say that we did not have friends. But in our own corner, in our fight with Pakistan, except for Malaysia and Singapore, there was nobody. Let us not try to forget this fact of isolation; it is pretty bad. In the General Assembly of the UN, at the end of the debate, the Press Trust of India made an analysis of the trends in regard to our dispute with Pakistan. I am quoting from the Hindustan Times of 23rd October: According to the PTI, the spokesmen of 63 nations were neutral and did not go beyond appealing for peace, 19 were hostile to India and, of these 19, 11 were members of the Arab League. 3 made passing references but did not say anything. 25 ignored the issue. Out of 110, not one spoke up for us. This is something that cannot be side-tracked by recording satisfaction at our success in the Security Council. This has left our people bewildered; it has left some of our people rather angry. It is no good flying into a rage when nobody else can see our point of view. It reminds me of the story of the fond mother who went to see a military parade. At the end of the parade, her comment was, “Everybody was out of step except my Johnny”. That was her son! We cannot afford to be Johnny. We are living in a world community, where we must be in step with decent, democratic nations, whose friendship we regard. We cannot resign from the Human Race and turn our back on humanity. In a way, let us console ourselves that, since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, other nations have copied us and remained non-aligned in our dispute. We have so many times taken the stand that we will not judge what is right or wrong over the last 15 years. We should take sportingly the fact that other countries are now giving back to us a little of our own medicine!
The important thing is: why did this happen and how do we prevent a recurrence of this isolation? That, surely, should be the purpose of this debate. Let us look at the facts in the face. Was it only bad public relations, as some of our colleagues allege? Was it the fault of our diplomats? Let me say, in all fairness to our diplomatic service and publicity, that it was not a failure of public relations or diplomacy. I have been a practitioner of public relations. You cannot sell a product if the product cannot be sold. The first thing in public relations is to have a good product which can be sold. Then only can you advertise it and sell it. It is no good blaming our diplomats and ambassadors. The fault lay deeper. It lay in our foreign policy. We did not give them a product they could successfully sell in the councils of the world.
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IndianLiberals.in is an online library of all Indian liberal writings, lectures and other materials in English and other Indian regional languages. The material that has been collected so far contains liberal commentary dating from the early 19th century till the present. The portal helps preserve an often unknown but very rich Indian liberal tradition and explain the relevance of the writings in today’s context.
The opinions expressed in this essay are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of CCS.