Towards a New Foreign Policy

Dr. Rao VBJ. Chelikani

We are living in a new India and accordingly our relations with the international community and our bilateral relations with other countries, including with our neighbours, have to be reviewed at from this new reality, afresh and very urgently.  We need to declare a new foreign policy.

We are, still, stuck up with Panch-sheel principles in bilateral relations and Non-Alignment policy with regard to the former super powers and big powers, which are no more relevant. For all these years we have formulated orthodox state-centred policies based on international geo-politics and maintained a huge and costly diplomatic corps as international actors. As a legacy of our colonial heritage, we have problems with almost all of our neighbours, near and far, in our negotiations about our borders. Some radical thinking and paradigm changes are required in order to define a new economic and cultural role we should play in future in the midst of the international community for the promotion of peace and development. In a nutshell, we should become and behave like a powerful economic centre with a universal cultural mission, throwing into the dustbin our political state-based diplomatic relations.

New Panch-sheel:

The first principle should be to, hereafter, give priority to relations with the people, rather than with the state apparatus and its varying political governments. The second principle is priority to un-interrupted economic and cultural relations for improving the quality of life all human beings irrespective of their political enclaves to which they are confined. The third principle is that the people in India, morally, consider that all nature and the universe beyond as the common heritage of mankind that deserve to be shared by one and all, equitably, based on the vision of fraternity and human solidarity for faster development, with no exclusive sovereign rights to the political states, which have been formed as a matter of historical coincidences. Fourthly, we would, gradually, give up exclusive state-to-state bilateral diplomatic relations and operate only through sub-regional, regional and international multilateral bodies under the auspices of the UN bodies. Fifth principle would be to urge every state to accept to seek third party arbitration, preferably through the UN auspices in order to resolve forthwith without further delay all bilateral disputes, dealing with river waters, borders, etc.

International public opinion relayed by the national civil society organisations should persuade the governments to accept to abide by the above new universal Panch-sheel for mankind. The first such appeal was already made by the emperor Ashok Maurya. However, it is clear that so many changes cannot be brought and be accepted by one and all overnight. At each step, we can reap the benefits of extra-ordinary savings in our present public expenditure. Such savings can be diverted to the promotion of health, education and to development so as to convince all those recalcitrant states, which are mostly economically backward.

  1. In order to realise the objectives enunciated by the above universal Panch sheel, following measures can be attempted by the civil society in order to influence the decisions of the political government, the bureaucracy as well as the political class in the country and abroad. Externally, we can join a number of international civil society organisations working for a new social, economic, environmental and cultural order and appeal to various representatives of the member states in international and regional gatherings taking place regularly. Recently the G-20 meeting took place but the exchange with the civil societies had not been very peaceful. Either we can be invited to be observers or we can be given an opportunity to make a brief presentation. In any case, we can hold parallel NGO conferences and have exchange of information on such occasions.

  1. In India we can develop a model plan of action that would be tailor-made for our particular needs. Do we have enough courage and political will to, immediately, close our 183 country-wise embassies and call back our ambassadors, three ranks of secretaries and ministers, each of whom has been annually costing us millions of dollars?  It is an outdated establishment. We are no more waging diplomatic wars with white elephants. Their usefulness or impact or re-deployment has never been discussed in Parliament, fearing the anger of the bureaucracy. Same is the case with our offices of Tourism established in several metropolitan cities by the Ministry of Tourism. At the same time, we can re-order our consular, commercial and cultural services at a lesser cost in close cooperation with the local diaspora organisations.

  1. All those tremendous savings could directly and scrupulously be devoted to the defence research and development. Our objective of Make in India should result in promoting a vast militaro-industrial complex in the country, which should eliminate our dependence and expenditure on foreign equipment. As John Galbraith had very well analysed, such a militaro-industrial complex had served for sometime as the motor-engine for economic growth in the USA.   We should not forget the fact that China does not spend as much as we on foreign shopping.

  1. Our bi-lateral foreign relations between G to G (Government to Government) have, so far, been futile repetition of bureaucratic courtesies signifying no concrete changes. Our Government should facilitate B to B (Business to Business) sector cooperation and A to A (Association to Association) relations in cultural matters with each country. This would greatly serve our interests, since there is a significant Indian presence, one way or other in all countries.  Prime minister Narendra Modi’s systematic meeting of all the diaspora in whatever country he visits, eminently serves this purpose. Genuine improvement in human relations can happen only through the promotion of economic and cultural relations and not though diplomatic negotiations among the bureaucracies. Germany is a good example. The money it allots for international aid and cooperation, which is, no doubt, substantial, is processed, initially, through funding the local economic, academic, religious and civil society organisations.

  1. As far as our neighbours are concerned, our ministers and bureaucrats going abroad to get terrorism condemned by world leaders does not change the situation in the field. It is a waste of money and energies and it is typical activity of a politician or a diplomat. On the contrary, internally, we must become stronger and stronger, every day, and that too, faster and faster, so that, if needed, we can take a strong and stern action, unlike in the past, just like Israel which can be a good counsel for us in such matters.

 As a permanent on-going strategy with all our neighbours, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Myanmar and China, we maintain P to P (people to people) relations in economic and cultural spheres, setting aside the political relations with their governments. It is to be hoped that in the long term, the good will of the people would make their governments change their strategies of relations.

  1. In the area of international aid and cooperation for development, we should stop disbursing bilateral aid in the good old fashion, from G to G, just as the West European countries have done in the past, which resulted in notorious wastage and it increased the dependence of the Third World countries upon the developed countries. Nor can we match the generosity of the aid of the USA and the Scandinavian countries as a percentage of our Gross National Product. Nor can we compete with China, our neighbour which is five times more important than us economically and which is vibrating with national ideological fervour.

  1. Instead, we should take a leading role in the arena of multi-lateral cooperation, where there is not much competition and make it our privileged mode of international cooperation, touching each and every country in the world.  we are members of nearly 75 international and regional organisations.  In addition to our proportionate financial contribution, we can depute in huge numbers personnel as experts, as advisors, volunteers and for military and logistic support. Already many Indians are full-fledged employees of the UN institutions. Many more are recruited though UNDP and UNV and other agencies. Many Indians are present in areas of conflict and tensions as members of peace-keeping and peace-making forces, for which the UN has been paying for. Now, in view of our new international policy, India should offer to double that number financed by itself. In fact, this is not a new practice. Most of the European countries and the USA, who have many qualified personnel send them to the UN institutions, initially, as a self-paid volunteers or deputed by the governments or other European organisations and, later, on the basis of their experience and contacts, they would get recruited to the higher functions.  Observing the International Day of Yoga is one of the latest examples where we can contribute more for cultural promotion. In all fields and in all UN institutions, we can send as many Indian volunteers as there are personnel from rest of the countries put together.  Instead of doing this, our imploring and getting a permanent seat in the Security Council would only lead to our indulging in more international politicking and making more enemies. We need not do everything that China does.

  2. We should insist upon hosting the offices of many regional and international organisations and their research and training institutions. At present, due to historical reasons, Vienna, Geneva, Paris, London, Rome and New York have a quasi-monopoly of all international governmental and non-governmental organisations. Many of the conferences that we are holding now are mostly held because it happens to be our turn to host and not by choice.

But in the knowledgeable circles in the international institutions, it is notorious that the Indian bureaucracy does not encourage much free flow of persons and ideas.  This has to change; in favour of the ease of doing business with India. We need more radical measures than mere declarations of intentions by our present prime minister, however sincere he might be. Nevertheless, after Jawahar Lal Nehru, more than P. V. Narasimha Rao and I. K. Gujral, it is Narendra Modi who appears to be anxious to give a decisive new turn to our foreign policy. Can he first bell the cat in his own house ?

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