M.L. Sondhi

The Tribune, September 15, 1977

Those who look to the immediate development of "bipartisanship" in foreign policy between the Janata and the Congress Parties are thinking exclusively of the limits set by India's geo-strategic requirements and the continuity of economic and development policies. Nevertheless, it is important to remember that bipartisanship can be a realistic programme only when an enlightened public opinion creates an organic relationship cutting across party lines in defence of national interest. It cannot be artificially contrived by tying the hands of a new External Affairs Minister, and making him subordinate to the consensus created by a corporate elite of the Foreign Service bureaucracy.

Moreover, during the Emergency there were taboos preventing democratic discussion of both domestic and foreign policies. Democracy was eroded not only by the caucus in domestic affairs but also by the handful of men in the South Block who manipulated information and debate on foreign policy. The Janata Party in no uncertain terms is committed to open a political dialogue and this will inevitably colour its approach to foreign policy.

There is a fundamental and direct connection between a widening of democratic participation in foreign policy-making and standards of objectivity in assessing the international environment. A leader who is enamoured of his or her own infallibility can hardly be expected to take into account all manner of contending views. Censorship works havoc with mass media and also increases the Government's own susceptibility to its self-generated propaganda.

After the restoration of democracy India undoubtedly has a psychological opportunity to develop a new negotiating role on behalf of the impoverished countries on global issues. It is not only a question of India's enhanced prestige as a developing country which can successfully organize its electoral choice of government. The Janata Party's principles for domestic economy can be extended to suggest the use of India's economic potentialities for reducing dependence of the Third World on the advanced industrial nations. The focus on rural development can also be translated in terms of the intentions of the new Government to adopt the decisive criterion of the welfare of the peasant masses of the world in the North-South dialogue.

In an address to Indian diplomats Mr. Charan Singh, speaking as an economic ideologue of the party, stressed the need to secure well-researched information on social and economic developments, particularly with reference to the rural sector. This suggestion merely highlights the importance of the overall trend in foreign relations where economic and resource possibilities are interwoven with political and military decisions.

With its programme of bringing the fruits of progress to the common man, the Janata Party should have a vested interest in maintaining peaceful relations with other countries. Although there is reason to be skeptical about controlling the arms race in the developing countries, the Rs. 56 crore reduction in the provision for defence in the first Janata Budget will merit closer scrutiny if it is followed up by action to combat the spiraling expenditure on armaments in the region.

The impact of the new Indian leadership on world affairs will ultimately be related to its contribution to the revamping of the global economic structure. Early attention by Mr. Vajpayee to the implications of a new framework for the Law of the Sea would help to mobilize initiatives of the littoral States of the Indian Ocean. Similarly an enhanced awareness of the need to restructure the international commodity trade and emphasis on the greater role in sharing of technologies should replace the piecemeal approach to the claims of developing countries. The Third World countries expect India - if it is to be an active agent of influence - to stand up to pressures on the question of nuclear energy. It would be counter-productive to erode India's diplomatic leverage by bringing in the highly discriminatory Non-Proliferation Treaty through the backdoor. Mr. Vajpayee does not have to go back on everything he said as an Opposition spokesman to stress his adjustment to the system and process of government. By opposing the imposition of rigorous controls on Indian nuclear development India will hold out more hope for future transformation of super-power policies which at present aim at maintaining the existing nuclear arsenals.

In the sphere of regional policies the general effectiveness of Indian foreign policy can be enhanced by a clearer perception of China as a regional power. In contrast to the past history of Sino-Indian relations, changes in post-Mao Chinese attitudes and policies can be reinforced by a realistic appraisal of the situation by India which balances both political and security considerations. The decisive break of the Janata Government with the past would lie not in appeasement of China but in making Sino-India relations an integral part of a more general trend in India's regional policy of social and economic development.

In this context the development of closer economic relations between India and China should have the highest priority. Rapid expansion of commerce, both over land and across the high seas between India and China will be a political asset and will extend the present narrow limits of intra-regional interaction. Similarly India should move more deliberately to respond to Japan's political dynamics. The prospects of new foreign policy postures in Japan, as it seeks more flexibility in response to economic and resource pressures, should help to build up a higher level of political, economic and technological relations between India and Japan.

Again, projects of cooperation in trade and development with countries such as Vietnam can play a significant role in controlling centrifugal forces in the region. The Janata Government must also encourage the development of every aspect of cooperation between India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma and Sri Lanka. The External Affairs Minister will do well to study the long-term political factors in this area and ask his Ministry to work on criteria for both inter-societal and inter-State roles.

There is a legitimate question whether the goals of the Janata Government's foreign policy imply concessions in our ideal of non-alignment. It is vital to understand that no one is suggesting a change from non-alignment to alignment. What is underlined in the creative discussion in the Janata Party is an end to external manipulation. According to progressive opinion in the party, a truly Janata foreign policy would be that which controls its own development without political manipulation from outside.

The key concept that would underlie a foreign policy of long-term planning enhance the choice between alternative options in favour of peace and respond creatively to resource constraints could be termed "non-appeasement". The hierarchical lines of authority from the two super powers do not provide the real answers to the backwardness and stagnation in the Third World. They have only created islands of separateness which undermine the basis of reconciliation between nations. A policy of non-appeasement will translate effectively the enhanced political participation of the Indian people in the field of international relations. The task in hand is enormously difficult because external powers can wield instruments of political, economic and military coercion against even a moderately ambitious Indian foreign policy.

Nonetheless, the concept of non-appeasement can serve as the basis of effective action in four areas if its intrinsic logic is translated with consistency: (a) establishment of enduring relations with Third World countries on the basis of long-term solutions for global socio-economic problems (b) allaying Soviet doubts, misunderstandings and prejudices about a successor government with mixed political components, (c) reducing acrimony with China in the regional framework (d) increasing the efficacy of Indian bargaining with the USA and avoiding unfavourable outcomes as in the past in 1965 and 1971.

To reach a modest but perceptible level in relation to the foreign policy goals in its election manifesto, the Janata Government will have to manifest its political will in a responsible way in a five-pronged manner:

Resistance to the demonstration-effect of the two super powers: The global policies of the USA and the Soviet Union seek to coopt countries like India into their preconceived schemes of world order but in a more subtle manner work upon the dominant perceptions of policy-makers in Third World countries. India's interests and constraints vis-à-vis her neighbouring countries need not be interpreted on the basis of a hegemonic model and Mr. Vajpayee has already committed himself explicitly to significant strengthening of regional interests. The new diplomacy will have to consciously avoid the metaphors of imperial policies which survive in both US and Russian world views.

Formulation of long-term objectives: The prime concerns of the Third World countries are related to the long-term improvement of the material and spiritual welfare of the majority of the population of the world. The super powers, on the other hand, are compulsively relating the decision-making processes of the developing countries to short-term problems which arise out of the interaction of their competitive military commercial and ideological interests. One way to understand the range of concerns of a dynamic diplomacy will be for the External Affairs Minister to ask: What initiative should India take in bilateral and multilateral relations in matters of high policy which would have implications for the last quarter of the 20th Century?

Optimising treaty relationships: There is a time-lag between the rapidly changing political and economic systems and the legal structure of bilateral and multilateral treaties. This time-lag works to the disadvantage of Third World countries. There must be readjustments to new circumstances if policymaking is to reflect changes in the socio-economic environment. The task of Indian foreign policymakers, therefore, includes the formulation of proposals for revision of multilateral treaties like the UN Charter and of bilateral treaties to promote the overall goal of equality and social justice in international relations. As for the Indo-Soviet Treaty, it is not so much a question of scrapping it as of amending it, where necessary, for good practical reasons.

Channels of influence and balanced relationships: There is no difficulty in demonstrating that Third World and non-aligned countries have been subjected to one-sided demands by the super powers in cultural and scientific- technological relations. There is a world of difference between a balanced relationship and a "cultural invasion". Mr. Vajpayee would like to put the question more precisely to both Moscow and Washington: What effect can massive inequality in mutual relations have except to mobilise disaffection among the Indian people against the Big Two?

Protection against manufactured crises: The super power détente has not been extended to the Third World where a political climate in favour of interventionism is still being fostered. The big powers have been fishing in troubled waters in this part of the world. It is only if a degree of coherence is reached in mutual relations that Third World unity can modify attitudes and behaviours which are perpetuating militarism and economic backwardness in Asia, Africa and Latin America. This is a question which calls for a deeper analysis of the foreign policy of a developing country than has been attempted so far.

Conventional analyses of Indian non-alignment will not be of much help in tackling fundamental problems of redistribution of global political and economic power. Non-alignment is a means to an end: the creation of a new international order in which the overwhelming majority of the people of the world can win both political and economic emancipation. It only leads to confusion to talk of one rigid typology of non-alignment. Instead of a sterile theoretical debate on the criteria of non-alignment, it is the general effectiveness of Indian foreign policy in rebuilding the international power structure (in both economic and political terms) that will be of crucial importance.

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