INFA Column


M.L. Sondhi
July 24, 1976

The Indian Parliament is unique in its efficacy in expressing the central political value of our continental society. Indian domestic strength and foreign policy are directly related and public discussion of foreign policy options gives an advantage to the Government if it develops a strong and effective national commitment.

A realistic conception of Parliament's role in foreign policy must underline the following points:

First, members of Parliament have a relationship of "partnership" with the executive in providing an openly political dimension to the diplomatic activity and inner-administrative reasoning conducted by the Ministry of External Affairs. The legislative function cannot extend to the network of communications utilized by the Government to fulfil the country's political and strategic interests, but it is only Parliament which can provide a full rationale for an integrated view of foreign and domestic policies.

Second, Parliamentarians can if they wish encourage a "problem-solving" attitude by transcending cloistered mentalities which are developed in the course of international disputes and expressed in Cold War clichés. Parliament can indeed function as an avant garde organization which seeks a widening of political opportunities both at home and abroad by visualizing foreign policy as an area of accommodation and legitimate compromise to clarify the consequences of new developments in scientific, technological, cultural and educational spheres, apart from the purely political and strategic developments.

Thirdly, the consultative opportunities of Parliament provide a permanent effort to relate expertise in foreign affairs to a momentum based upon the "thrust" of the historical national experience. The Ministry of External Affairs on account of time constraints does not have many opportunities for the projection of long-term futures, but Parliament can enhance the capacity and resources of the nation to develop a consistent framework for thinking about the future of the Indian contribution to the world system.

The Indo-Soviet Summit meeting at Moscow constitutes a great historical turning point at which a constructive involvement of Indian political values in relations with a super power was achieved to produce a new course towards a global framework that might meet the needs of a more humane world. It is now part of political "common sense" between India and the Soviet Union that top decision-makers on both sides seek for meaningful answers to day-to-day problems in the context of "far-sightedness".

What have India and Soviet Union accomplished in terms of the requirement of the world-wide community? The broad socio-cultural interaction between India and the Soviet Union constitutes a complex of factors which have strengthened the "public requirements" of the respective foreign policies and have reduced, if not eliminated the reliance on secrecy and coerced allegiance which has been characteristic of the rear-guard actions of some "long-ranger" diplomacies. It is, therefore, not difficult to speculate on the likely impact of this higher stage of Indo-Soviet relationship on the foreign policy role of the Indian Parliament.

The political and social values expressed in the Indo-Soviet joint declaration do not provide for a restricted scope of national domestic policy, as far as India is concerned. The task of nation building as interpreted in the Indian scheme of values is explicitly recognized as overriding the requirements of interdependence in fostering Indo-Soviet relations. Indian developmental priorities are emphasized and not constrained by the creation of a more organized Indo-Soviet environment. The sophistication of the Indian effort at Moscow lies in the fact that India's policy towards one of the most powerful governments of the world is not dominated by bureaucratic norms.

In the field of national parliamentary politics, the repercussions of the Moscow summit are in fact to create a new role for the affirmation of Indian ideology and national developmental goals. The Indian parliament can further develop its identity with an effective foreign policy role. As a contribution to the peaceful future of the world, this role would be nothing less than that of linking political understanding with other countries and the bridgehead of our social consciousness.

A turn towards future-oriented interdependence in Indian foreign policy requires that the Indian Parliament develop its latent capacity in the specialized field of external relations. The Consultative Committee for the Ministry of External Affairs can pursue the logic of the Prime Minister's interpretation of the social strategy of the reorientation in world affairs. The political decision making system must remain confined to the Ministry of External Affairs, the External Affairs Minister and the Prime Minister, but parliament has a central social function in providing new norms of decision making. As part of its function to protect the general interest of the nation, Parliament can work towards institutional adjustments which can enable both the executive and the legislature to perform their respective roles more vigorously in shaping the new international environment and to which Indian foreign policy is now giving a very high priority.

It is not unfair criticism to point out that in spite of some excellent work done by the Consultative Committee on External Affairs, there are shortcomings especially in developing new approaches and new techniques to enhance its thinking on fundamental problems of international relations. The Committee has sometimes scrutinized government policies in the light of major events which have figured in headlines even though they were proved ultimately to be of ephemeral significance from the point of view of Indian interests. Volatile public opinion often deflected the attitudes of members of Parliament to a kind of debate which did not always encourage use of academic knowledge or in-depth information of foreign policy issues.

While it is not possible to prescribe in detail the changes which should be made in order that the Consultative Committee, or Parliament as a whole, should evolve a new philosophy of the role of the legislature in foreign policy, it is clear that the relevant factual evidence on foreign affairs will elude the legislators unless they plan their work ahead. Both Parliament and the Ministry of External Affairs could profitably turn their attention to the following three matters, which would enormously improve debate on foreign policy:

Peace Research - the Indian Contribution. Thoughtful and informed comments on the peaceful intentions of Indian foreign policy are no substitute for providing a serious "planning dimension" on Indian peace strategies. Parliament could commission useful research on the concrete achievements of Indian peace efforts as well as "prescriptologies" for the international conflicts which still divide the world. Parliament's research activity would not come in the way of ministerial responsibility for peace research. Both the outcomes would stimulate public discussion on the emerging world order and also provide a balanced perspective for the national debate on defence and regional security.

The Indian Image and the Socio-cultural Response to International Systemic Imperatives. This subject is worth examining in detail, because many out-of date views about India are still masquerading as wisdom both outside the country and within. There can be little doubt that in dealing with foreign affairs problems Parliament has an opportunity to project its influence at home and abroad by demonstrating how it deals with basic political issues as institutionally determined by Indian political culture. A sophisticated understanding of the Indian national image in the international system will directly help both the legislature and the executive in understanding the background factors which enter into foreign policy-making.

Communication Problems of Indian foreign Policy - inter-governmental and inter-societal communications. Indo-Soviet relations have not been limited to the discussion of administrative details, they have enabled both sides to communicate effectively on a level which can be said to be relatively free from serious distortions. A theoretical framework of Indo-Soviet communications will help in developing further insights for problem-solving purposes in other foreign policy areas.

The Indian Parliament is both a source and a communicator of Indian social values. There are long-term benefits which can be gained by Parliament playing an active and important role in the development of national attitudes to world politics. What is specially encouraging is that Indian foreign policy has succeeded in putting across an Indian ideology in its relations with the mighty Soviet Union and the problem solving process has not been adversely effected by any arguments rooted in hierarchical positions. This great initiative abroad brings forward new prospects at home for mutual consultation between the legislature and the executive.

Parliament must explore new ways in which it can help maintain dialogue with the Soviet Union and at the same time develop sophisticated processes which enable it to help in the initiation of fresh dialogues with other countries where the outdated hegemonic pretensions still create frustration and conflict.
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