The Conduct of Indian Diplomacy

Vishnugupta (ML Sondhi)

Shakti, October 1965

Indian society is a wide awake political entity today and we can hardly help asking ourselves the question:  Is our statecraft adequately expressing the fullness of our political power by the effective employment of techniques which will defeat the carefully contrived plans of two aggressor states who are our neighbours: Communist China and Pakistan?

Mr. Shastri’s popularity in the country after the events of September 1965 can be realistically interpreted in terms which come very close to the criteria for evaluating political decision-making systems available in some recent studies of political communication.  Thus Karl Deutsch poses four aspects: the load upon the political decision system, the log in the response of the government to a new emergency,  the gain of the response – that is the speed and size of the reaction of the political system to new data, and the amount of the lead,  that is, that capability of a government to predict and to anticipate new problems effectively.

This feedback analysis helps to understand some of the aspects which were earlier ignored by scholars, chiefly western and some Indian leftists, when they predicted a pessimistic pattern in the post-Nehru period the political decision to mobilise India’s political strength in disregard of the appeasement pressures of the outside world has brought credit to Mr. Shastri and has discredited some historical views which were built up on an obsession with real or imagined Indian internal weaknesses.

The battle existed not only on the international frontier.  It also existed on the home-front where the cult of personality had to be refuted and above all the morale of the armed forces had to be restored from the level of which it had sunk on account of Nehru-Menon doctrine of civil-military relations.  Mr. Shastri’s approach rested implicitly on the Gandhian assumptions of mutual trust and persuasion based upon an action programme of minimum pragmatically conceived demands. 

In the circumstances of the rising national morale, the military success in withstanding aggression should have been translated into a political victory by an effective diplomatic set up, so that India’s ability to discharge its global responsibilities would have been enhanced.

The lack of fundamental thought in the Foreign Office has had political consequences which have hindered the articulation of an internationally integrative Indian programme and instead the spineless answers to hostile propaganda inevitably encouraged aggressive strategies against us.

The world situation with which Indian diplomacy is confronted has changed in important respects from what it was when the aims and methods of Indian diplomacy were first defined.  The working set up in the Ministry of External Affairs is not designed to deal with the new problems with which India is faced and the upper levels of the bureaucracy are too much committed to the old ways in which the Ministry has functioned to devise any radical measures for change. The foreign Minister, it would appear, has become a prisoner in the hands of some of these bureaucratic interest groups, and crucial decisions taken by the prime Minister and Cabinet are operationally translated in a manner in which the original impetus is largely lost.

The reappraisal of Indian political processes has not proceeded for enough, however, to reflect the needs and views of Indian democracy in its supreme moment of challenge.  There are groups who wish to preserve the status quo and some of these groups derive their recalcitrance from their identity with outmoded patterns of political thinking.  As matters stand, the Ministry of External Affairs seem to be having the greatest difficulty in giving up some of the old procedures of diplomacy which are no longer suitable for the new era that is now associated with Shastri’s name.  The country has waited more than a year for the new Foreign Minister to propound a new formulation of political principles which would guide the formation and implementation of foreign policy.  The record of diplomatic failures suggests an inability to manage the business of foreign affairs successfully.  The most crucial decisions in crisis-management have been taken by the Prime Minister and have achieved solutions which have checked the designs of the ill-disposed foreign powers.  These achievements should not, however, obliterate for the purposes of an informed discussion, the many blunders whose ultimate consequences could have been much more serious but for the direct participation of the Chief Executive.

The list of failures of the foreign Ministry is clear if we consider the following:

The Swaran Singh-Bhutto talks produced the most harmful results.  The creation of an impression that India was practising appeasement encouraged Pakistan in a forward diplomacy which led to several tactical victories for that country.  The Foreign Minister did not encourage any development of background studies and operational research in his Ministry and his chief bureaucratic advisers did not provide him with any re-evaluation of the immediate objectives of Pakistan.  The result was that India found itself in a very embarrassing position.  It is common knowledge that some of the key advisers were known to be pro-Ayub Khan, and the foreign minister made no serious effort to focus the issue in a way which would mould world public opinion in our favour on the issue of Pakistani Totalitarinism.  As a matter of fact the Swaran Singh – Bhutto talks helped directly to create a rather benevolent attitude towards her on the part of some countries which had earlier identified Pakistan as a menace to international peace and security.

 As a policy maker the question of national security has not been pressed with any degree of vigour by the Foreign Minister and if it had not been for the prime Minister one should wonder whether Indian national interests could have been preserved.  There is a vital relationship between diplomacy and military power, and it is part of diplomatic skill to exploit the “deterrent effect” of one’s own military posture.  By the appeasement attitude Swaran Singh undoubtedly increased the danger of premeditated aggression by Pakistan.

 The cheerful view of the Kutch pact again reflected the incompetent technical work of the Ministry of External Affairs.  The theory that it would be relatively disadvantageous for Indians to engage the Pakistanis in that particular sector of the border even if it were militarily correct does not lead on to the unfounded conclusions that vulnerability in a particular area should lead us to withdrawing our deterrence in all sectors by creating ambiguity about our national goals.  There is evidence to suggest that the Ministry of External Affairs based its thinking on an assessment that Indian military capabilities were of a dubious value.  The British interventions through the Wilson-Freeman proposals were given a political value by the Foreign Minister which was quite unrealistic and seriously disruptive of national morale.  The argument stands out even more clearly if we recall that the launching of the Jan Sangh demonstration against the Kutch agreement caused a lot of irritation I the foreign Office which felt that the Jan Sangh initiative was the complete negative of the wise policy of Commonwealth statesmanship initiated by the Foreign Minister and his principal advisers.  When subsequently the prime Minister seemed to be engaged in a reappraisal of the foreign policy posture, a good many people in the Foreign Ministry who are in the upper echelons could hardly suppress their amusement over Shastri’s folie de grandeur in abdicating power to the right reaction.

 Swaran Singh’s diplomacy has always had to be on the defensive and this explains the substantive content of the public criticism regarding the inadequacy of Indian publicity abroad.  Five issues suggest themselves to any student of Indian foreign relations:

1.                   Why has India been rebuffed so badly by the Arab stats and why does India refuse to introduce competition for Indian support among the Arabs by establishing highest level diplomatic relations with Israel?

2.                   Why has India not articulated a cohesive strategic policy against China by taking advantage of the phenomena of Communist polycentricism?  Why does India not effectively use the Tibet question in its psychological warface against China?  Why does not India raise the Tibetan question to major international political importance by which a world wide pressure for Chinese disengagement from Tibet could develop?

3.                   Instead of always having the Pakistani accusing finger against India why does not India utilise the opportunity to actively project the several issues of self-determination in Pakistan?  Why has Swaran Singh not successfully articulated the strength of the Indian position on Pakhtoonistan and East Bengal neutrality?

4.                   The whole subject of nuclear capability has been projected in our foreign relations to indicate that we are within the ambit of decisions taken elsewhere.  It is revealing to note that the Ministry of External Affairs has been at pains to create the impression that India’s nuclear potentialities can add very little to our military strength.  Some British strategists have crated close relations with the establishment and articles appearing in learned journals show that valuable information has already been passed o to these writers, which should never have been the case if the Ministry of External Affairs had been properly conscious of Indian prestige and national security.  

5.                   The whole subject of Indian diplomacy at the United Nations makes a sad story.  Instead of projecting the new Indian defence strategy of self reliance, the foreign Minister is still clinging to outmoted conceptions. Instead of using the United Nations to enhance India’s international reputation and using debate in the Security Council to serve as an affirmative commentary on our military successes, Indian diplomacy has unhappily allowed the complex of national interest calculations to be conducted with India as a silent spectator.

In view of our national objectives our diplomacy at the United Nations should underline the advantage of our Prime Minister as an efficient decision-maker.  The image of Indian diplomacy should be a sophisticated one, of a country which has risen to unity in the face of challenge, of a potential nuclear power and of a country deeply conscious of its political-cum-military environment.  The Indian diplomats at the United Nations made no claims o the world community to reorganise the state of affairs in Pakistan (Pakhtoons, East Bengal) and China (Tibet) and instead had to spend all their efforts in defensive reactions against the propaganda offensive which Pakistan conducted on behalf of itself and China.  Indian hopes that our Foreign Office would exert leadership in the world forum have been disappointed.

Consequently it would appear that as long as the present state of affairs continues in the Ministry of External Affairs, Mr. Shastri cannot be certain of achieving his objectives in spite of the magnificent domestic efforts the country has been making under his leadership.  A younger person should replace the present Foreign Minister, but that is not enough.  What is needed is a large scale surgical operation by which the present bureaucratic set up in the Ministry of External Affairs is altered to allow full scope for the introduction of rationality and efficiency by which political authority can translate the full potential of our military and diplomatic capabilities in this rapidly – changing world.
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