Guest blog by Madhu Nair
Over the past two decades India’s stand on foreign affairs has undergone a sea change. Its view of the world and itself, as well as the world’s perception of India has undergone profound changes. From a country that was rather conservative in foreign matters to the present one that is actively engaging itself with world powers – it is a welcome change. The changing dynamics in geopolitics and the fluctuating economic condition has made sure that India makes the necessary correction in its foreign code to prepare itself better for the future. For years, India has tried to maintain a balance when it came to managing relations with external powers. Be it the unstable neighbors, the unreliable west or the fluctuating middle-east, India has been managing them with good care.
Dealing with international relations is a tricky affair. Any let up could scumble India’s image as an international player thereby causing harm to its political and economic interests. According to Dr. C. Raja Mohan, a leading foreign policy analyst, there are five challenges that the nation faces in the near future. These include:
• The creation of an area of peace and prosperity in the South-Asian Subcontinent
• The construction of a stable architecture for peace and cooperation in Asia
• The peaceful management of Asia’s maritime commons
• A new internationalism that will be shaped by a deepening integration with the global economy and an effective contribution to the management of global problems
• A clear line between celebrating its own democratic values and imposing them on others.
To meet these challenges India’s foreign policy needs a pragmatic approach with dedicated efforts from all quarters of the establishment; the polity, the bureaucracy and subject matter experts. The credit to the positive change in the last few decades may well go to dynamic foreign affairs officials whose sole objective was to place India on the global map.
The first name that crops up in the list of illustrious diplomats the country has seen is that of Late Ambassador Bimal Sanyal. Mr. Sanyal is remembered as one of the most sincere and hardworking diplomat who pioneered many firsts in the service. He was the very first Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs exclusively entrusted with ‘Economic Relations’ as a tool of diplomacy which has since become a mantra for India’s modern day diplomacy. The Association of Indian Diplomats awards The Ambassador Bimal Sanyal Memorial Medals to outstanding officers each year. It awards a Gold medal for the Best IFS Officer trainee each year and a Silver medal for the Best dissertation.
The architect of India’s modern foreign policy, Brajesh Mishra is undoubtedly the next in line. Principal Secretary to former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Mishra was also the first National Security Advisor. Known for his tough stand on various issues and his ability to make things work, Mishra built a good rapport with officials, ministers and diplomats alike. A troubleshooter in many ways, his sole motive was to make India’s position known on a myriad of issues. Mishra’s death leaves behind a legacy that has become a cornerstone for many aspiring and serving officers of the time.
Shiv Shankar Menon, India’s present National Security Advisor is yet another torchbearer of India’s interest on the international platform. Menon was instrumental in shaping the Indo-US nuclear deal which remains a milestone in US-India relations. Coming from a family of diplomats, Menon has helped India come out of the age-old nonalignment concept which has brought India closer to the West.
The year 2012 has rather been regretful for India. The arrest of the Italian marines and the following controversy has cast a shadow on India-Italy relations. Norway’s displeasure on the cancellation of 2G licenses to Uninor, a telecom joint venture by Telenor and Unitech India, has put the relations under strain. Perhaps the only silver lining for this year, the FDI in retail, too has come under tremendous pressure from opposition parties and is giving the government sleepless nights. With the 2014 elections coming close, the year 2013 will play the decider in which way the tide moves.
India’s foreign policies must be framed around how the world stands and not what it feels it should be; a problem that still plagues the country’s leadership. Though it has come a long way from being unrealistic, India still needs to make concentrated efforts to make itself relevant on the global stage. Much of it again will depend on the men who manage India’s foreign affairs.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of USINPAC.