India's former information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari is currently the general secretary of the foreign affairs department of the Congress. He spoke to WION on the current foreign policy initiative of the BJP government.
Q: How will you evaluate PM Modi’s foreign policy initiative?
A: PM has done something unique. He has turned diplomacy and mass outreach into a spectacle which has not yielded any dividends for India.
Q: Why have our relationships deteriorated in South Asia?
A: India today stands very isolated in its neighbourhood. This government over the past four years has had no policy towards Pakistan. The blockade of Nepal was absolutely ill-conceived.
In so far as Sri Lanka is concerned, the government is not on top of the rapid developments which are taking place on the island. There has been a genuine growing Chinese influence in South Asia which the government has not been able to push back.
Q: Is India safer today?
A: If the question is that if India’s security concerns are being better taken care of then in the past, then the answer is no. It is because at the moment India has unsettled strategic situation in both the eastern and western borders.
Q: Does India require a new strategic framework with China?
A: India requires a new strategic framework so far as its foreign policy is concerned. The UPA government and those that preceded it understood the global power dynamic and were successful in balancing competing world powers like US, Russia, China or even Japan.
Q: Prime Minister Modi conducted meetings with his Chinese and Russian counterparts which had no structured agendas. Do such meetings work?
A: If PM believes that non-structured summit review of global events and developments helps to enhance his personal understanding as to how leadership in China and Russia view regional and other developments then it is entirely within his purview.
However, the point is India’s strategic objectives cannot be served by such opaque conversations in which the establishment or other stakeholders of Indian foreign policy do not find a place or are not even given a readout on what has actually transpired.
Q: Did the Indian engagement with China substantially change under Narendra Modi?
A: There has been a substantial deterioration and Doklam was the high point of that deterioration.
In the past three decades there had not been stand-off of that dimension with China. After the breakthrough in relations with China under Rajiv Gandhi, successive prime minister’s like PV Narasimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh took the relationship forward.
There was an anticipation that this relationship would actually consolidate and grow from strength to strength but what you really see is an estrangement of another dimension which is being played out.
Q: Has "cultural diplomacy" worked which has been the hallmark of this administration?
A: Soft power can only complement hard power. India has been a soft power in terms of its music, films and traditional arts and culture but that has not been utilised in an optimal manner.
The reason is that when you have reports on social divisiveness splashed across papers in the western world, whatever soft power you may try would falter. People understand that there is a huge difference between what is your intent back at home and what you want to project as India’s image abroad.
Q: Is our foreign policy becoming hostage to domestic politics?
A: Unfortunately, yes. Our foreign policy initiatives and strategic initiatives are being used to score domestic brownie points and both have become a casualty.
Q: Did surgical strikes restore deterrence with Pakistan?
A: Many surgical strikes took place before the much publicised surgical strike two year ago. The intention was to change the behaviour of Pakistan. Post-Uri, the cross-border operation seemed to be aimed at domestic audiences rather than at Pakistan and that is why nothing much altered including incursions from across the border.
Q: Has Indian QUAD and South East Asian initiative worked?
A: To be fair to this government, they have tried to reach out to various governments with similar concerns on the South China Sea which is witnessing aggressive manifestation of the Chinese state. How far we have been able to secure the concerns is an open issue.
PM has turned diplomacy and mass outreach into a spectacle which has not yielded any dividends for India, Manish Tewari said.