L'affaire Devyani Was MEA's Lowest Ebb in a Trying Year
By Devirupa Mitra | Published: 31st December 2013 07:36 AM |
For India’s foreign policy, 2013 was a year of firefighting for the country’s diplomats, as most countries in the neighbourhood were in poll mode and popular opinion was therefore crucial in setting the agenda. And the shabby treatment meted out to New Delhi’s then Deputy Consul General in New York, Devyani Khobragade was the darkest cloud on the MEA’s horizon during the outgoing year. It was also the year when the Union Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had to constantly battle the aftermath of border conflagrations, with unprecedented stand-offs on both the Eastern and Western frontiers.
The beheading of an Army jawan at the LoC, within 10 days of the commencement of the New Year in 2013 was, in hindsight, a foreshadow of how the borderlands will continue to cast a shadow on ties. The outrage over the cross-border raid by a Pakistan Army team led to the stalling of all talks under the dialogue process -- which by the end of 2014 has still to be fully resumed. With China, the Despsang ‘camp-off’ in April-May highlighted several issues -- that India is still not able to fully grasp the decision-making process in opaque Beijing, lack of border infrastructure on the Indian side and that public opinion can also be used to pressure interlocutors in diplomatic negotiations. There has been an increase in contacts with the new Chinese leadership, with two high-level reciprocal visits in the same year by Premier Li Keqiang and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
However, China’s shadow continues to loom further and further in most South Asian countries, especially with big development projects in Nepal and Sri Lanka outrunning Indian aid.
In Sri Lanka, Beijing’s presence had led to New Delhi trying to keep faith with Colombo, but again public opinion fanned by Tamil Nadu political parties made the Centre keep its distance -- in March during the UNHRC Resolution and again at the CHOGM summit.
Male a Headache
Maldives had been a major foreign policy headache for a major part of the year, with the major crisis point occurring when MDP’s Mohamed Nasheed took refuge at the Indian High Commission, which led to Male accusing New Delhi of interfering in its internal affairs.
With Bangladesh, it was more a case of missed opportunity, with the UPA Government failing to persuade the Opposition that the implementation of the Land Boundary Agreement could be the game-changer in the bilateral ties.
More than perhaps any other bilateral ties, papering over the cracks exposed by the treatment meted out to Devyani would be keeping the ministry busy in 2014.