Manmohan’s air miles add up to little in way of India’s diplomatic success in nine years - The New Indian Express

Manmohan’s air miles add up to little in way of India’s diplomatic success in nine years

Published: 20th October 2013 06:00 AM

Last Updated: 20th October 2013 12:37 AM

The success of diplomacy is not measured in terms of the air miles showing on the odometer of official peregrinations. Nor is it determined by hours spent gabbing during salubrious breakfasts, lunches or dinners. Such ceremonial visits are like climbing trees that have no fruits to pluck. Manmohan Singh is perhaps the most travelled Indian PM since Rajiv Gandhi. According to estimates, he has flown over a million miles covering 50 countries since he was handed the keys to 7 Race Course Road. In the last nine years, he has spent every 10th day in some foreign city. Since wooing superpowers is his only global mission, over half the visits have been to the US, China, Japan, UK and Russia, with US leading the charts with 11 visits. As Manmohan prepares for his 36th sojourn abroad—possibly the last of his second tenure as PM—diplomacy-watchers have started assessing the real impact of his 80 visits over nine years. On the face of it, relations with neighbours have worsened. Both China and US are showing no concern for our security and economic woes. Even India’s most trusted ally, Russia, is suspicious of our growing proximity to the American establishment. Europe, which used to look up to our economist PM for guidance, is ignoring us.

From being the most successful and sought-after PM, Manmohan is no longer one of the movers and shakers of international affairs. Perhaps our only achievement appears to be a change in adjective to define today’s India —from a developing economy, the country is now an emerging economy struggling to acquire a wannabe superpower status. Manmohan’s India is confined to the margins of the playfield of high-powered diplomacy, which defines and determines fortunes of the world. 

Even after a decade of extensive lobbying, Manmohan’s dream of India acquiring a permanent seat in the Security Council remains a mirage, despite doling out many economic concessions to those who count in New York. None of the beneficiaries of India’s economic liberalisation and munificence in terms on unrestricted access to Indian markets have gone beyond the written speeches they deliver at formal dinners, expressing sympathy for India’s claim for a permanent place at the UN high table. In spite of making over a dozen visits to the US, the PM has failed to force the American president to move an inch away from his empathy with Pakistan. Daily incursions and killing of jawans along the LoC does not bother any of the superpowers who continue to flirt with the democratically-elected but ISI controlled Pak premier, Nawaz Sharif. Ever since he assumed power, the number of border violations has risen enormously. He shows no regret. When Manmohan visits China and Russia this week, he will have to remind his hosts about the unfulfilled promises on border issues and civil nuclear cooperation. Russia is determined to rake up religious issues like the construction of a Russian orthodox church in Lutyen’s Delhi in exchange for letting a Krishna Temple function in Moscow. According to foreign policy experts, it is mandatory for every head of government to keep visiting friendly countries for the sake of visibility and impact. Since India has gargantuan stakes in the global economy, the PM and colleagues like the finance minister, commerce minister and external affairs minister keep making customary visits to numerous foreign capitals to revive dialogues and engage the hosts in building new relationships. But to succeed, objectives of economic and strategic diplomacy should be well defined. Going by our failed initiatives in the neighbourhood, it is clear that India hasn’t been able to hone the contours of its engagement with countries like Sri Lanka or even bantamweight Maldives, which was once considered India’s most trusted ally in the Indian Ocean. Last week, even a high-level visit to the island by the articulate Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh failed to yield results. She could not bring Maldivian warring factions around so that elections could take place again. In Bangladesh, PM Sheikh Hasina is jittery because South Block couldn’t consolidate her position at home by addressing her issues with India. India may have become a trillion-dollar economy, but is still not in a position to influence political kinetics of a tiny island. So much for the vast carbon footprint of our frequent-flier PM.  

The perennial fight for turf between the IFS and IAS almost assumed confrontationist contours recently over the appointment of a chief of mission to ASEAN in Jakarta. The PM, during his visit to Indonesia, had announced that India would soon have a full-fledged mission headed by an ambassador to deal with growing economic relations between ASEAN countries. All other members have already posted diplomats in Jakarta. Before the PM made his decision public, a serious fight erupted between the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and Department of Economic Affairs (DEA). The DEA felt that the post should go to an IAS officer as they are the ones who have acquired expertise in handling international trade and economic issues. But MEA wouldn’t let the post go. Finally, the PM used his veto power and directed MEA to appoint a senior diplomat. Now the fun has begun in South Block as many diplomats are chasing newly created sinecures which perhaps may carry more powers and perks.

It is not for the first time that IAS and IFS have been locked in turf war for important posts abroad. Ever since India decided to open its markets and introduce economic reforms, the IAS lobby has been staking claim on any assignment which is remotely connected with economic and financial issues. Actually the fight began with the appointment of India’s Ambassador to World Trade Organisation. The IFS wanted one of its members to be chosen, but IAS won the battle. But IFS fraternity continued with its fight. An attempt was made by MEA during the NDA regime to snatch the coveted post from the IAS. PM Vajpayee succumbed to the pressure and appointed an IFS officer as India’s ambassador to WTO. But IAS clan struck back through then commerce minister Murasoli Maran who resigned in protest. Vajpayee reversed his decision and the post was restored to IAS by sending K M Chandrasekhar who later became Union Cabinet Secretary.

prabhuchawla@newindianexpress.com

Follow him on Twitter @PrabhuChawla

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