India Needs Charm Offensive to Avoid a MEA Culpa

The subcontinent is a seismic zone where pressures and shifts from the US, China and Russia make the tectonic plates of geo-power groan in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.

Published: 24th April 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd April 2022 01:00 PM   |  A+A-

Sri Lankans shout slogans at the ongoing protest site against the economic crisis outside the president's office in Colombo, Sri Lanka. ( Photo | AP)

Sri Lankans shout slogans at the ongoing protest site against the economic crisis outside the president's office in Colombo, Sri Lanka. ( Photo | AP)

There is trouble in the hood. South of Vivekananda Rock, Ram Rajya is done in Sri Lanka which has no dollars left, while its demagogue dictator Rajapaksa grimly refuses to quit. The country is nearly out of food, medicine and fuel. Citizens have taken to the streets and are getting shot down by the police. To the west, the lights are out. Pakistan, too, is out of both money and fuel. To the east, Nepal’s foreign currency reserves are deeper than the Kanchenjunga gorges. The whole neighbourhood is in a pickle, and India should bottle it asap. For once, MEA, our foreign ministry, has a chance to get its ducks in a row to outsmart China, the nemesis that has the subcontinent in its pocket. 

The subcontinent is a seismic zone where pressures and shifts from the US, China and Russia make the tectonic plates of geo-power groan in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka. Until now, China has been running rings around South Block. India has always been snooty and bullying with its smaller neighbours. We have a self-confidence problem. It is deep-rooted and pervades all aspects of life.

Perhaps because centuries of subjugation to alien empires and faiths forced Indians to evade or adjust to racial humiliation and cultural meddling; our self-respect mutated into prickly arrogance to protect our pride. This uppishness fouled our pitch in Bangladesh, a country created with the blood of Indian soldiers, and allowed Pakistan back into its shadowy policy backstreets. Nepal, wedded to India for centuries, was snatched away under our noses by the Pak-China axis. Sri Lanka turned against us after the doomed IPKF experiment. Even placid Bhutan warmed to China, annoyed by our threats of energy blackmail. MEA mandarins, and the political establishment they advise, have not accorded our neighbours the respect owed to friends and dependants. Equality has never been on the table. 

Nehruvian foreign policy was based on the premise that the superpowers and China considered India an equal. Nehru believed in India’s uniqueness or understood its loneliness, either of which could have prompted him to drink from the poisoned chalice of non-alignment during the Cold War tussle. Indira Gandhi, elegant and cunning, used NAM to make India a Soviet vassal state. The boorish but powerful Americans hated her with racist passion, and loathed her perch on Kremlin’s shoulders. It was Moscow that stood by New Delhi in international forums to counter Pakistan and China’s Kashmir rhetoric. Until Pakistan went over to the dark side, the US wasn’t so hot on India. Now in spite of its post-Trump liberal stance, Washington cannot afford to cross New Delhi.

With China losing the neighbourhood flavour of the month somewhat and America’s admonishments on Russia and civil rights being shrugged off by the Indian government, PM Modi has an unprecedented chance to reverse the neighbourhood narrative. Keeping the credit line open with Colombo is a smart move. Modi has asked Pakistan’s Shehbaz Sharif to talk straight and not shoot in the back. India must escalate the charm offensive in the suburbs—your enemy’s friend can be another enemy’s enemy. Lose the attitude and complexes. Till now, there is a foreign ministry but no foreign policy. Maybe we need a more politically clued-in foreign minister with strategy instead of just tactics. We cannot afford a MEA Culpa once again.

Ravi Shankar

ravi@newindianexpress.com



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