They used to say that there were two Rudyard Kiplings. One played like a military brass instrument: imperious, swollen with ideas of racial/civilisational superiority, full of colonial disdain for the natives. The other played like a flute: melodious, supple, in tune with the land he wrote about, often lovingly and with a keen sense of observation.
It may sound far-fetched to use a literary personality to make an analogy with India’s contemporary foreign policy, but it is difficult to resist the temptation. A similarly schizoid behaviour is discernible in this vastly more prosaic domain. On the one hand, take the prime minister’s Saudi Arabia visit. The outreach is a judicious one, and fortuitously timed in terms of the geopolitical context and Saudi Arabia’s own internal evolution. Riyadh is not a bad friend to have in a polarised world, especially at a time when India itself faces social tensions on religious lines.
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, the de facto ruler, is not uncontroversial. But he is alive to tomorrow and the changes it will demand. Saudi Arabia’s oil economy is in its last days of glory, and it is beginning to open up to different ways of sustaining itself. (The greater freedoms being accorded to women is a salutary spin-off.)
For India, the partnership meets both its economic and security needs, and has great symbolic value. But compare this outreach with another one: pictures from a chilly Dal Lake that played out all over media. For a country averse to ‘internationalising’ the Kashmir dispute—one which even kicked out the nominal UNMOGIP presence—the thought of having a gaggle of European Parliament members traipsing around Kashmir should have been anathema.
That they should have come on invitation, that they mostly bore affiliation to far-right parties, that they were moving around when Indian MPs are debarred... shall we just say it recalls the first Kipling?