“Adamant for drift, solid for fluidity”

Issue 16 - Jul 2008

Harsh V Pant

As the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government completes its four years in office, there is a whiff of fragility and under-confidence in the air, as if at any moment the entire facade of India as a rising power might simply blink out like a bad idea.

The absolute control of the Communists on all realms of policy-making, the single point agenda of the Congress party to stay in power as long as possible and the insistence of the Bharatiya Janata Party upon destroying its credibility as a national party—all have ensured that Indian foreign policy continues to drift without any real sense of direction.

The seemingly never ending debate on the US-India nuclear deal has made it clear that today India stands divided on fundamental foreign policy choices facing the nation.

What Walter Lipmann wrote on US foreign policy in 1943 applies equally to the Indian landscape of today. He had warned that the divisive partisanship that prevents the finding of a settled and generally accepted foreign policy is a grave threat to the nation. “For when a people is divided within itself about the conduct of its foreign relations, it is unable to agree on the determination of its true interest. It is unable to prepare adequately for war or to safeguard successfully its peace.”

In the absence of a coherent national grand strategy, India is in the danger of losing its ability to safeguard its long-term peace and prosperity.

Let not history describe today’s Indian policy-makers in the words Winston Churchill applied to those who ignored the changing strategic realities before the Second World War: “They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all-powerful to be impotent.”

India is being told that it is on the verge of becoming a great power. But no one is clear what India intends to do with the accretion of economic and military capabilities and with its purported great power status. India today, more than any other time in its history, needs a view of its role in the world quite removed from the shibboleths of the past. An intellectual renaissance in the realm of foreign policy that allows India to shed its defensive attitude in framing its interests and grand strategy is the need of the hour.

Despite enormous challenges that it continues to face, India is widely recognised today as a rising power with enormous potential. The portents are hopeful if only the Indian policy-makers have the imagination and courage to seize some of the opportunities. Instead we have to bear witness to the sorry spectacle of the nation’s prime minister reduced to asking his coalition partners to “listen to voices of reason” on the crucial issue of the nuclear pact with the United Sates.

At crucial moments in its history, a nation needs a leader who can inspire, infuse its people with confidence and remind them that greatness is theirs if only they would push a bit harder. India is in the danger of losing that moment and right or wrong, Dr Manmohan Singh will be blamed for it by history.

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