Pusillanimity and world affair

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By Anirudh Prakash

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar asserted at the recent Raisina Dialogue conclave in Delhi that India’s foreign policy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi has become decisive, that it stood to impact and change policy. He mentioned three issues which he thought reflected the new Indian position: climate change, terrorism and immigration. Though he did not elaborate as to what were the exact nuances of the new Indian stance, he seemed to indicate that these are the three issues on which India is proactive. India’s commitment to climate change goals predates Modi’s participation and intervention at the Paris climate summit in 2015. The concrete measure that he announced as part of India’s strategy to cope with the challenge of climate change is India switching to solar energy in a big way, and for India to generate 30 per cent of its total energy requirement from solar energy, and India becoming an active member of the International Solar Alliance.

India has not played any greater role than it was doing before in combating terrorism, which precedes even the 9/11 attacks that unleashed the US-led war on terrorism. India has been quite vocal, and Modi has been more so in the last five years, using all the international fora to highlight the dangers of terrorism. But nothing more. India has not participated in any operations The new issue that emerges is that of immigration, and Jaishankar slipped it in in his own quiet way. It is true that India has been arguing over the new visa regime that has come into play in the US, especially under President Donald Trump, where more restrictions were placed on the eligibility of Indians to work in the US. But there is another aspect of immigration that has come into play since Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, which makes a loud statement about persecuted religious minorities in the three Islamic countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The CAA, coupled with Home Minister Amit Shah’s statement in Parliament that his government would conduct the National Register of Citizens (NRC) exercise nation-wide, marks a policy pointer on illegal immigrants, and by implication on immigrants. But the Indian stance on immigration remains to be spelt out post-CAA/NRC.

India’s general stance about immigration has been that in a globalized world, as there should not be any restrictions on the movement of capital goods, so should there be no restriction on the movement of people. It was an argument in favour of Indians, especially in the Information Technology (IT) sector, moving to developed countries in North America and the European Union. But India was silent on what its policy would be for people from poorer countries coming into India for employment and other opportunities. As for political refugees or refugees of other kinds of persecution, India does not have a stated policy. But from time to time, India allowed in political refugees, like the Dalai Lama and his followers from Tibet in 1959; refugees from military rule in Myanmar in the 1990s; and Tamils from Sri Lanka during the 1980s ethnic strife in that country. A major inflow of 10 million refugees was from the then East Pakistan in 1971, and India created camps to take care of them. These gestures on the part of the Indian government were responses to exigencies. There was no policy stand. India seems to be shuffling its feet on the three issues of climate change, terrorism and immigration as it still does not seem to have sorted out its thinking on these crucial issues.

The Modi government, like its predecessors, is quite clear that economic development takes precedence over climate change imperatives while being prepared to take whatever steps it deems possible to meet the challenge of climate change. But there is no Indian study or assessment of the economic implications for the country of climate change in the next 30 or 50 years. Terrorism remains a prominent issue on India’s foreign policy agenda only with reference to Pakistan-abetted terrorism in Jammu and Kashmir. India opposes Islamic terrorism as represented by the Taliban in Afghanistan – which is an un-nuanced position – and that of groups like the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq. Therefore, India does not have a decisive voice when it comes to the issue of terrorism. The question of immigration and India’s general stance on it remains nebulous. Prime Minister Modi was quite ambitious in forging a new, impactful Indian foreign policy and he did try to infuse a personalized style, projecting India as a potential power player with strengths of its own, including democracy and demography, but it has all remained rhetorical flourish. There were many takers for India on the international scene because it does not involve itself directly in any of the trouble spots, especially in West Asia, and it chooses the tested path of sending its troops as part of United Nations Peacekeeping Force in parts of Africa. That, however, does not make it an influential power. India has also not developed enough economic muscle to help needy countries as China is doing in Africa. India is busy struggling with its own economy and the domestic challenges on the economic and political fronts leave little room for Modi to make a mark on world affairs. The more crucial lacuna in India’s, and Modi’s, policy outlook is Delhi’s unwillingness to speak out as it did in the 1950s and 1960s and willingness to stick its neck out. Since the economic reforms of 1991, India feels that it is not prudent to speak its mind on world affairs. In other words, India has become pusillanimous, which is not a virtue for a country that aspires to be a power player. INAV

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