File photo | PM Narendra Modi in New Delhi | Praveen Jain | ThePrint
File photo | PM Narendra Modi in New Delhi | Praveen Jain | ThePrint
Text Size:

For decades, Indian foreign policy has been moving slowly but methodically in a single direction: toward a greater embrace of the West. The days of non-alignment, when India believed it led the developing world in standing apart from either Cold War bloc, are over. Although successive governments in New Delhi have worked hard to avoid antagonizing Beijing, it has been taken for granted that India’s future lies in ever closer ties to other liberal democracies.

Equally, support for India’s rise has been one of the few subjects of bipartisan consensus in Washington. Both Democratic and Republican administrations have pushed for closer ties, even when New Delhi has appeared too suspicious or inefficient to respond. A fast-growing liberal democracy, open and transparent, and with the potential to balance China — what could go wrong?

A great deal is going wrong, as the visit of India’s foreign minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, to Washington recently revealed. Such visits are usually low key, but this one made headlines when Jaishankar reportedly cancelled a meeting with lawmakers because they refused to exclude Representative Pramila Jayapal, the progressive Democrat from Washington State, from the room. This somewhat unusual decision was presumably made because Jayapal has been a prominent critic of recent Indian policy in Kashmir.

This didn’t go down well on the Hill, or on the Democratic campaign trail. Primary voters, many assume, want their party’s nominees to present a more “moral” stand on foreign policy than in the past. Thus Senator Elizabeth Warren condemned India’s efforts to “silence” Jayapal, and tweeted that the U.S.-India partnership requires “shared respect for religious pluralism, democracy and human rights.” South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg went further, criticizing India for recent political detentions and internet blackouts and warning that it “could threaten its longstanding democratic traditions.”


Also read: Modi to Netflix to smartphones: What changed India most in the last decade?


Jaishankar perhaps wanted to avoid airing India’s dirty laundry in Washington. But if that was the plan, it has backfired massively. India’s decision-making seems to be rooted in the past — a past when it was growing at 8 percent a year, its military was not being chronically underfunded, and it appeared to be steadily maturing as a liberal democracy instead of sliding into majoritarianism and repression. If there are now doubts being raised about its reliability as a long-term partner, the government’s actions must bear much of the blame.

Indian officials, meanwhile, seem to have forgotten the need for bipartisan outreach. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared with U.S. President Donald Trump at a political rally in Houston, for example, he appeared to offer an endorsement (the Indian government denies that interpretation). And India’s ambassador to the U.S. raised many eyebrows when he tweeted about meeting the former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, whom he called “the legendary ideologue and ‘Dharma’ warrior” and an “avid follower of the Hindu epic the Bhagavad Gita.” (The ambassador, who has since been promoted to lead India’s diplomatic service, later deleted the tweet and said “we meet everyone.”)

We are deeply grateful to our readers & viewers for their time, trust and subscriptions.

Quality journalism is expensive and needs readers to pay for it. Your support will define our work and ThePrint’s future.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

The Indian government is behaving less like its usual self and more like, say, Viktor Orban of Hungary or Trump himself in its happy embrace of the global right. It’s hard to see how such actions could conceivably keep India a bipartisan priority in Washington. Nor are they likely to succeed on their own terms. Trump’s trade adviser Peter Navarro has already signalled a harder line on Indian tariff policy. With the diplomatic finesse typical of a Trump appointee, he has called India “the maharajah of tariffs”; it’s highly unlikely that Trump, elected on a protectionist agenda, would go easy on India purely because of the public warmth in his relationship with Modi.

As the University of Chicago political scientist Paul Staniland argues, “If the bipartisan political values pillar of the U.S.-India relationship weakens, it may focus American attention on bluntly transactional realpolitik and economic considerations even beyond the Trump administration.”

Frankly, this isn’t in India’s interest — we’ve never been able to manage transactional relationships, given that we simply don’t have enough to give away in return for everything we want. But India’s newly aggressive and openly right-wing international posture is also an honest reflection of its transformed domestic environment. Modi was re-elected earlier this year despite a stuttering economy because he fought one of the only election campaigns in India’s history squarely focused on foreign policy. His voters expect him to be as aggressive abroad as he is at home, and he is following through on that promise.

Perhaps forging alliances between democracies isn’t quite as easy as policy makers in both India and the U.S. have long assumed. What you gain on the swings of “shared values” you can lose on the roundabouts of “electoral calculations.” If and when India returns to high growth, then perhaps all will be forgiven. But, till then, there will be less and less talk of India and America as “natural partners.”-Bloomberg


Also read: Youth of India hate anarchy, they are irritated by disorder & instability, says PM Modi


 

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

News media is in a crisis & only you can fix it

You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.

You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.

We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And we aren’t even three yet.

At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly and on time even in this difficult period. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is. Our stellar coronavirus coverage is a good example. You can check some of it here.

This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it. Because the advertising market is broken too.

If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous, and questioning journalism, please click on the link below. Your support will define our journalism, and ThePrint’s future. It will take just a few seconds of your time.

Support Our Journalism

2 Comments Share Your Views

2 COMMENTS

  1. Socialist Modi murdabad. Government railways murdabad, air India murdabad, government banks murdabad, government industries murdabad, freebies subsidies reservation loan waivers murdabad.

  2. It is increasingly evident that the diplomatic corps is not proving to be the repository of institutional memory and expertise that avoids serious missteps in foreign policy formulation and the execution of diplomacy. It is flowing with the current. The more enterprising are climbing the rungs to greatness.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here