Natwar Singh’s arrogance is a liability

Calcified Arrogance

Natwar Singh’s arrogance, as Acorn commentator Vijay Dandapani pointed out, knows no bounds. Just this week, he deliberately did not meet visiting Pentagon official Douglas Feith who is in India as part of a US-India defence cooperation dialogue. Going by protocol, Feith’s Indian counterpart may be Defence Secretary Ajay Prasad, but Natwar Singh could have sent out a friendly signal by meeting this influential (if controversial) American official. What India gained by delivering this not-so-subtle snub to the Pentagon remains to be explained.

K P Nayar is charitable to Natwar Singh in his op-ed in the Calcutta Telegraph when he says ‘Natwar Singh the diplomat should not be influenced by Natwar Singh the individual’, leaving the arrogant Foreign Minister to accomplish this schizophrenic task. Natwar Singh has already committed so many boo-boos since assuming office that one hopes that the only direction he can now go is upwards.

It is fortuitous for Singh that one of his favourite quotes is a remark by Winston Churchill that “eating words has never given me indigestion”. Leaders like Kofi Annan may forgive Singh for his indiscretions in writing and in speech during the 15 years that he was kept out of India’s foreign policy loop — including, very interestingly, the five years of the prime-ministership of fellow Congressman, P.V. Narasimha Rao. But as foreign minister, how will Singh live down a comment, made as recently as August last year, that India’s nuclear tests “made Pakistan a nuclear power. It has given Pakistan permanent defence parity with India. The conventional defence superiority we had for 51 years disappeared in May 1998. And where is our nuclear deterrent?”

The last time Singh was in South Block as junior minister, he opted not to have an Indian Foreign Service officer on his personal staff. Few foreign ministers anywhere in the world keep professional diplomats out of their offices unless there are good reasons to do so. In Singh’s case, it was typical of the man: his firm belief that no candidate selected to the IFS since 1953 is capable of giving him advice. It is no surprise that throughout his tenure in the IFS — and 20 years after he left it — there has been a virtual industry in jokes and anecdotes about the man behind his back among his peers and juniors.

It is not easy for someone to change at the age of 73. If Singh does not, Indian diplomacy will pay a price not only for the external affairs minister’s persona, but equally for his idea that the country’s foreign policy has to be jump-started from where Rajiv Gandhi — whom few of today’s world leaders remember — left off in 1989.[Telegraph]

5 thoughts on “Natwar Singh’s arrogance is a liability”

  1. Nitin:

    K.P. Nayar is correct in arguing that Natwar Singh has undercut Manmohan Singh by arranging for Sonia Gandhi’s visit to Pakistan (not to mention the process of tying high-level meetings to progress at lower levels). But I’m not so sure that his fears about the consequent sidelining of Dixit and Narayanan by moving Sonia Gandhi center-stage are on-target.

    Far from caving in to Pakistan out of political considerations, Sonia Gandhi is likely to be hyper-cautious about taking any dramatic step. And such a slowdown serves Indian interests,even if only inadvertently–I’ve long thought that India should stretch out the talks as long as possible.

    Kumar

  2. Fortunately in diplomacy, a lot is forgiven (though seldom forgotten) in the interest of pragmatism and current policy.
    One can only hope that our phoren policy, now at the mercy of senile fools, will be back on track once the UPA govt falls, which should be within the next 30 months, going by record of makeshift keep-the-BJP-out groupings.

  3. Fortunately in diplomacy, a lot is forgiven (though seldom forgotten) in the interest of pragmatism and current policy.
    One can only hope that our phoren policy, now at the mercy of senile fools, will be back on track once the UPA govt falls, which should be within the next 30 months, going by record of makeshift keep-the-BJP-out groupings.

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