Pragmatism – the latest word to be abused

Pragmatism is distinctly different from surrender and appeasement

It has boldly been thrust into the Indian lexicon. As if Indians had suddenly discovered something new, Shekhar Gupta writes that “public opinion in this country is more willing than ever to look at pragmatic ideas”. He writes this in the context of Indians in general being prepared to make territorial concessions to Pakistan and China. It appears that ‘pragmatism’ will soon join ‘secularism’ as the latest word to be abused in India.

Pragmatism merely means ‘a practical approach to problems or affairs’. It involves compromise, usually on matters of principle, but is quite different from surrender or appeasement. For instance, a pragmatic way to avoid the death and destruction caused by going to war cannot be by ready surrender. Pragmatism would involve taking practical measures to defend oneself and take such measures that would actually deter an attack.

A pragmatic foreign policy would not compromise national interests, but defend them and take them further. It follows that unilateral territorial concessions are examples of appeasement, not of pragmatism.

Especially in the area of national security, policies touted as pragmatism must remain so both in the short and the long terms. Buying a temporary respite by making permanent concessions may ensure that short-term objectives are achieved, but only borrowing against the future. The word for this is expediency. India’s support of the LTTE in the early 1980s is an example of this. That was a sin of commission. In today’s context, India may find it expedient to do nothing in Nepal and Bangladesh, just as it finds it expedient to over-indulge Gen Musharraf. But it would be wrong to label these as actions as stemming from a pragmatic foreign policy — because it is difficult to argue that the approach will secure India’s interest in the long term.

It may be that the Indian government (and the unthinking quarter of the Indian mainstream media) is attempting to sell appeasement to the public in two versions — sugarcoating it as a lofty-softiness for the touchy-feely sorts, and a with a rugged, black, metal-studded pragmatic finish for those who think they are tougher than the rest.

3 thoughts on “Pragmatism – the latest word to be abused”

  1. Nitin:

    Mr. Gupta’s piece doesn’t seem to be a reprinting of GOI ‘background briefings’. No, it’s all Mr. Gupta, wishing in print. He’s ‘shocked, shocked’ to find politicians acting like, well, politicians ! While Gupta despairs over the fractious nature of Indian democracy, I think that’s the best hedge against an elite bent on ‘pragmatic’ deals with India’s enemies.

    Mr. Gupta also overestimates Indian ‘pragmatism’. Even the sort of territorial concessions envisaged w/ China (i.e., transfer of ‘uninhabited’ territory) has been ruled out by the GOI in the case of J&K. Indeed, even in the case of China, it’s quite controversial. I see no evidence of the GOI preparing the ground for such a move in J&K.

    Kumar

  2. Good analysis. I especially liked the line, “rugged, black, metal-studded pragmatic finish for those who think they are tougher.”

    Shekhar Gupta is always up to this trick of cloaking his manipulative spin as something what it is not: a principle, a well-considered approach, a lesson learnt, whatever. Wheover then doesn’t fall in line with him is at the risk of being dubbed unprincipled, unthinking, defensive etc.

    By the way, I’m also now hosting the “no to musharraf” camapign, and I’m linking the image from your site.

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