The long history of communalisation of foreign policy

It goes all the way down to the bone

It is impossible not to applaud Sonia Gandhi’s attack on the ‘communalisation of foreign policy’. That’s an excellent principle. Putting the Communists, the communalisers in question, in place was long overdue. It also happens that the Congress party that she heads, as well as its predecessor, have a long history of doing exactly what she is accuses the Left of.

Mahatma Gandhi himself was not above communalising foreign policy — his support for the Khilafat movement and ensuing damage it did to India’s own struggle for freedom from British rule is perhaps one of the lowest points in his career. Even as the Indian National Congress threw its weight behind the faraway Ottoman emperor — who cared little for India or its Muslims — the Turkish people not only got rid of their emperor and caliph but turned themselves into a secular state! Embarassment was not the only result. Both communal harmony and the non-cooperation movement suffered as a result.

And then there is India’s policy towards Israel. For over half-a-century, India estranged itself from Israel. For almost half-a-century, India estranged itself from that country despite having no enmity or quarrel with it. Despite having opposed the creation and its admission into the United Nations, Nehru and Indira Gandhi did not hesitate to seek and receive military assistance from Israel during the wars in 1962, 1965 and 1971 (via Varnam). That Nehru privately favoured Israel but officially opposed it can hardly mitigate the fact that India’s foreign policy was indeed ‘communalised’ by Nehru and his successors.

High moralism may be brought in to hide the communal motivations of India’s Israel policy. But it was hard to find even a grain of that in Natwar Singh’s citing of “150 million Muslims in India, of which a large number are Shia” in his support of India giving a pass to Iran’s illegal nuclear programme.

Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent a special envoy to France to intervene on behalf of France’s Sikh citizens and their right to don turbans.

So Indian leaders have long shown an inability to avoid the communal calculations from affecting foreign policy. And India has been the worse for it. As for Sonia Gandhi, her statements are more a diatribe against her political opponents than an breath of fresh air as far as foreign policy is concerned.

11 thoughts on “The long history of communalisation of foreign policy”

  1. Sending an envoy to France on the turban issue was mainly because of media pressure(read NDTV).It was really unnecessary for us to intervene in France’s internal issue. On a different note long time back we didnt bother to intervene in Fiji when a legit govt of Indian majority was toppled and Indians there were made second-class citizens.

  2. Agree with you except on the Sikh part. That request from Dr. Singh was against the ban of religions symbols on public schools. Now it has become worse. Sikhs cannot even get a French driver’s license since they have to remove their turbans in the official DL photo. The US and EU regularly give lessons on religious freedom to others. The United States had a public Congressional hearing on India’s religious freedom while saying nothing on Saudi Arabia and others (except in the obscure religious freedom report which nobody reads.) The turban issue has to be contested by Indians. The case is now before European Court of Human Rights though.

  3. Cynical Nerd,

    I disagree.

    India has even less business worrying about France’s freedom of religion than it has about Saudi Arabia’s. France is a democracy, and has elected a law democratically. French citizens — Sikhs and others — whose rights may have been affected can seek legal recourse. As they probably will.

    Whether France allows its citizens to wear turbans or not is simply not a matter of India’s national interest.

    European parliamentarians and US Congressmen can hold all the hearings they want about the state of India’s religious freedoms. Their lectures can be, and usually are, ignored by the Indian government. The media usually beats itself into a frenzy sometimes…

  4. Nitin: The Sikh driver’s license case has through the higest judiciary bodies in France – the Sikhs lost in the face of militant secularism. The case is now before EU Justice like I said. The French have their own reasons – they have nothing against the peaceful Sikhs but they fear that by allowing the Sikhs to wear turbans they’ll have to give in to the Muslim immigrants – who now constitute 10% of population.

    I don’t know the motivations behind Dr. Singh’s request to France – GoI does’nt do this kinda stuff. Just look at the “blood money” rates available on Indian embassy website of Saudi Arabia. GoI does’nt raise a finger. I don’t expect GoI to do anything about it though.

    The Congressional hearings are picked up by every media and human rights group. Look at PRC, they released a fantastic report on US human rights state – someone had posted in secular-right, highly readable!

    We can work on the modalities on how to go about doing it. But someone should say it be it private NGOs or some government organ.


  5. Nitin, I am not sure I agree with you with regards to responding to issues outside India only in the name of national interest. There is more to nation’s interest than geo-politics. Just like the entire global Muslim community erupted on the cartoons issue or the entire Christian world (mostly the west) went into convulsion when a Christian convert was to be put to death in Afghan, Indian government and Indians should have say in issues pertaining to Indians or NRIs living in other countries whether they are Silks, Muslims, Hindus, Christians or other religions. When a Christian NRI is unfairly prosecuted in Saudi, Indian government should have say in it. Indians don’t need to start burning down shops and cars in India. But they should at least make sure the defendant’s case is heard.

    I do agree with Cynical Nerd about the hypocrisy of the apparent secular west when it comes to dress-code of recent immigrants to west. UK is going down the same path too.

  6. Nitin,
    sorry but i disagree with you completely. As the article states and i concur we have made a hash of things by involving anything but India’s sheer geo-political interest in foreign policy. Altruism or wotever you else you might call it has simply no place in foreign policy. Instead we should be concerned about these things in the sphere of domestic issues. The rights of sikhs in india are or should be more important to the GoI than rights of sikhs in France. Also realise the sticky wicket India will be in if tried to interfere in every one of those issues. Moreover theres no legal justification if the person happens to be citizen of that country and they say adhere to our dress code or else. A mass protest of that type you mentioned happened in case of the cartoons because of almost global outrage by ppls and govts from morocco to phillipines. I doubt if you cld the local junta to enthusiastic abt some misuse of a hundu religious symbol. But that is not to say noting shld be done abt it. In fact if I remember correctly there was a furor some time back over the use of Durga’s picture on some vodka bottle. Some intl Hindu orgn took it up and eventually it got sorted out.

  7. Nitin,
    You said, “That Nehru privately favoured Israel but officially opposed it can hardly mitigate the fact that India’s foreign policy was indeed ‘communalised’ by Nehru and his successors.”

    Actually, it doesn’t mitigate but actually proves the fact that India’s foriegn policy was indeed ‘communalised’ by Nehru.

  8. Nitin,

    Even if you dont want our government to interefere in other countries on such matters, dont you think, it is a useful tactic in making them shut up on our Internal Affairs?

    I agree with CN, Chandra and Abhishek, our interests are basically because of our people – and do not necessarily reflect the extent of our borders. As much as democracy, media and Human Rights groups leads to others questioning/pontificating (to) us on Gujurat, for example, we should also do the same because it reflects our people’s interests.

  9. We have to make a distinction between Sikh turbans and other religious symbols. Wearing the cross is optional, Christianity does not force it on you. The Muslim veil is generally seen as gender-discriminatory; the state holds to right to reject anything suggestive of discrimination against women. While the whole-body burqa of the kind worn in India should be barred, head-scarves should be allowed. But the Sikh turban is very instrinsic to Sikh religion. Neither is it a symbol of male chauvinism nor is it truly optional for Sikhs.

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