Should India’s foreign policy clean your kitchen sink?

Why proponents of a friendly relations with China undermine their case

M K Bhadrakumar is at it again. He asks if India’s “strategic alliance” (huh? which one?) with the United States

helped to discourage farmers in Vidharbha from taking their own lives in sheer despair, reduce the profound alienation of the people of Jammu & Kashmir or bring the neglected northeast into the national mainstream. Would “Malabar exercises” or the Indo-U.S. defence agreement or the envisaged “inter-operability” of the armed forces of the two countries make the South Asian security environment any less complicated? Would they help to ease India’s troubled relations with its neighbours? Do they tackle energy security or the looming food security crisis or the appalling illiteracy and malnutrition stalking the outer rings of our shining metros?[The Hindu]

Let’s indulge him and ignore for a moment that the India-US civilian nuclear power deal actually addresses energy security. Let’s assume that the answer is negative.

The question is: is foreign policy the relevant framework to address distressed farmers, disgruntled Kashmiris and neglected North-easterners? Or are these unhappy people victims of India’s inability to deliver effective governance? In his bid to attack India’s post-cold war foreign policy, Mr Bhadrakumar absurdly argues that foreign policy is somehow a cure for the rot in domestic governance.

His article, as before, is yet another attempt to argue why India should be pro-China and anti-America. But he fails by his own yardstick—will a pro-China and anti-America policy help people in Vidarbha, Kashmir and the North East?

Now pragmatic people will accept that India must maintain stable, hopefully friendly relations, with China. But pragmatic people will fail to understand Mr Bhadrakumar’s assertions that India’s foreign policy must necessarily antagonise the United States. Amusingly, he asserts that ” the nation got alienated from its foreign policy”. It is Mr Bhadrakumar who is alienated from the nation.

Here are some results of a nationally representative survey conducted in 2005-6 over 212,000 households:

First, there is a clear relationship between socio-economic status and the ability to respond to questions on foreign policy. The more elite (defined both by education and occupation), the more likely Indians will have an opinion on foreign policy issues. For the large number of rural landless, 69.7 percent “don’t know” while another 24.3 percent have “no response”. At the other extreme – educated urban professionals – the figures are 21 and 6 percent respectively, an almost four-fold difference. High non-response rates among the weaker socio-economic groups indicate that they may be “efficiently” ignorant i.e. they are not interested in putting in the effort on an issue that has low salience for them.

Second, to the extent that Indians express their opinion about the degree of warmth (or positive feelings) towards a country (the choices were US, Japan, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia) the data is unequivocal: while the US does not rank above the other countries in all categories (Figure 1), no matter which way the data is segmented – by socio-economic group, income, state, gender, age, rural-urban – Indians have the warmest feelings towards the US followed by Japan, with (expectedly) Pakistan at the other end of the spectrum…

Fourth, the warmer sentiments towards the US are valid in every state. Even in states ruled by the Left parties who are the most vociferous opponents of closer relations with the US (Kerala and West Bengal), respondents clearly prefer the relationship with US over the relationship with China (Figure 3). We also examined the view that the need to placate India’s Muslims – an important voting constituency in an increasingly competitive voting environment – may be playing a role. While we don’t have data on the religious beliefs at the individual level, there was no statistical difference in states with higher Muslim population from those with low concentration of Muslims. The widely believed view that Muslims are anti-US does not find support.

Fifth, the evidence from other questions in the survey indicates that the Indian public is not naive and indeed demonstrates a streak of hard realism in its judgments about the US. Respondents were asked to rate the governments of countries both in terms of trustworthiness and how aggressive they felt the government to be. In both cases the US ranked lowest and this was perhaps why, in response to another question on India’s dealing with foreign governments, the majority of respondents felt that the Indian government should be tougher in its negotiations with United States.
[Devesh Kapur/CASI]

8 thoughts on “Should India’s foreign policy clean your kitchen sink?”

  1. To have your ideas challenged and punched holes in by others is actually a good thing, because it helps you refine and perfect them. Comrades don’t enjoy this advantage. Due to their ill-gotten position of power in the media establishment, leftwingers have become inured to the glaring double-speak in what passes for their “arguments”. Irony-deficiency is what results when you have shut up (or shut yourself out to) challenges to your “ideas”. Bhadrakumar’s writeup is a classic example of this malaise. It should be put in textbooks and diligently studied by students of polemics and rhetoric.

    You have pointed some of the nuttiness in the ex-bureaucrat’s argument (no wonder Indian foreign policy is so screwed up 😉 but there is some more as well.

    1. In making out a case for good relationship with China, he bases his argument on the fact that China is an emrging power. Which is a case for good relationship with the US as well, because the latter already is a major global power!

    2. He repeatedly mentions the “Tibet card”. I heard no argument that said that we should exploit this “card”. Is this some kind of leftwing Fruedian — do they see parallels with the “Palestine card” they use as a camouflage for their anti-semitism and anti-Americanism?

    3. He doesn’t state what’s in it for India. He insinuates that a good relationship with the US antogonises China. No explanation why, given China itself is getting along pretty well with the Americans. He suggests that India should do nothing that might be construed as a challenge by China to its claim of being the sole power in the Asian region. No explanation why this Chinese hegemony in our neighborhood is necessarily a good thing, when according to comrades unipolarity is not good at the global level.

  2. Sounds like Mr. Bhadrakumar is one of those foreign service mandarins we have grown to detest. His outlook on China is simply outdated and just plain wrong. Mr. Bhadrakumar should realize this: China will always be India’s rival; never its friend.

  3. Anyone who uses neo-liberal in the first paragraph should be routinely ignored.

    It is amusing to note that the same ”neo-liberal” policies which have facilitated China’s rise and persumably dictate why india should engage with her are to be disparaged when it comes to their adoption in India! It is almost as if The Hindu and its vile editor wants to make India a client state of China.

  4. I’ve just had the pleasure of reading Mr Bhadrakumar’s article. Full disclosure: I’m a policy wonk, but specialise in areas other than foreign affairs.

    Question: why are you taking this man’s article seriously enough to comment on it?

    I ask this not to add to the rhetoric, but because I don’t think an article that

    a) mixes foreign policy objectives with domestic policy failures,
    b) sets domestic policy objectives as a benchmark for foreign policy vis-a-vis the US, and then fails to mention it in any context as a benchmark for foreign policy vis-a-vis China;
    c) fails to distinguish between foreign policy aimed at larger strategic objectives, and foreign policy aimed at the regional level – two areas which may have related, but different, policy formulations;
    d) fails to distinguish between questions of China’s political integrity, and China’s integration with the world economy – again, two different questions;
    e) sums up to conclude (in essence) that China’s undeniable economic rise should direct, unidimensionally, the entirety of India’s China policy

    is worth taking seriously enough to engage with, as you have. Come on, Acorn, you’re better than this. If you’re going to maintain the high standard that you do in your analysis – find targets that deserve it.

    NR

  5. Mr.Bhardkumar has still not got the sting of the Chinese. Probably he is on an invisible payrole of atimes.com – He loves the yellow race for no reason. Because they have achieved success through the back door (hook or crook) The Chinese do not have a clean character and the whole world knows this. Who is this writer to decide the foreign policy of our Country where our leaders (wise or stupid) have taken this country through all these years having and keeping this country in one piece together and reached and achieved something we all need to applaud and praise and rejoice to allow us to live in democratic freedom. (Inspite of failures, bloodshed and successes) India has our own right to device and determine our foreign polciy for the future or our Country.

  6. If india wants to have a foriegn policy, all indian, especially those of you in this forum should get rid of slave mentality. You guy only know to lick US ass and have no clue about modern China. You only respect big guys like US and Russia but no respect to somebody at your own levels or somebody smaller than you. Your indian have mantal problem when you dealing with your neighbours, China in particular. Try to learn your neighbours and get more facts about your neighbours instead of too emotional. Too emotional can blind your eyes and make you unreasonable and unrationable. Most importantly, get rid of your slave mentality which imbeded in your mind so deeply.

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