Mumbai/New Delhi: The Congress party’s win in the general election will ensure stability and continuity in India’s foreign policy, said experts, but warned that the global environment will be more difficult.
The primary concerns facing the new government would be India’s engagement with the US—which itself has a new administration—as well as with Pakistan, a nation struggling with its own internal security issues, and China, which most recently blocked an Asian Development Bank (ADB) loan to Arunachal Pradesh, parts of which China claims.
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“Foreign policy will be more challenging, notwithstanding the (electoral) performance,” warned Devesh Kapur, director, Center for the Advanced Study of India at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Most experts agreed that one of India’s largest challenges would come not from its west but east: China.
“China is recalcitrant. Forget magnanimity, things are becoming frozen. China is signalling its unwillingness to accommodate India, that is more worrying,” said Amitabh Mattoo, professor of International Politics at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi.
Kapur added India would have to take steps to increase its bargaining power. “China’s approach is to speak softly but carry a big stick. India’s approach is to speak loudly and carry a small stick.... We haven’t even cultivated Taiwan or backed the Dalai Lama. As a country, we are apprehensive and insecure about China.”
Nitin Pai, editor of Pragati— Indian National Interest Review magazine, agreed, saying India has done the worst in five years with regard to China. “India needs to (sit) bilaterally with key players like Indonesia, Singapore, Japan, Korea, Vietnam.”
Ties with the US, which came under pressure from the Left parties during the civil nuclear deal talks last year, is also an issue.
Of particular concern, Kapur said, would be the (Barack) Obama administration’s efforts to review accords such as the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), as well as the US’ latest Afghanistan-Pakistan policy. “I see clouds on the horizon with the US, despite the fact that internal constraints will be relatively less,” he said.
“Since the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) is much weakened, and the Left is out, the new government, in principle, will go in with more latitude in negotiations on these issues,” said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president and chief executive of New Delhi-based Centre for Policy Research.
C. Rajamohan, professor of South Asian studies at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said a strong government would get a lot more respect from world governments. “Just the fact that there is a strong government in Delhi signals a continuity in foreign policy.”
The immediate neighbourhood will also require mending, said JNU’s Mattoo. “Hopefully there will be, there needs to be, a renewed emphasis on the neighbourhood. You can’t be a great power if you live in a failed neighbourhood,” he said. “We will see a more nuanced approach to Pakistan than what we’ve had since the November terror attacks.”
It will be a nightmare if Pakistan collapses, Kapur said. “What are our options if Pakistan fails?”
Graphics by Sandeep Bhatnagar / Mint