Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Manifestos: the missing foreign plan

Whatever the hue of the new government, it can afford to ignore the role of foreign policy only at the cost of its domestic agenda.

National elections inevitably focus on domestic issues often to the detriment of international linkages even though it is increasingly evident that in a globalized world the latter has significant bearing on the former. Indeed, there is no nation today whose domestic policy is not determined by events beyond its borders. India is no exception.

Consider just two aspects. First, nearly 50% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP) is now dependent on international trade. While imports and exports are certainly determined by national policies and domestic decision-making paralysis can have a detrimental effect, it would be naïve to disregard the impact that international developments, such as the prospective Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership will have on India’s trade.

Second, as Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan highlighted at a Brookings event the consequences of national US monetary policies was damaging to the economies of emerging markets, such as India. Indeed, this was a critical factor behind the weakening of the rupee and capital outflow.

Thus even if parties want to focus only on national economic policies to promote growth during the elections, they will sooner or later have to contend with the international dimensions that will inevitably influence even domestic decisions.

Yet, the three key manifestos make only tenuous link between the external scenario and prospects for India’s domestic growth. The Aam Aadmi Party, whose ambitious, if populist, list of domestic deliverables is most vulnerable to external exigencies, clearly links the global “ecological crisis" and India’s energy and economic security. However, it lacks details on how to encourage an increasingly energy independent developed world to invest in renewables in dependent India.

The slender Congress party manifesto is, perhaps, the weakest in making this connection. While it promises steps to “promote greater integration with the global economy and encourage foreign direct investment", this finds no mention in the foreign policy section. In fact, the foreign policy section, which makes perfunctory and obligatory references to reforming the United Nations Security Council, the non-aligned movement and even defunct “socialist countries" is confined almost entirely to South Asia. The manifesto is bereft of any mention of the G-20 or reforming international financial institutions. This is particularly ironic given that Manmohan Singh understood the vital connection between external factors and domestic economic well-being and explicitly articulated it in a well considered speech, even though he could not act on it (A New Panchsheel for the 21st Century, Mint, 11 November 2013).

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto, which bears the imprimatur of its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, comes closest to making the connection between its domestic agenda and the international arena explicit. Taking a page from Singh’s speech it notes that India’s global strategic engagement will have to include the country’s economic, scientific, cultural, political and security interests.

Though it links the domestic credibility crisis of the Singh government to the “falling rupee and countries riding roughshod over us", it is not clear that greater Indian credibility would have prevented the US from changing its national monetary policies.

Indeed, the BJP manifesto is also silent on how it will enhance its engagement with the US and the developed world if it wants to manifest its “5 T’s: tradition, talent, tourism, trade and technology" policy. While it is in the interest of Washington to engage with the new administration in India, the Obama administration is unlikely to simply roll over. It will require concerted effort on both sides.

Whatever the hue of the new government, it can afford to ignore the role of foreign policy only at the cost of its domestic agenda.

W.P.S. Sidhu is senior fellow for foreign policy at Brookings India and a senior fellow at the Center on International Cooperation, New York University. He writes on strategic affairs every fortnight.

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