ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Limits of Style over Substance

Foreign Policy of the NDA Government

Lack of coherence in the foreign policy of the National Democratic Alliance government highlights the limits of emphasis on spectacle. An inability to adequately respond to the rapidly shifting situation in the neighbourhood as well as in the international domain is an outcome of this.

It is tempting to call any assessment of foreign policy developments over the last five years a perspective on “Modi’s” regime, as many are doing in the lead-up to the next general elections. That would be a mistake. I have long been of the view that the easy and convenient conflation of the person and the period—for example, the Nehruvian moment, the Vajpayee transformation, etc—has been one of the banes of Indian foreign policy studies, preventing us from acknowledging the gulf between what an individual may or may not stand for and the “daily referendum” of institutional responses to structural problems and possibilities facing the country in its dealings with the world. We may want great statesmen to lead us, but the sad truth is that most foreign policy is the product of deadly routine shaped by files and precedents, even more so in a minuscule bureaucracy that is overstretched and under-resourced.

If we want to be brutally honest, India has been for sometime now a rule-taker, not a rule-maker, and for the most part a reactive force in world politics, quite unable or unwilling to articulate its core national interests in a coherent and clear way. These latter failings cannot be laid at Modi’s door, much as we may want to; they are symptoms of a sclerotic foreign policy establishment that cannot sort out the difference between what India expects and where it stands in the world. A lack of clarity in thought is joined by ambivalence in practice. Beginning long before independence, India’s foreign policy has been marked by imperial tendencies in its immediate neighbourhood, while arguing for a more open international order further afield, especially one that entitles India to a seat, in the now time-honoured phrase that betrays its insecure colonial origins, “at the high table.”

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Updated On : 8th Apr, 2019
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