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Knee-jerk nation

Now that Norway issue has backfired,will MEA learn to act out of principle rather than reflex?

Written by The Indian Express | Published: March 22, 2012 3:20 am

Now that Norway issue has backfired,will MEA learn to act out of principle rather than reflex?

Does Sagarika Bhattacharya’s psychological state allow her to be a good parent? Is the Bhattacharyas’ marriage solid enough to support young children? These are questions that the Child Welfare Services department in Stavanger,Norway,had pondered and decided upon — until their judgment was attacked by a strange coalition of breathless TV anchors,Sushma Swaraj and Brinda Karat,and,of course,the ever-eager External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna. The MEA abandoned all diplomatic perspective,hearing nothing but the drumbeat of 24×7 news TV and leaders who framed it in terms of culturally belittled,oppressed immigrants. It publicly questioned Norway’s welfare services and legal system,sent its officials there,made the Bhattacharya case a serious part of the dialogue between two sovereign nations. Now New Delhi looks ridiculous,stuck in the middle of a messy domestic drama,after new disclosures regarding the Bhattacharyas have complicated the narrative. The Indian government will now retreat,shamefacedly,from a situation it had no business to be in.

This is not to say that an individual’s troubles abroad should not matter to the Indian government — but that there has to be some minimal objective logic in how their causes are chosen. There is a vast sea of Indian immigrants in various nations,subject to the laws of their hosts. In what circumstances does the MEA intervene on their behalf? The situation of many Indian expatriate labourers in the Middle East does not seem to affect our diplomatic establishment quite so keenly. On the other hand,any time an expat issue makes the headlines here,like say,the Anand Jon alleged rape case,the MEA wants its paws all over the matter.

Instead of fitting its actions into a conception of its role in the world,or its longer-term equation with other nations,the external affairs ministry seems to operate out of impulse,and in real time. Like the rest of the government,its actions are spasmodic,not strategic,which weakens its negotiating power. The Norway case should be a cautionary tale about thinking before leaping in.

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