BJP manifesto’s vagueness on foreign policy could be his opportunity.
Foreign policy is rarely central to elections anywhere in the world. It is no surprise, then, that the foreign policy sections in the manifestos put out by the Congress and BJP seem an after-thought. Both end up with a long laundry list of disparate propositions. Marginal though they are, the manifestos do offer a peep into the dominant worldview of the Congress and the BJP. Both are disappointing in their inability to comprehend the central imperative of India’s foreign policy — the extraordinary international interdependence that defines India’s contemporary condition.
Nearly a quarter of a century after the launch of economic reforms, more than 50 per cent of the Indian economy is tied up to imports and exports. India imports 90 per cent of its hydrocarbon requirements and a growing share of its coal consumption from abroad. The welfare and progress of the Indian people have never depended so much on what happens beyond its borders. And as the 10th-largest economy, India too matters to the world more than ever before. That is one reason why there is so much global interest in these elections.
Yet, the assumptions guiding the Congress and the BJP are rooted in a different era. The challenge for India is no longer about preventing the world from impinging on its choices, but to using its growing economic and political weight to shape the external environment to its benefit.
The foreign policy section of the Congress manifesto is bizarre in its talk about solidarity with “socialist” countries and reveals the make-believe world of the party’s leadership. The BJP manifesto is not up to speed either. Although some of the new ideas outlined by the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, over the last few months did find their way in, the manifesto is quite clearly a triumph for the old guard that is so out of touch with the world.
One new theme in the BJP manifesto is the call, articulated often by Modi, to make the states partners in the execution of Indian foreign policy. Coming from the BJP, with its traditional emphasis on centralisation, the emphasis on the role of states is somewhat counter-intuitive. It comes amid mounting concerns in Delhi’s foreign policy establishment that the Congress party has weakened the Centre’s hand and ceded a veto to the states, especially Tamil Nadu and West Bengal.
The Congress reserves its longest paragraph in the foreign policy section to Sri Lanka as a bow to pressures from Tamil Nadu. Rather than attack the Congress for its appeasement of states, Modi wants to make the state chief ministers allies continued…