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The new government’s external advantage

As the Congress Party returns to power trouncing its ideological opponents on the right and the left,India will command a lot more political respect on the world stage.

Written by C. Raja Mohan | New Delhi |
May 16, 2009 4:10:23 pm

As the Congress Party returns to power trouncing its ideological opponents on the right and the left,India will command a lot more political respect on the world stage.

Internally,there is enough credit for this victory to go around within the ruling party — between the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh,the Congress president Sonia Gandhi and the general secretary,Rahul Gandhi.

What matters externally is the simple fact that the Congress has returned to power,with better numbers in parliament. Nothing improves a government’s international reputation more than returning to power with an improved majority.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,then,begins his second tenure with a lot more freedom internally and a lot more credibility externally to run India’s foreign policy.

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The rout of the communist parties,who made the Indo-US civil nuclear initiative such a controversial issue is a triumph for Dr Singh’s political judgment.

The PM not only argued that the nuclear deal was in India’s national interest but staked his political future on it. Many Congressmen had cautioned Dr Singh and Mrs Gandhi against splitting with the Left on relations with the US.

In the end,it was the CPM that failed to tarnish Dr Singh’s reputation by invoking anti-Americanism and weaken the Congress during these elections.

Dr Singh,however,is unlikely to waste time patting himself on the back. For the diplomatic challenges that confront him are much more difficult than the ones he had encountered in 2004.

In the first term,Manmohan Singh had the luxury of dealing with a galloping world economy in which India’s economic profile was on the rise. It was also a moment when India’s three most important bilateral relations,with the United States,Pakistan and China were on the upswing.

Now,as the world struggles to cope with a once-in-a-century economic crisis,India’s ties with the United States,Pakistan and China have all entered an uncertain phase.

In Washington,President Barack Obama does not appear to have the same enthusiasm for India that his predecessor George W. Bush did. That might not have mattered much,but for the fact that Obama seems to expect India to pay the price for Pakistan’s collaboration with the United States in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile,India’s ties with Pakistan have sunk to a new low after the terror attack on Mumbai,and New Delhi is in no mood to return to business as usual.

As India prepares to deal with the many negative consequences of Obama’s Af-Pak policy,New Delhi’s relations with Beijing appear headed south. New Delhi’s problem is not just Beijing’s new assertiveness on the border dispute,but the massive consequences of China’s rise for the conduct of India’s foreign policy at the global and regional level.

Dr Singh’s return to power allows India to deal with these challenges without a political rupture that would have occurred if the Congress had lost power. Even more important,the Congress party’s superb performance in the elections will send unmistakable signals to Washington,Islamabad and Beijing that they will have to deal with a strong and resolute interlocutor in New Delhi.

(C Raja Mohan is a Professor at the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies,Nanyang Technological University,Singapore)

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