Prime ministers have over the years flaunted their foreign policy successes either towards the end of their term or when their ratings are down. Prime Minister Modi has done so at the beginning of his term. Critics would say he has precious little to show by way of achievements at home, especially in terms of the economy.
Governments, over the years, have tended to focus on G2G (government to government) and G2B (government to business.) What Prime Minister Modi has done is to give a major shift, not change, because foreign policy is largely a continuum, to the government’s priorities. Five new pillars have been identified. Samman: Respect, honour and dignity of India and Indians. Samvaad: Engagement at multiple levels, be it civil society, academia, youth and diaspora. Samriddhi: Prosperity, by blending economy and diplomacy. Suraksha: National security; and the way Prime Minister Modi has gone about it in the last one year has given a great boost to our security interests. Today, we are very well placed in the entire Indian Ocean region and the Indo-Pacific region. It is not big power diplomacy alone; from Seychelles and Mauritius to Fiji and the other South Pacific island nations, all are looking up to India as a country to work with. The result is that we have more friends in the region. Then there is the neighbourhood first policy, too. Except Pakistan, we have best relations with all our neighbours. And the fifth pillar is Sanskriti or culture. Cultural or civilisational diplomacy is an important part of diplomacy. Earlier we used to shun it but Prime Minister Modi visits temples and takes part in cultural events such as Yoga — Tai Chi programme in China.
When the BJP was in the Opposition, it criticised the UPA over the Chinese stapled visa issue. Today, Prime Minister Modi visits China and announces e-visas for Chinese tourists even when the stapled visa issue remains unresolved. So how are this government’s policies any different from that of the previous government?
It’s not an issue of doing tit for tat (India retaliating by issuing stapled visas) with any country. It’s only about securing our interests. Having said that, in international relations there is a diplomatic way of doing tit for tat; it is not done in a crude way. Everyone knows that India– China bilateral relations are the most difficult bilateral relations that one can talk about. The major problem between the two countries is trust deficit. A good thing today is that thanks to Prime Minister Modi and President Xi Jinping, it seems we have been able to overcome that major trust-deficit part. Now, if anybody expects all the problems to be resolved in one year, then they don’t understand how diplomacy works. In 1988, Deng Xiaoping told Rajiv Gandhi to freeze contentious issues and talk about issues of mutual interest so that a comfort level is established and suspicions could be overcome. We agreed. Probably that worked us at that point in time. Bilateral trade has increased. Today, in 2015, what we have done is take bilateral ties to another level. You don’t have to freeze it forever. Start talking about these issues. You have a strong government in India and a strong government in China. Now is the time for both to talk about the contentious issues and try and register some progress. In the process, each should keep in mind the sensitivities of the other. This is as much true for India as it is for China. Prime Minister Modi openly spoke about border issues with China. He told President Xi that it is important to maintain peace at the Line of Actual Control (LAC). This kind of frank and candid discussion while keeping in mind the sensitivities of each other is, I think, a major achievement in bilateral relations. There is a better comfort level; our officials are talking freely. This will help us in registering a gradual progress on the contentious issues such as border, stapled visa, rivers, etc.
The government’s Pakistan policy, if there is one, has been marked by inconsistencies. First, Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was invited. Then the foreign secretary-level talks were cancelled. And, recently, the new foreign secretary went to Pakistan as part of a SAARC yatra. How do you explain these contradictions?
There is no contradiction. Diplomacy is not a linear game. Sometimes one has to be stern. For instance, in 2008, after the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the UPA government did not have talks with Pakistan for some time. Are we suggesting that the UPA or Manmohan Singh was an enemy of Pakistan? No. I think we are doing it in a much better way. We have secured our borders and the Line of Control (LOC) with Pakistan very well. We are in a position to respond to Pakistan’s deliberate transgressions and deliberate provocations in an appropriate manner. When Pakistan tried to interfere in India’s domestic politics, like trying to influence the Hurriyat, we said that if that is the case our response will be very firm. But when in history have we said that we will treat our neighbour as an enemy? We will be stern. We will not compromise on our interests. But yes, as a big, responsible country in this region, we will always try to engage. That’s why Prime Minister Modi invited Nawaz Sharif for his swearing-in ceremony. Then we sent the foreign secretary as part of a SAARC yatra. These things are all part of the thinking about how to handle our neighbour. But in the process you must realise that as the Prime Minister pointed out, it also shows that today Pakistan is the only country left out. We have good relations with Pakistan’s best friend, the United States. We have improved our relations with Pakistan’s next best friend, China. And we have very good relations with all our other neighbours. Who is left out? It’s for Pakistan also to think that what kind of relationship they want to have with India. India is not an enemy of any country. Look at the entire history. Even when they indulged in maximum provocation, like in Kargil, in two years time we invited Musharraf for talks in Agra.
In Jammu and Kashmir, we saw the BJP and the PDP, two political parties with divergent ideologies, come together to form a coalition government on the basis of a common minimum programme (CMP). Some would say that it is an unlikely coalition and might not last its full term. How sanguine are you about the longevity of this government?
Remember, no coalition is easy. Two like minded parties coming together also will have a hundred hiccups in the process of running a coalition government. Our coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir was a product of a complex mandate given by the people of different regions of the state. It is neither an ideological alliance nor a political alliance. It’s an alliance for governance. We called it governance alliance. Now one may say it is opportunistic but my answer is, it is a product of a complex mandate that was handed down to us by the people of the state. We were forced to respect the mandate. There was no option left for both the parties but to come together and form a government. Now that we have formed a governance alliance, we wish that the government there sticks to the CMP agenda which is in the interest of all the three regions of the state. We hope that we stick to the alliance and move forward. We, as a national party, cannot compromise on the larger questions of national unity and integrity. For example, we don’t want more space to be allowed to separatist forces in Jammu and Kashmir. So our government there will do extra effort to contain these forces. So we have to be more cautious about these things as a government there. And secondly, one of the major problems of the state is the gulf between the people of Jammu and the Kashmir Valley. There is a huge amount of mistrust. The feeling (“not feeling, it’s been a reality”) in Jammu has also been that they are discriminated against in an unjust manner. The response of our government has been to ensure that development happens in an equitable manner; that all three regions get justice. We are committed to that… equitable justice and equitable development opportunities to all three regions and not allowing extra space for the separatists to grow. Mark my words: Our government will collapse only the day we fail to achieve these things. Otherwise, we hope that it will last the whole of six years. It will complete its term and we will deliver the goods to the people of the state.
How do you propose to address the issue of relocation of Kashmiri Pandits in the state?
We want to make the Pandit leaders stakeholders in the whole process. We have to develop a roadmap. We want the Kashmiri leadership to come forward and tell us how we should develop that roadmap. Now, whether we should create ghettos for them or we should force them to go back to the places where they hailed from originally or whether there can be any other kind of arrangement … we are open to a discussion and take inputs from the Kashmiri Pandit community. The state government has started this exercise. Already two meetings have taken place with some Kashmiri Pandit leaders. There will be a few more meetings. Once this process is completed, then the state will take a view on making the Kashmiri Pandits a stakeholder. Together, we will develop the road map. Nothing that the Pandits do not want will happen.
Politics in Bihar is heating up with Lalu Yadav joining hands with Nitish Kumar and also conceding to projecting Nitish as the chief ministerial candidate. Given this index of opposition unity, how do you plan to approach the forthcoming Assembly elections there?
We are doing enough groundwork. We have a particular road map ready for the Bihar election and we are confident that the people of that state will reject all types of artificial, illogical and insincere coalitions which have come together against somebody and on no other basis expect on the basis of hatred for that somebody else. You were asking about unnatural alliance in Jammu and Kashmir… this (Lalu-Nitish) is the real unnatural alliance… it is something that’s been imposed on you; it is a voluntary, unnatural alliance they are getting into. So, if there is any strategy required, it is for them. As for us, our strategy is in place. We are confident that we will be able to win the election.