Reward for failure is the new normal in Naya Bharat. Unemployment in terms of sheer number of jobless people is at the highest in the history of independent India. GDP growth – a fudge in the eyes of several Nobel Prize winning economists since it was massaged in 2014 to inflate it – has plummeted to the lowest level in five years. The list of non-achievement is endless. Yet the political party that has governed over such a shambles has been handsomely re-elected. Falsehood, an exaggerated security threat engendering jingoism, reigns. The hitherto exemplary common sense of the common man has evaporated and been replaced by revolting communal considerations.
The poison started being injected into India’s body politic with the RSS surreptitiously taking advantage of the Jan Sangh being a component of the 1977-79 Janata Party administration. It gathered momentum, with Hindutva being unashamedly unveiled by Lal Krishna Advani, catapulting the BJP from two to 182 seats in the Lok Sabha in a decade. More importantly, six years of a BJP-led NDA government administered a heavier dose of the toxin to students who graduated into voting for Narendra Modi in 2014. And then came the heaviest portion of the venom under an unbridled absolute majority regime of effectively the RSS.
Now the new external affairs minister is Subrahmanyam Jaishankar. In theory, an appointment of a domain specialist is not an unwelcome departure from unequipped politicians presiding over foreign policy. In fact, there can be no doubt that a career diplomat’s insight and knowledge of India’s international affairs would be far more extensive than a generalist.
Jaishankar’s father was Krishnaswamy Subhahmanyam, who was an institution as director of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses. He advocated realpolitik in contrast idealism in external relations and a policy of credible nuclear deterrence. The son, after graduating from St Stephen’s College, Delhi University, studied nuclear diplomacy at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Upon entering the Indian Foreign Service, he was generally identified as one of the bright boys of the establishment and tipped as a future foreign secretary.
He was overlooked for the top job when his batchmate Sujatha Singh was preferred to him; but was schemingly eased into the post after Narendra Modi abruptly terminated Singh’s tenure. There was never much debate in informed circles that Jaishankar was the more eligible of the two to steward the service. Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was said to have wanted him; but was prevailed upon to consider the fact that Sujatha fared better than Jaishankar in the entrance examination and to deny her would also expose his government to a charge of gender discrimination. It was the treatment meted out to Singh though that rankled in the diplomatic community.
It is a legitimate ambition to aspire to be foreign secretary. Indeed, it is deemed to be a political master’s prerogative to ring changes. But signs of displeasure among Indian diplomats, past and present, erupted when he was granted a year’s extension after his two-year term.
The most respected civil servant is he or she who doesn’t accept in a post-retirement handshake. It is worse if such a person transpires to have been a closet activist for a political party while a bureaucrat. There is no evidence to substantiate Jaishankar was the latter. But his record as foreign secretary was not exactly luminous; yet he has been elevated to the position of EAM.
Under his watch as foreign secretary, India markedly tilted towards the United States, thereby departing from its successful policy of equidistance from super powers. And it persevered with this policy even with an unreliable Donald Trump. Not even during the period of unipolarity in the immediate aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union and before the rise of China did India kow-tow to Washington. The net result is, this annoyed Russia, historically India’s trusted partner. And when India tried to appease Moscow by ordering missile systems, a malicious Trump hit back with punitive measures. In effect, the Jaishankar doctrine has gone up in flames.
Under his vigilance, tension with China rose alarmingly – arguably a consequence of India’s US policy – resulting in a face-off at Doklam. He also took his eye off the ball on the Maldives situation. The degeneration in ties with Pakistan and Nepal was not of his creation. But the question is, did he advise against Modi’s misadventures strenuously enough?
On Modi’s first visit to Beijing, Jaishankar told the press no concession on visas was on the cards. Within hours he was contradicted. Two days before Modi’s meeting with President Francoise Hollande in 2015, Jaishankar maintained a discussion on the Rafale deal was not on the table, that Dassault and HAL were close to concluding an agreement. These are incredible instances of a foreign secretary being kept out of the loop.
Besides, who is responsible for Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav’s predicament in Pakistan? Whose bright idea was it to permit the Pakistani army’s Inter-Services Intelligence wing to visit the sensitive military base at Pathankot? Terrorism has been rampant whether in Kashmir or Madhya Pradesh. Yet Ajit Doval as National Security Adviser has been upgraded to cabinet rank.