Think before you tweet, look before you leap: Former EAM’s riposte to the present

External Affairs Minister, who leapt to govt’s defence after Rahul Gandhi raised concerns over failures of foreign policy and national security, is advised more restraint by one of his predecessors

Think before you tweet, look before you leap: Former EAM’s riposte to the present

Salman Khurshid

The External Affairs Minister has a distinguished pedigree (that might not be a disqualification in his case as ‘Naamdar’) and he has served India with competence and elan.

I had the privilege to be his Minister when he was our Ambassador to China and then to the USA when we elevated his senior colleague, Sujatha Singh, to the coveted post of Foreign Secretary. I must acknowledge his yeoman services and indeed the fact that his IFS colleagues held him in high esteem.

But he has a job to do, perhaps a very difficult one for a person as talented as him, as indeed have I. But in performing mine as a former EAM and his predecessor, I am conscious that as India faces two fronts of Pakistan and China, a third front should not be opened between the ruling BJP and the Congress.

Furthermore, whatever is said between us will be carefully noted by our friends and foes across the world, looking for signs of cracks within our political spectrum. The days when we celebrated national consensus on foreign policy seem to have receded into a distant past.

There is also a great difference between a diplomat and a public representative conducting diplomacy.

I know that traditionally the PM takes the driving seat in matters of foreign policy, particularly the P-5. The evolution of the NSA office has further fortified that position. It is therefore even more necessary that a person with feet on the political ground supplement the view and vision that our outstanding career diplomats provide.

Perhaps this is peculiar to India and our politics because many countries of Europe and elsewhere elevate diplomats to the office of foreign minister but countries like UK, whose Cabinet system we follow, and the US have always had a ‘political’ Secretary of State. Be that as it may, the Indian tradition has served us well and perhaps the current situation underscores that point. But of course, I admit that the argument might cut both ways in contemporary conditions.

Interestingly, for several years during the first term of this NDA Government, as consistent questions about departure from the manifesto promises continued to be asked, cheer leaders went into an overdrive about great successes abroad. One must admit that the tireless travel the PM did was impressive and his proclivity for bear hugs very conspicuous, though how it was received remains unclear except in the case of President Trump. The reciprocation of the latter might in fact have cost us a heavy price in terms of Covid-19 spread in Gujarat.

We were repeatedly told that the relentless travel of the PM would lead to enormous investments promised by world leaders. We are still waiting for that to happen even as Indian capital is shifting to safe havens in UAE and elsewhere. The much-celebrated friendship with President Trump did not fructify in H1B1 visas and sundry hiccups on trade issues continue to distress Indian business and industry. Instead we have had periodic offers of ‘honest brokership’ between India and China that thankfully we have refused in continuity with the position the Congress governments had taken over the years.

Mr Rahul Gandhi has had serious doubts about how the government has dealt with the serious indiscretions of Pakistan and China. But sadly, instead of responding to his honest doubts the ruling party quickly spins that into questions about patriotic commitment of the Opposition and honour of the armed forces.

We know that governments can make mistakes, as indeed in the case of Kargil, and that the best military can get strategic decisions wrong. Much as we are bound to support our brave soldiers in good times and bad times, democratic accountability of the government cannot be side-stepped by the magic wand of national security. It is in fact for national security that questions become necessary at times. And therefore, Mr Rahul Gandhi’s latest barrage of pertinent queries about foreign policy and security.

The EAM’s response leads with Pakistan (purportedly skipped by Mr Gandhi according to the EAM ). Balakot and Uri, he believes, stands in contrast with Sharm-el-Sheikh, Havana and 26/11, forgetting that those were drafted and crafted by his erstwhile brilliant contemporaries.

But be that as it may, are we to believe that Balakot and Uri have brought Pakistan to senses and that cross-border terrorism is a matter of the past? Then why did continuing terrorist attacks cause the Supreme Court to justify denial of 4G connectivity to the residents of J&K?

On Sharm-el-Sheikh surely a good diplomat does not have to descend to the level of a street rabble rouser whose immediate concern is petty political mileage? Dialogue needs all manner of reformulations to get a nudge and gets nowhere by parrot like repetition of routine phrases.

India speaks its mind on CEPC, BRI, South China Sea of course as we would have done in our time. PM Rajiv Gandhi’s minute long hand shake in 1988 with his Chinese counterpart was a far cry from PM Modi and President Xi together on a swing even as PLA troops were treading on Indian soil.

Show ‘Red Eyes’ to the dragon is what CM Modi advised me as EAM, only to turn a blind eye to Chinese intrusion in Galwan, that cost us 20 precious lives of Indian soldiers.

The Chinese never stepped on Indian soil across the LAC and ‘obviously’ we did not occupy theirs. Yet 20 men of Bihar Regiment including the CO were martyred. The Chinese are now to withdraw from where they did not come and we in turn will cooperate by withdrawing from where we have never been!

We might speak with confidence to the Chinese and indeed to our own countrymen and women but what we do on the ground does not smacks not of confidence but of confusion.

There are some lighter ones too: the difficult ties with Maldives having transformed. But surely that had something to do with the Maldives’ electorate working around cleverly-laid traps to bring former President Nasheed’s party to power.

But the EAM might have said something about Nepal remapping its relations with India, introducing Mandarin in schools and hoping to acquire Lord Ram; Sri Lanka continuing to drift towards China; Bhutan feeding the dragon; Iran tearing up the Chabahar contract.

Is it a case of India all dressed up but nowhere to go?

‘Ask the analysts’ we are told, but they were till recently telling us to engage in a limited war with China. Thankfully I thought they were not suggesting a surgical strike only to discover that had already been done by banning TikTok.

Surely if you have chosen not to take the world seriously, we can understand why Rahul Gandhi is unable to take you seriously.

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Published: 21 Jul 2020, 10:22 AM