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India’s opposition BJP gives strong message to Pakistan and US

Rajeev Sharma is a New Delhi-based journalist, author and strategic analyst. He tweets @Kishkindha and can be reached at bhootnath004@yahoo.com.

Published time: April 14, 2014 16:02
Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi (Reuters / Adnan Abidi)

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has drawn accusations from the ruling party that its policies can be detrimental to India’s “secular personality” if it wins the elections, and seems to have an active agenda domestically and internationally.

PM Manmohan Singh said on Saturday that in its manifesto the BJP “is harping on the same old sectarian ideas, article 370, and temple-mosque issues” and that “BJP's ideology is detrimental to India's secular personality.”

However, there are definitely three significant points in it that give a sneak peek into a BJP government’s foreign policy direction and thrust if Narendra Modi were to become Prime Minister next month (and there are reasons to believe that it might happen). Particularly, the Hindu nationalist BJP’s election manifesto, released on 7 April, gives a veiled warning to Pakistan and an implicit tough message to the United States, while stressing the creation of “a web of allies” to mutually further India’s best national interests.

Perhaps the most important point about the BJP manifesto is it vow to create “a web of allies”, which is indicative of saying bye-bye to the Congress governments’ much avowed policy of non-alignment, a policy widely believed to be high on rhetoric but low on concrete deliverables.

In the entire 695-word section on foreign policy sub-titled “Foreign Relations – Nation First, Universal Brotherhood”, the BJP manifesto does not specifically mention any individual country by name. However, it specifically names regional groupings like SAARC and ASEAN and global bodies like BRICS, G20, IBSA, SCO and ASEM and vows to intensify India’s cooperation with all of these.

The veiled warning to Pakistan comes twice in the BJP election manifesto: first while it is talking about pursuing friendly relations in the neighborhood and second while talking about the “persecuted Hindus”.

Here are the two sample quotes from the manifesto:

- “In our neighborhood we will pursue friendly relations. However, where required we will not hesitate from taking a strong stand and steps.

- “India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome to seek refuge here.

In the first quote, the words “where required” are clearly targeting Pakistan. This quote can be decoded as follows: While the BJP government would be keen to pursue friendly relations with all neighboring countries, trouble-making countries like Pakistan which have been instigating, supporting, training and financing India-centric terrorists will be dealt with sternly, though it does not say how.

The second quote, though again a direct message to Pakistan, should also be construed as putting Bangladesh too on notice. Many media reports have pointed to large-scale persecution of Hindus in both these countries.

Supporters of Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi, prime ministerial candidate for India's main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Gujarat's chief minister, cheer as they listen to Modi during a rally in Hiranagar March 26, 2014. (Reuters / Mukesh Gupta)

The BJP manifesto gives a subtle message to the United States also, a country that has been pursuing a hawkish line against the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi since the Gujarat communal riots of 2002.

In the entire section on foreign policy, there is one sentence in the BJP manifesto which seems to be directed at the US and gives an inkling of the BJP government’s policy towards the US. It reads: “Instead of being led by big power interests, we will engage proactively on our own with countries in the neighborhood and beyond.

Here is the decoder. The “big power” is obviously the US. The countries in the “neighborhood and beyond” are China (neighborhood) and Japan and Russia (beyond). What it means is that the BJP government will be pursuing diplomatic engagement with China, Japan and Russia in the best national interest of India rather than being guided or micro-managed by the US.

But then even the UPA government has been doing the same for years with respect to China, Japan and Russia, and has recently stood up to the US on a number of issues like the infamous Devyani Khobragade episode, the Ukraine vote in the United Nations General Assembly in New York and the Sri Lanka vote at UNHCR in Geneva.

The web of allies

The point about creating “a web of allies” comes after the BJP manifesto rambles through a series of accusations against the UPA government’s foreign policy in the last decade: the UPA’s alleged failure to establish enduring friendly and cooperative relations with neighbors which has turned India's relations with traditional allies cold and led to neighbors drifting apart.

In this context, the BJP manifesto says that the BJP government will build “a strong, self-reliant and self-confident India, regaining its rightful place in the comity of nations.”

It is after this preface that the all-important quote comes in the BJP manifesto: “We will create a web of allies to mutually further our interests. We will leverage all our resources and people to play a greater role on the international high table.

It also says that “Equations will be mended through pragmatism and a doctrine of mutually beneficial and interlocking relationships, based on enlightened national interest.”

Who are the “allies”? There is no elaboration, but here is an attempted explanation. The “allies” can be Japan (to counter-balance China) and Russia (to counter-balance the US). Countries like South Korea and Vietnam too may be on the BJP government’s radar screens with respect to China.

The UPA government too has been pursuing a similar policy which has become more pro-active over the past few years. But what the BJP manifesto might be indicating is something far more decisive, far more pro-active.

In fact, even China can be an important factor to counter-balance India’s relations with the US, something that the US has been trying to do with China with the help of India. But a recent chill in Indo-US relations has been a major setback in this regard.

A novel – and highly laudable – point about the BJP manifesto with regard to foreign policy is its focus on Indian states becoming important actors in Indian foreign policy. It says: “States will be encouraged to play a greater role in diplomacy; actively building relations with foreign countries to harness their mutual cultural and commercial strengths.” This is how countries like Germany, Canada and the UK have been running their foreign policy of late.

The BJP manifesto also talks of reviving Brand India with the help of India’s strengths of 5 T's: Tradition, Talent, Tourism, Trade and Technology.

All of this indicates that Indian foreign policy will be an important area to watch out for if Narendra Modi becomes Prime Minister next month.

Rajeev Sharma for RT

Rajeev Sharma is a New Delhi-based journalist and a strategic analyst who tweets @Kishkindha.

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