The Singh doctrine

Nov 06 2013, 11:29 IST
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SummaryPM has left a clear stamp on foreign policy, even if UPA2 let him down.

secular and liberal democracy”. These values have a global appeal and relevance, so they ought to be held up as a symbol of what India seeks to represent in world affairs and as a member of the global community. Many moons ago, Singh had pulled out the ancient Indian concept of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” — the whole world is one family — to capture this “idea of India”.

All this amounts to a radical redefinition of Indian foreign policy. These ideas capture the essence of almost every single foreign policy initiative that Singh has taken since 2004, including with the United States, Russia, China and Pakistan. They also apply to initiatives with other Asian neighbours, including most recently, Japan, Africa and the Indian Ocean region. If commentators on Indian foreign policy have not been able to discern a doctrine defining Singh’s various initiatives, it is because in UPA2 there has been a deliberate attempt to obfuscate his policies and worldview, and to resurrect outdated theories of the Cold War era.

To be sure, Singh is partly to blame for this confusion in thinking and articulation of foreign policy. He allowed the foreign ministry and the foreign policy establishment to become a debating society in which everyone was holding forth on grand principles and no one was devoting time or attention to getting things done the way he wanted. This was in stark contrast to the political leadership he provided to foreign policy in UPA1. As finance minister in 1991-95, Singh dismissed criticism of his policy from within his own ministry by famously declaring that the government was not a “debating society”. Those who disagreed with his policies, he then suggested, were free to leave. He had work to do. He took a similar view when some of his colleagues, officials and diplomats tried to contest his foreign policy initiatives in UPA1. During UPA2, however, such policy leadership has been episodic.

Finally, when things really went out of control and he found his legacy being threatened by his own people, the prime minister had to personally intervene to reverse the consequent waywardness. He had to step in to salvage relations with the US and take charge to restore a balance in relations with China after the Depsang incursion. He had to intervene to impart momentum to yet another key relationship, that with Japan, as he had done earlier with the ASEAN. There have

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