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 been times that he has shied away from taking political charge, as was the case with Bangladesh and now threatens to be the case with Sri Lanka. At these junctures, his political colleagues and diplomatic aides did not always succeed in delivering. Hence, while he has had some success in mending relations with major powers, the less said about the neighbourhood, the better.
While UPA2’s handling of immediate foreign policy challenges can be criticised, it would be difficult to challenge the long-term relevance of the principles that define the Manmohan Singh Doctrine. A doctrine is for the long run. It need not always help in dealing with short-term problems and there is no substitute for clever diplomatic intervention. Criticism about what the doctrine ignores is either based on an excessive focus on the here and now or nostalgia for the then and gone.
Theorists of international relations will classify Singh’s worldview as realism tinged with idealism. While it prioritises India’s immediate developmental needs and aspirations, it recognises the universal relevance of the values that define the Indian republic — pluralism, secularism and liberalism — in this new era of peoples’ power. Its full flowering, however, requires bolder political leadership.
The writer is director for geo-economics and strategy, International Institute for Strategic Studies and Honorary Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi