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Domestic politics central in shaping foreign policy

April 14, 2009 03:28 IST
The divisive debate surrounding the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008; the furore over India casting a vote against Iran in the International Atomic Energy Agency in 2005; and finally, the passing mention of the Indo-US nuclear deal in the Congress manifesto for the 2009 general elections even as the manifestos of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Communist Party of India-Marxist detail what they would do differently about ties with the United States. The growing centrality of domestic politics in influencing India's foreign policy is becoming clearer.

There are two other conclusions about foreign policy making: "piggy-back" foreign policy measures, riding on American politics alone won't work. By implication, broad-based domestic support to any initiative needs to be the driving force behind any long-term foreign policy initiative, according to Rajiv Sikri, who served as secretary (east) in the Ministry of External Affairs.

Speaking at the launch of his book, Challenge And Strategy: Rethinking India's Foreign Policy, organised by industry lobby Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries in the capital on Monday, Sikri said decision-makers need to deliberate upon whether India can piggy-back with the US.

Under the Bush administration, the US wanted to "help India become a major world power." But are there limits to this strategic relationship, asked Sikri. Speaking to Business Standard last month, Sikri had said India's growing relationship with the US risked alienating traditional allies such as Russia and could jeopardise India's ties with the Gulf and East Asia.

Vice-President Hamid Ansari on Monday said India, aspiring to be the conscience-keeper of the world, would be an idealistic venture in the Machiavellian world of power politics. Yet, it needs to recognise its changing political environment -- both externally and internally -- and act accordingly. He, too, drew attention to the fact that foreign policy cannot be divorced from internal politics anymore. That a confidence vote was held in Parliament over a foreign policy issue such as the Indo-US nuclear deal is testimony to the gaining centrality of domestic politics in foreign policy decision-making, said Chinmaya Gharekhan, the prime minister's special envoy for West Asian peace process.

Lt Gen VR Raghavan, president of Chennai-based Centre for Security Analysis, said if India wants its foreign and military policies to succeed, its diplomacy and defence must be geared towards supplementing one other under a strong political leadership.

BS reporter
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