Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Q&A | International diplomacy and India’s foreign po...

Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | Q&A | International diplomacy and India’s foreign policy

In this episode of Worldview with Suhasini Haidar we answer your questions on international diplomacy and India’s foreign policy

Each week at WorldView, we take a different subject for discussion on how international developments shape Indian Foreign Policy. WorldView has been shaped by your feedback each week, but for our special 100 th episode we asked you to decide what we would speak about – thank you for your questions! Lets get right to them:

1. I would be interested to learn about the role of various institutions like the MEA, PMO, and NSC in shaping India’s foreign policy, and how has diplomacy changed in the age of social media? – Yashwant Kumar

According to the format, the Ministry of External Affairs is the organ that carries out India’s foreign policy- and all Indian diplomats, both in Delhi and at about 125 embassies and 30 consulates worldwide report to it.

However Foreign Policy is formed by a number of different ministries and the Prime Minister’s Office takes a very large role in the decision making. The National Security Secretariat- the NSC is a part of the PMO- and it focuses on Security issues mainly.

2. Seeing the realist approach of the international relations, was it necessary for India to do away with Nehruvian Foreign policy and bring forth the Modi era of foreign policy? If so why? – Md. Farrukh Ilyas

While it is easier to bracket foreign policy according to the nation’s leader- who is its most visible face, the fact is India hasn’t had a single policy, but an evolution of policy. On an upcoming episode of WorldView, I will try and explain this evolution- that has gone from a more idealistic approach to a realist approach to a RealPolitik approach to what is seen today more as a transactional approach. Even so it might surprise you to know that in a special address in 1946 to the constituent assembly- Mr. Nehru spelt out Indian Foreign Policy- from Non Alignment, to anti Colonialism to One World or Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam- themes that still resonate.

3. As the PM rightly pointed out that multilateralism is in crisis, is India looking towards a lot of substitutions such as BIMSTEC in place of SAARC, G20 & Global South in place of the UN, etc ? How well do you think this is going to work? – Jaydeep Gadhavi

The next few years will be key to finding out- but it is clear that the global power structure as it was envisioned in 1945 cannot continue to be relevant in the 2020s- In any case, given deepening polarisations between the 5 UN Security Council players US, UK France and Russia, China, the UNSC is unworkable, as the Ukraine war has proven. G20 is not only a larger forum for discussion, it is a forum that brings in the developing world, but it has no teeth. I also think BIMSTEC cant replace SAARC, as India’s neighbourhood, despite the problems with Pakistan are a geographical reality, and cannot be redefined in only one direction.

4. Is there now any chance for India still being neutral in the contemporary world politics when it’s talks are everywhere, especially after the I2U2 and G20? – Owais Amin

5. Does India’s strategy on foreign policy i.e; National Interest and Balancing Act. will it have any impact on India’s dream to get a chair of top stage (UNSC)? – Anil

6. Would India be able to maintain its strategic autonomy in foreign policy and multi-alignment in future? As it is evident that the Western world is united against Russia, India has enhanced its partnership with the west. What is the future of Russo-Indian ties? – by Sikandar Ali

India’s middle path stand has been called many names- from non-alignment, to neutrality, multi alignment, multi polarity, to strategic autonomy. At the core of all of this is a decision not to submit o being an alliance partner of any global power. This position has given India the flexibility it needs to maintain a foreign policy that is in the best interests of a country that needs economic development above all else. Anil- the UNSC reform has been promised for decades, but has barely moved. Since 2009- India has had the backing of atleast 4 of 5 UNSC members for its inclusion, but rather than a seat being in the pipeline it remains a pipedream for now, and I am not sure if India’s FP choices will be a real factor in the final decision- which is about global power.

To your specific question, Sikandar, what is the future of India-Russia ties- I would say while there has been a consistent decline in new defence purchases from Russia since 2012, there is an increase in bilateral trade, particularly boosted by oil purchases last year- Russia’s importance as a strategic partner in the recent past has grown when it comes to Afghanistan- and given India’s continental constraints- borders with China and Pakistan, Russia and Central Asia will remain important partners.

7. To what extent and how can India use its G20 presidency to bring Russia and Western world on the same table? – Siddhanth Kshirsagar

8. How can Indian foreign policy play a role in peace negotiations between Russian-Ukraine conflict during or before G20 leaders meeting? – Harsh Sheth

The time is now, and the clock is ticking. India has an opportunity and an obligation as G20 President to ensure that a common ground for negotiations is found over the Russia-Ukraine conflict, given the failure of G20 ministerials thus far over the issue. Last year, Indonesian President Jokowi was able to straddle the two- he made visits to Kiev and Moscow, and met some success with the Grain Deal. This week, it seems Chinese President Xi Jinping willtry to reach out to both sides- if PM Modi does the same, you can be sure we will cover it here on WV!

9. The currency swap policy between India & Russia to bypass US$ has boomeranged because India’s trade deficit with Russia has ballooned 16 times ever since war broke out. ( India’s import from Russia climbed more than 400% in 8 months while export fell 14%, as a result total trade deficit with Russia is now about $32 billion). Has this policy failed because of our obsession with Russia to buy cheap crude oil surpassing Saudi Arabia & Iraq?

I think US sanctions have more to do with the policy. While India’s decision to increase oil has not triggered sanctions,any attempt to circumvent sanctions through payment, not just for oil but also defence purchases, will become that much more difficult. Remember, in 2018, India bowed to US and cancelled Iran oil purchases too.

10. What are the implications for India in recent China mediated KSA-Iran rapprochement and what policy should India follow in West Asia dynamics? – Ashutosh

11. What should be the India’s approach in dealing with the Indo-Pacific and Middle-east region at a time when China is rapidly advancing its steps towards becoming a global power and a common voice for Global South, thus, countering India’s interests? – Suriyansh Maurya

These are Important questions, as China’s brokerage of the Saudi-Iran deal is definitely something new. India is affected for three reasons: 1. This is India’s strategic neighbourhood. 2. Both KSA and Iran are close strategic partners of India- KSA has a $100 bn investment plan, Iran has Chabahar port. 3. China’s decision to go public with its role, and to say it plans more such peace initiatives has to be watched closely, given India’s tensions with China over the LAC.

12. What can we do if China steps up attack on us like how Russia is doing with Ukraine? – Jayaram Srinivasan

EAM Jaishankar drew a comparison between the two in Europe, asking why the West has not spoken up about China’s aggressions along the LAC. While I think some of it is because India itself wanted to negotiate bilaterally, India’s diplomatic options 3 years after the PLA transgressed remain limited- 1. Continue bilateral negotiations. 2. Take the issue to the UN, where China still has the UNSC veto. 3. Join an alliance with Western powers, as in the Indo-Pacific to contain China- but this becomes hard, given risk of escalation on India’s 3500 km boundary with China.

13. Does the rising majoritarianism in India eroding its credibility as a responsible power of Global South? – Aasim Malik

Domestic policies are considered internal matters, and hence you seldom see issues like majoritarianism, discrimination, casteism within the country becoming part of foreign policy negotiations. There is no doubt that there is an increase in commentary about such issues- and they come up during international visits like that of US SecState Blinken, or Bangladeshi PM Hasina. Remember it cuts both ways- as PM Modi has raised issues of violence against temples and other shrines with PM of Australia, and the MEA takes these up with Britain and Canada as well. However, what is not factored in the diplomatic calculus- is soft power- where a country’s image as an open, liberal, inclusive and just power is a critical factor in how people, rather than government’s see its global influence.

14. How India is going to deal with the post-Taliban takeover Afghanistan? What are the options? – by bhat_hilal_ryan

Well we can analyse what the government has done thus far- 1. After one year of the Taliban in power, New Delhi reopened a technical mission in Kabul, but no country has recognised the regime. 2. India continues people-centric humanitarian aid, but has not opened the doors for a single visas, apart from those given to minorities in 2021. 3. India is working with central asian countries to manage the threat of terror and drugs exports. However, these are all tactile not strategic moves- meant to limit damage in the presence. If Afghanistan becomes more volatile- India will have more difficult choices to make

15. How does our labour force spread across the globe shape our international relations?

Just to put things in perspective, of more than 9 million Indians working worldwide, 90% are in Gulf countries. So while you may hear of India raising issues of H1B visas, or European mobility laws, the largest impact our labour force has on ties is with gulf countries including Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Oman and others in the GCC. Often the issues are consular in nature, and are tackled by diplomats at a local level. Sometimes- like in the case of 8 naval officers imprisoned in Qatar for months now, the issues impact ties a bit more. Where I see a greater space for labour force to shape international ties is in the conclusion of Free Trade Agreements- as India increasingly insists on services and mobility issues as a part of trade in services, partners will have to step up in terms of providing Indian labour better terms. This is the reason, many european countries and others are signing Mobility agreements with India- so as to streamline the issues. While China was a big factor in India’s decision to leave the RCEP- some of the trickiest negotiations, before India’s walkout from the Indo Pacific trade agreement was labour clauses.

Presentation: Suhasini Haidar

Production: Gayatri Menon and Reenu Cyriac

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