It seems India's foreign policy mechanism is unable to come out from a gloomy phase. Since the start of this year when two soldiers were killed near the LoC border, New Delhi is facing one challenge after another on the foreign affairs front and none of the issues have witnessed a smooth and logical conclusion and have only fuelled bigger ruckus in the parliament and state assemblies.
Issues concerning Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh and even a distant Italy have seen how the decision-makers of the largest democracy and a potential superpower have struggled to find a way out of the rubble.
Is the term 'soft state', which was coined by Swedish economist Gunnar Myrdal in the early 1960s, aptly applies to India irrespective of its size, military might, economic strength and accommodative political system?
Yes, it does. India's preference of its historical route is the main reason for this perceived softness of national power. The idealism of Jawaharlal Nehru, a western educated liberal democrat, did not really help the country to emerge as a hard power since 1947.
The task of implementing purposeful policy on the ground has been all the more difficult because of India's undeniable socio-cultural links with the neighbours and across the world . These ground realities needed the country to chalk out an exclusive foreign policy ideology to deal with harder issues related to the national interest but it didn't happen.
The route we preferred did not help us
History has enough evidence to substantiate that India always banked on an idealist foreign policy. Nehru's move to internationalise the Kashmir problem, supporting China's candidature as a permanent member of the Security Council, backing a non-aligned movement and gradually tilting towards the erstwhile Soviet Union and annoying the US and getting humiliated by China in 1962 after trusting its words are some of factors which have not helped India's image in the long run.
By trying to keep a distance with the Cold War, India had only defeated its chances of winning a strong ally in the US and allowed Pakistan to fill up the vacuum. We know how India's stand towards Pakistan was significantly weakened once the Cold War's shadow reached South Asia and Islamabad formally made alliance with the US. The continued opposition to the US only strengthened the US-Pakistan-China axis and New Delhi had no other option but to run into the fold of Moscow.
Ideology misled us in the world of realpolitik
Forty years after those events, we see how India has teamed up with the US to improve its world status. Ideology had misled India in a world of realpolitik and it is still paying for the soft image it had grown up in those years. Apart from the Bangladesh victory under Indira Gandhi's leadership, there is no other example to show India as a robust hard power. Our other initiatives have been mostly futile. The NDA, which often projects its strong nationalism, could do little after a aircraft was hijacked or when the parliament was attacked by terrorists.
Fragile and indifferent leadership
The nation's interest has not been helped by the fragile and indifferent leadership of today either. If the national government is often crippled by policy paralysis in domestic affairs, there is little hope that it will achieve great heights in foreign affairs. Moreover, there is a clear lack of priority on New Delhi's foreign policy issues. Ministers after ministers are going to Bangladesh but none has yet succeeded in convincing Mamata Banerjee to support the Teesta water treaty.
There seems to be a little interest in engaging with smaller neighbours in the way we feel insecure about Pakistani and Chinese threats. We are witnessing the results: China is slowly winning over allegiance of the smaller South Asian nations in a bid to corner India.
Lack of interest on foreign policy issues
Also there is a serious lack of interest and intellectual cultivation of foreign policy issues in India's academic circles as well. The adhocism and handling of issues by underprepared and overburdened officials in the wake of a crisis exposes our inability in serving the national interest on foreign soils. The resulting clueless approach tells the story of helplessness. Hence, we remain a soft state.
Domestic defence research not in a good shape
We don't even take the hard power equation seriously. Our defence research organisation is in a shambles and we have to depend on foreign sources to maintain our army and arsenal. How does this approach suit a huge country like India, which is located in one of the most volatile regions of the world?
Political bickering and politicising foreign policy issues
The never-ending political bickering between the main parties in India also reasserts our helplessness.
Instead of giving a thought on diplomatic issues and proper channelisation of events abroad, the parties are seen here disputing the Italian origins of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. How many of these disputing leaders know about provisions of international charters and conventions?
Even the foreign minister was given the post after he was accused of indulging in corruption during his stay in the earlier ministry. The home minister was given the crucial ministry after he failed to deliver as the power minister. This is how we treat the foreign and home ministries and yet expect people not to mock at us?
The dysfunctional politics of the world' largest democracy is not only harming the domestic politics but even affecting foreign interests. The twin Italian issues reflect the poor state of our political affairs.