President Eisenhower once offered a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to India in 1955. Though the offer was informal, it opened an opportunity for India to sit among world powers and be counted. However, the offer was rejected by the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
It’s hard to find fault with Nehru’s decision because he had a vision of India emerging as a world leader of non-aligned nations. Therefore, a seat on the Security Council seemed less rewarding. However, a mere seven years later, Nehru’s world collapsed when China attacked India in October of 1962.
A lot has happened since then and India is trying desperately to get on the UNSC, and not succeeding.
If you believe in the adage that history repeats itself, we are at that juncture again. India hasn’t ever had a friendlier United States Secretary of Defense than the current incumbent Ashton Carter. United States is trying to protect its interests in Asia against resurgent China and seeking India as a partner in its Asia Pivot policy in securing Asia from the aggressive People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The situation has offered a unique opportunity for India to, once again, get out of the isolation it placed itself in, and to reclaim its position in the world. The problem is that members of the Indian political leadership, intelligentsia and bureaucracy seem to have doubts.
Many of these doubters have accepted living under the shadow of China. A. K. Antony, a Member of Parliament and previously Minister of Defense, who rarely speaks up in Parliament was vocal against India signing the LAMOA (Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement) as well as two other accompanying agreements with the United States.
He had an expansive argument. Antony says that because the Indian Navy doesn’t operate in open seas, it doesn’t need to engage with the United States Navy.
This, to me, sounds bizarre because it was Antony himself who made sure that the Indian Navy didn’t gain the capability of becoming a blue water navy.
The Indian intelligentsia is led by old socialists who still see a flicker of life in the dead horse of Non-alignment. They are comfortable with the humiliation their Chinese comrades heap upon them. Status quo is their religion and any creative foreign policy scares the wits out of them.
The last bastion of Indian stagnation is its inept bureaucracy. The country continues to function only because there are a few sincere and capable officers who strive to do their work diligently, like Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the current Foreign Secretary.
The last government was led by a superannuated bureaucrat and run by mediocre middle level bureaucrats.
Many Indian diplomats seem to be risk averse. We cannot expect India to make any bold diplomatic moves without taking risks.
India is at a cross roads. If it doesn’t break the shackles of stagnant foreign policy, the next opportunity may not knock at its door again. China is blocking India’s entry to Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the UNSC.
It’s time to up the ante if the current diplomacy in South China Sea doesn’t succeed. There is nothing wrong in borrowing a leaf from China’s Silk Road policy and build a road from Guwahati to Da Nang in Vietnam via Mandalay and Laos.
Even Anthony may like it if he can watch the Indian Navy operating in the South China Sea from the coast, albeit the Vietnamese coast.