30 May 2017


Mohan Guruswamy

Sometime ago a senior official of the government called on me to seek my views on foreign policy issues. It is the first time it has happened since Narendra Modi became PM. Going by experience in conversing with IFS officials, I knew I will not get many sentences in. As it so happened I barely managed a few words. I also paid for the lunch at the IIC. Knowing what to expect, I quickly knocked out a few points for consideration and putting into the system. I usually don't mind if ownership changes in the process, if some good comes out of it. Here goes:

India’s foreign policy is much too focused on Europe and North America. While the centricity towards America can be understood given the USA’s world pre-eminence, a similar attitude towards Europe may not be required.

India must focus on the near and on its expanding economic interests. Most of India’s oil comes from West Asia and Africa. The UAE is the initial destination of most Indian exports. India earns over $40 billion as remittances from the region. Our focus must be to become influential here. We need to impress with our embassies and by greatly expanding their visibility and footprint.

ASEAN together will soon emerge as India’s major trading and investment partner.

Africa will be the next growth story within a few decades. India must hence see Africa as an export and investment destination.

At this stage India needs to actively signal its presence and intentions in the IOR rim region. The Indian Navy must be made into an active tool of diplomacy and an institutional arrangement must be forged between the MEA and IN.

1. Conduct western IOR naval exercises with Mauritius, Seychelles, Comoros, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa.

2. Indian Navy must conduct annual exercises with Burmese, Malaysian, Singaporean and Indonesian navies. We must help in their military training and supplies.

3. Establish ties to establish anchoring and resupply facilities for Indian Navy vessels.

4. Establish a multi-disciplinary committee to meet at fixed intervals for across the spectrum discussions and study of India-China relations.

5. Aim policy with regard to China and Pakistan to determine, formalize and freeze existing lines of control.

6. Initiate a major commercial thrust into South America.

7. Define Nepal as a core concern and make it apparent to China that India will not allow and attempt to make inroads at its expense. India should beef up forces along the Indo-Nepal border to signal its determination.

8. Set up permanent expositions for Indian goods and services in America, UAE, ASEAN and Europe to showcase Indian manufacturing and development skills. (“India House” for one-stop viewing.) This should be set up in co-operation with Indian private and public sector majors like Tata’s, Mahindra’s, Reliance, BHEL, Infosys and Dr.Reddy’s Labs, and also of mass consumption items like garments, leather goods, electrical items etc, where India can develop competitive advantages. China exports over $200 billion of such goods to the USA alone.

9. India should take the initiative to build a freight corridor joining Kolkata and Kunming by a rail link, passing through Bangladesh and Burma. The purpose should be to seamlessly integrate the Chinese and Indian markets from China’s south and India’s east thereby facilitating the development of the two relatively backward regions of the two countries. The Indian middle class will expand to 900 million by 2050 and India will be the world’s largest market for consumer goods. Chinese companies will find this a great opportunity to invest in India.

India should stop this public hankering for a place in the UNSC or the NSG, and take them out of the public discourse. This should be left to quiet diplomacy and by building ourselves to levels where we cannot be ignored.

The MEA should be the RAW’s major client for analysis and research inputs. It should demand such inputs to develop long-range policies and outlooks. It should seek the regional specialization of RAW to supplement its own efforts. Otherwise the MEA should set a major Internal Research Section, and build associations with reputed educational institutions teaching and researching foreign economic and political issues.

MEA should also require its officers to specialize in regions to ensure institutional memories and long term interests in regions and individuals. To make this possible, all foreign allowances and facilities should be made uniform and across the board. The embassies in our regional neighbors, Central Asia, Africa and South America must be considerably expanded and made attractive for our own diplomats to be keen to serve there. We could pare down some of our missions in Europe, if required.

The IFS must be expanded and professionalized by lateral entry of trained professionals.

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