External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday said that national security was the number one priority of the Narendra Modi government while discussing the present border stand-off with China in East Ladakh sector.
While national security no doubt is the priority, staying the course is the other attribute that defined the foreign policy of the Narendra Modi government. Be it China, Ukraine or Pakistan, this government takes a stand and sticks to it unlike the governments of the past and does not get swayed by opinions orchestrated in the media or polls.
A classic illustration of this policy is the July 7, 2022, meeting between Jaishankar and Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bali on the sidelines of the G20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting. The press release from India is markedly different from that issued by China. The Indian press release highlights the centrality of boundary resolution to the overall bilateral relationship with the Minister calling for restoration of April 2020 status quo along the 1597 km Line of Actual Control in East Ladakh.
The Chinese readout mentions that Jaishankar raised it in the passing as if the boundary stand-off was just a speck on the big India-China bilateral canvass with both sides showing signs of recovery of momentum in ties. Unlike the past, when the full contours and ramifications of the 2013 transgression in Depsang Bulge in Daulet Beg Oldi (DBO) sector were kept away from the public in the overall context of bilateral ties, the Modi government is committed to April 2020 status quo ante as the only way towards restoration of bilateral ties.
Like the Chinese seek recognition of “One China Policy” in every bilateral meeting and more than often issue their own version of the meeting except when dealing with client states like Pakistan, the Modi government has also decided to stay the course and not budge from it despite all pressures. The instruction to all Indian interlocutors with China makes it amply clear that just like China sticks to its 1959 line on the Ladakh LAC, India will also stick to its perceived LAC in this highly sensitive sector and will not give in.
The Modi government’s position on the Ukraine war is consistent and not swayed by the Western powers or Moscow. It has called for an immediate cessation of hostilities from both sides as the ramifications of war are impacting global supply chains and hit at food and fuel security with smaller nations bearing the brunt. Rather than succumb to the pressure from Europe or the US or Russia, Indian position is defined by its self-interests and for its people. The Ukraine war has also highlighted the Indian vulnerability on indigenous military hardware and pushed the government to focus on military industrialisation on the scale never done before. There is pressure already on the government’s in-house research and manufacturing to either deliver or let the private sector perform in hitherto sensitive sector.
The resolute foreign policy of the Modi government becomes evident when one looks at the bilateral relations with Pakistan. Since the September 18, 2016, terrorist attack on Indian Army’s brigade headquarters at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir, there has been no bilateral dialogue with Pakistan at the apex level and no one seems to be missing in the Modi government.
The NDA coalition government under Atal Behari Vajpayee decided to open dialogue with Pakistani dictator General Pervez Musharraf nearly two years after the 2001 Parliament attack and extracted a stillborn commitment that Islamabad would not allow any territory (Occupied Kashmir) under Pakistani control to be used to support terrorism against India. This era was also defined by the extraordinary pressure generated by the media on the Vajpayee government for continuing the bilateral dialogue with Pakistan. In fact, the Left-Liberal media virtually went into mourning after the July 2001 Agra summit failed with Vajpayee and his deputy L.K. Advani refused to yield to the Pakistani dictator on Kashmir.
The UPA government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh went on the dialogue table with Pakistan mere eight months after the 26/11 Mumbai massacre by Lashkar-e-Toiba-ISI terror team. Not only did the Singh government decide to restore bilateral relations with Yusuf Raza Gilani government in Islamabad but for the first time Pakistan managed to put the words “threats to Balochistan” in the joint statement issued at Sharm El Sheikh.
Nearly six years after December 25, 2015, Lahore meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then PM Nawaz Sharif, there has been no dialogue with Pakistan as eradication of terror against India is a pre-condition to the dialogue. The 2016 surgical strike and 2019 Balakot strike have also sent a firm message to Pakistan that no terror strike will go unanswered and Rawalpindi GHQ has got the message. And so has the world.