We are not Tripoli.
The Italian Marines case is a watershed moment for stand offish (read weak) doctrine of Indian Foreign Policy. A sovereign nation whose judicial goodwill is abused and folks who murdered our fishermen are let away with impunity as if the Nation would not be concerned about this latest ‘Italian Job’ after the Ottavio Quattrochi scandal. After severe media pressure and some last minute tough talking by our usually quiet Prime Minister has got the Italians rushing back their brethren to India. There were two sides to this crisis: violation of the faith of the Indian Judicial system which was considerate enough to let the Italian criminals out of jail for two occasions including once for Christmas (Sigh!). As if Indians who are jailed overseas are let out for Deepawali and Onam. The second side to this story was the easy going attitude of the Italian Government, which it can get away with this nonsense. The sheer lack of respect which the Italians showed for the Indian State was jaw dropping. We are not some banana republic in Sub Saharan Africa for Christ’s Sake.
The Italian Marines issue demonstrates that the Indian State is taken lightly in international diplomatic circles. Our envoys like Pavan K Varma and Vikas Swaroop are simply busy writing books and preparing their ground to enter electoral politics post retirement. Dr. Shashi Tharoor is exempted from this charge because he was a career diplomat with the United Nations Ecosystem. He is aware of the shortcomings of the Indian Foreign Policy Establishment and has written extensively about these in his treatise on Indian Foreign Policy ‘Pax Indica’. One of the startling statistics Dr. Tharoor had stated in this book was that the Indian Foreign Service had less staffer than the Singaporean Foreign Service. Prof. Kishore Mahbubani is a fine metaphor for Singaporean Foreign Policy Excellence. The United States Desk at the Indian Foreign Ministry is a two man desk; compare this with the United States where the State Departments India Desk is manned by 30 old specialists.
We project our soft power through our diplomatic strength. Bollywood and Cricket can only go thus far. As a diaspora boy next door, I found Indian Embassies in the Persian Gulf to be lethargic where our diplomats were more interested in attending ‘Mushairahs’ or Urdu Poetry conclaves than furthering Indian Strategic Interest. Anyway Gulf Postings were considered punishment postings for seniors and the youth considered it a shade better than a posting in Africa. The position of an Ambassador to Riyadh is taken to be a political appointment for an Aligarh based Intellectual for minority appeasement purposes. The Indian State is seen as a labor supplier to the Gulf incapable of taking a tough stand.
The South Asia Desk at South Block is served by a solitary joint secretary. No wonder, we are neither respected nor feared in our neighborhood. The Maldivians can cancel our contracts, the Bhutanese and Nepalese are welcoming Chinese Investment in their Hydel Power sector strategic to energy and water security in the Sub Continent. Even, the Bangladeshis have allowed for a swanky convention center in the heart of Dhaka City to be constructed by the Chinese.
India is being surrounded by a ‘string of pearls strategy’ of the Chinese Government from Gwadar in Pakistan to Hambantota in Sri Lanka. In the contest for natural resources, India is losing it big time in Africa where as in South Asia, the Chinese follow Cheque-Book oriented, Value Neutral Diplomacy.
Hindus in Malaysia and Bangladesh are persecuted and the Indian State keeps mum in the name pseudo secularism. Let One Israeli be touched overseas and Mossad will hunt the perpetrators down from Buenos Aires to Beirut. We need a muscular approach to our external affairs paradigm. For that we need to amend rules for globally minded professionals to enter the Foreign Service laterally without the archaic UPSC exam format where the provision for a compulsory English Language proficiency paper was shot down earlier in the month by our visionary parliamentarians. Yeah, sure we will be a global power sans English knowing diplomats.
How about Arabic and a Malay speaking Indian guy who grew up in Oman interested to serve the nation in the Foreign Service express his interest to Dr. Tharoor on Twitter some months back and What does the answer come:
‘Write the UPSC Exam’
A very Imaginative answer Sir I thought in my head.