Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s sharp rebuke notwithstanding, the BJP Government has reason to be grateful to South Africa for unilaterally and irrevocably redefining non-alignment at Durban. Since South African President Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech suggesting Non-Aligned Movement’s (NAM’s) intervention in Kashmir was utterly unexpected, it understandably set the dovecotes aflutter. Pakistan was quick to jump into the opening provided and use the NAM forum to air its demand for third party mediation, while the Indian Prime Minister firmly reiterated our position that the matter is a bilateral dispute between neighbours.
Within the country, reactions have been predictable. The host country’s untoward behaviour has been contrasted with India’s exemplary anti-imperial and anti-apartheid record, and the paramount sentiment of “how could South Africa do this to us” is reminiscent of the 1962 perception that China had stabbed Nehru in the back. Some analysts point to a Foreign Ministry failure to anticipate the development, and argue, with some justification, that a full-fledged Foreign Minister should be appointed forthwith.
While the Government will no doubt move to fill this lacuna, it would also be fitting to strengthen rules regarding the recall of envoys. It is scandalous that the appointee of the Gujral Government, Mr. LC Jain, continued as Indian Ambassador despite the nomination of his successor. Thus, even as the envoy-designate cooled his heels, Mr. Jain abided by a personal agenda to attend the NAM summit as New Delhi’s representative. While it would be interesting to know what his motives were, and his role (if any) in the unfortunate reference to Kashmir, there must be no scope for a repetition of this fiasco in future.
Meanwhile, hard-headed realism would be in order while assessing Mr. Mandela’s initiative. His relative inexperience in handling an amorphous body like NAM is a weak excuse for his rather decisive statement, later diluted to accommodate New Delhi’s sensibilities. It is clear that Pretoria disregarded the NAM convention to avoid references to bilateral disputes with a purpose. Given the African National Congress regime’s record of dismantling its country’s secret nuclear arsenal, that purpose was to express disapproval of the nuclear explosions by India and Pakistan, and align itself with the cash-rich West which can assist in the reconstruction of the country’s ravaged economy.
Those who have followed Mr. Mandela’s single-minded pursuit of freedom and dignity for his people, which he set above freedom for himself, will not give credence to the theory that he is seeking an international role for himself. The South African President is a skilled practitioner of power politics; he has assessed his country’s needs in a changing world order, and accordingly chosen his cue. With one clinical blow, he has dashed any fond hopes India may still nurture of securing NAM’s support in its bid for a permanent membership of the Security Council.
This would have endeared Mr Mandela to the Clinton Administration, which is unable to break free of the moral gendarme mindset. That it has involved violating the basic NAM premise that if bilateral disputes are raised at its fora, the consequent taking of sides by member-countries would soon reduce the movement to a farce, has perhaps been a necessary price. It may even be poetic justice. Heralded as the Mahatma Gandhi of this half of the 20th century, the South African President has done to the Nehruvian world-view what Jawaharlal Nehru did to Mahatma Gandhi’s cherished ideals.
The fact that other members have not seen it fit to chastise Mr Mandela for his breach of protocol is a reflection on the movement’s relevance in the post-Cold War epoch. The collapse of communist dictatorships puts a question mark on the continuation of a movement dedicated to shunning involvement in military confrontations between the superpowers. Since then, quantum leaps in technology have taken us into the era of missile-based warfare, in which conflict can be localized and there is no need for territorial engagement with the enemy. Thus, since the end of the Second World War, the world order has changed twice over; not only has the colonial period vanished, even the post-colonial era has come to an end. It is in the context of this changed reality that Mr Mandela struck a new and unfamiliar note.
In the specific context of Indian politics, Mr Mandela has unwittingly rendered the BJP dispensation a sterling service. After the collapse of the doctrines of socialism and secularism, nonalignment in foreign policy was the last leg of the Nehruvian tripod that remained to be demolished so that a new Indian world view could emerge. As non-alignment is not as discredited as socialism and secularism, it was difficult for the BJP to effect an open breach with the concept. However, by sounding the death-knell of NAM South Africa has enabled us to pursue our goals and interests with a freedom that was denied under the parameters of the old foreign policy framework.
The BJP should seize the opportunity with alacrity, and not waste time mourning the passing away of an order to which it never belonged. Mr Vajpayee has already demonstrated considerable pragmatism in ending the anti-US tilt in our foreign policy by extending tactical support to the American bombing of Taliban bases in Afghanistan. Notwithstanding the presence of irritants in the form of US obduracy to concede similar freedom of action to India, the relationship must be nurtured, but from a position of strength – the only language the Americans understand. In this respect, the Prime Minister has done well to allow Home Minister LK Advani and Defence Minister George Fernandes to challenge Pentagon’s hypocrisy and strongly articulate India’s concerns on cross-border terrorism.
The international environment has turned hostile since India’s forceful entry into the nuclear club. In my opinion, however, the emerging international scenario offers sufficient opportunities for India to enunciate a policy based on enlightened self-interest, and have its views respected in international fora. For instance, India’s concerns over the adverse security environment in its neighbourhood, and the growing menace of cross-border terrorism and foreign-funded militancy and insurgency movements has found receptive audiences abroad. Indian diplomacy is resilient and effective enough to survive the non-existence or irrelevance of the NAM.
Indeed, the Foreign Office is already at work strengthening traditional ties with Russia, post-Clinton visit. As for the nuclear fall-out with reports suggesting that the US-Senate may refuse to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), India is not exactly on a sticky wicket here. Indeed, it may even be well advised to hold its hand until the US makes its intentions clear in the matter.
The BJP should realize that it is the Congress that is in a bind over the crisis of NAM as witnessed by its failure to react to the event as it happened. The Congress party would do well to face up to the complete rout of its ideological ball-bearings, and the bankruptcy of its ethical-moral coffers. Although the party has cautiously accepted the limitation of its so-called charismatic leadership, there is as yet no indication that it will advance from the coterie-based system to one that is more democratic, and will accord due status to state leaders with mass bases. Ms Sonia Gandhi’s tentative attempts to cobble together an anti-BJP alliance that could stake a bid for power has come unstuck mainly because of the party’s crisis of identity and unresolved contradictions.
The Pioneer, 9 September 1998