India Overrides Party Politics For A Change

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By Shastri Ramachandaran*

Sections of New Delhi's diplomatic circuit have been abuzz with two topics. One – in the aftermath of Brajesh Mishra's demise on September 28, his transformation of India's foreign policy and its security architecture – was predictable.

As principal secretary and national security adviser (from November 1998 to May 2004) to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Mishra radically re-engineered India's foreign policy, cleared the decks for the 1998 nuclear tests and, in dealing with its international fallout, re-wrote nuclear India's terms of engagement with the world.

The second, unexpected, talking point was opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader LK Advani's praise, at the UN General Assembly (UNGA), for the flagship programme of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) – National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).

UPA is a coalition of centre-left political parties in India, led by the Indian National Congress (INC), which is the single largest political party in the Lok Sabha (the lower house of the parliament of India).

Advani was among a group of members of parliament (MPs) participating in various sessions of the UNGA. Speaking on 'social development' at the General Debate in the Third Committee, he lauded NREGA as the world’s largest cash-for-work scheme that meets the needs of 53 million poor rural households by ensuring 100 days of work per year with at least half of it reserved for women.

Lessons

Advani's take that NREGA "has helped break down social inequalities, empower rural people, build up rural infrastructure and revive economic growth" must have been music to a government under fire from the opposition as well as the anti-corruption movement.

But this is not about Advani, who has much to answer for in reducing our democracy to what it is. This is about the opposition batting for India and its image on the world stage. Far from being commended for Advani's remarks, the BJP became the butt of sniggers and taunts.

There are lessons here for the parties to rise above partisan politics not only in international fora but also when it comes to survival issues of India's poor. The fact that neither the Congress nor its coalition allies have been able to squeeze electoral mileage out of NREGA underscores that the programme is seen as state policy for achieving economic growth with equity; and, that its biggest beneficiaries are the poor, not any particular party. As such, no savvy politico would risk running down a scheme known for its tremendous impact.

Instead of seeing it narrowly as Advani's pat for the UPA, endorsement of NREGA as policy points to potential areas where parties across the spectrum can join hands to tackle livelihood issues of the majority; and, together draw international political and financial support for development programmes that provide a sustainable basis for long-term stability and growth.

External affairs are but pursuit of national interests beyond our borders, and in this Brajesh Mishra excelled. He is without peer in the way he brought to the task a vision combined with political power, official force and diplomatic finesse. No foreign minister, foreign secretary or prime ministerial envoy had ever before melded the political, the bureaucratic and the diplomatic to accomplish so much.

Three goals

He overcame international condemnation of the 1998 nuclear tests and sanction, and turned the tide of opinion in India's favour over the years; and at the same time laid the basis for a national security apparatus. No nuclear hawk himself, he accepted that economic might is a precondition for India's rise as a superpower.

From this flowed the three goals he set for India: A permanent place in the UN Security Council, full membership of the nuclear club and emergence, by 2025, as the world's leading economic power.

In his conversations, 'Panditji' (as he was called) never wearied of spelling out how to go about achieving this. He recognised that the road to becoming a superpower lay through regional stability and peace; and, this can never be achieved without coming to terms with Pakistan. For its part, he acknowledged, that Pakistan would never come around without some concession on Kashmir; and, the tide of Indian public opinion could be turned in favour of this only by the promise of a bigger goal.

Mishra was the first high-level official to moot the idea of non-territorial concessions to Pakistan. As prime minister Manmohan Singh seeks to walk in Vajpayee's steps to visit the country of his birthplace, his aides and advisers may acknowledge the continued relevance of Mishra's approach.

The enduring value of his work may explain the tributes to Mishra from diverse quarters, including national security adviser Shivshankar Menon's befitting description of him as an "old-fashioned patriot".

This shows that if the BJP has cause to support the Congress-led UPA's economic schemes, like the NREGA, the UPA government is no less appreciative of the foreign, national security and nuclear policies pursued by the Vajpayee-led National Democratic Alliance.

*The author is an independent political and foreign affairs commentator. This analysis was carried by DNA –Daily News & Analysis and is being re-published by arrangement with the writer.

[Source: IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters]

MARCH 2017

Vol. 11 - No. 8










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