The virtual bilateral summit between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison has the potential of expanding ties not just between the two countries but also bringing India closer to the America-led global security alliance. It can also be a precursor to a coalition of democracies against the threat that China poses to the world.
Modi was upbeat after the interaction, tweeting that he and Morrison “had an outstanding discussion, covering the entire expanse of our relationship.” He also tweeted, “India-Australia ties have always been close. As vibrant democracies, from Commonwealth to Cricket to even Cuisine, our people-to-people relations are strong and the future is bright!”
The ties between the two democracies since 1947 have remained hostage to Nehruvian foreign policy, which unfortunately has persisted since the death of the first prime minister in 1964. Its various manifestations, the most important of which was the non-aligned movement, have caused incalculable harm to our national interest.
Come to think of it: there are over 6 lakh people of Indian origin in Australia, constituting about 2.8 per cent of its population. Aussie cricketers are popular in India. The two countries share values and ideals, and yet for almost three decades no Indian prime minister visited Australia; Modi’s visit came 28 years after Rajiv Gandhi’s in 1986. In the meantime, there were rough patches, the biggest of them being after Pokhran-II in 1998.
At the heart of the lukewarm-to-unfriendly relations lay, and lies, the distrust Indian policy makers have for the West in general and the Anglo-Saxon world in particular. The beneficiaries have been our enemies, both Pakistan and China. Washington was forced to join hands with Islamabad—in its alliances during the cold war era and to fight the Taliban in the last few decades. It even made peace with Beijing in the 1970s—at its own peril, as the Americans are now realizing. The consequences for us, however, were unpleasant.
Foreign office mandarins and others who formulate policy are yet to shed the Nehruvian fantasies. They are part of India’s deep pink state—tenaciously sticking to the dogmas and shibboleths of a discredited ideology, socialism, and refusing to open their eyes to the realities of the world. They want us to remain hostile to the Western bloc, even if that makes us vulnerable against China.
The denouement: persistence with non-alignment. On the completion of his two years in office, Modi said in an interview to Wall Street Journal, “There is no reason to change India’s non-alignment policy that is a legacy and has been in place.” He was responding to a query about China’s increasing assertiveness. The interviewer had asked, “The US is very keen on India, the rising power that India is, to be part of, if not an alliance, then at least a grouping that can stand up to some extent to China. Where do you see India taking a position on the global stage?”
Modi went on downplaying the multifarious threats emanating from China. “We don’t have any fighting with China today. We have a boundary dispute, but there is no tension or clashes. People-to-people contacts have increased. Trade has increased. Chinese investment in India has gone up. India’s investment in China has grown. Despite the border dispute, there haven’t been any clashes. Not one bullet has been fired in 30 years. So the general impression that exists, that’s not the reality.”
The deep pink state was busy four years ago; it still is. So, Modi addressed the Non-Aligned Movement virtual summit last month; he did it for the first time after assuming office in 2014.
Worse, there are elements within the saffron family that are inimical to the West; this is evident from the statements made by several apparatchiks.
In short, while Prime Minister Modi is showing interest in getting close to the Western bloc, elements within the system and the saffron think tanks remain hostile to such a move. Hopefully, Modi will overcome this impediment.