Despite its best efforts to cover itself face with diplomatic egg, the Manmohan Singh government largely did the right thing when it came to the twin resolutions criticising the Sri Lankan government’s treatment of its Tamil minority. India voted in favour of a United Nations Human Rights Resolution that ticked off Colombo but ensured that the more punitive segments were removed. And when it came to the proposed parliamentary resolution, New Delhi simply dropped the whole thing. The concern is that this came about as a matter of circumstance rather than because of a well-thought out policy by India. This is disturbing evidence that short-sighted domestic political goals are undermining the implementation of the country’s foreign policy.
India was, in effect, trying to merge two sets of conflicting interests. On the diplomatic front, India wanted to close the door to any international sanctions or worse against Sri Lanka, a strategically important and friendly nation, but also signal its frustrations with the Mahinda Rajapaksa government’s steadfast refusal to move towards a Tamil political settlement. On the political front the battle was about trying to preserve a rational foreign policy from the baser needs of the UPA to keep the DMK from turning completely against the government. In the first case, Indian diplomacy did more or less what it did last year: kick out clauses that would have opened up Sri Lanka to sanctions or even military intervention. If New Delhi had not fought this, it would have set a terrible precedent for the future and permanently buried any future Indian attempt at becoming the favoured partner of all the countries of South Asia. That there was a last minute and thankfully abortive attempt by New Delhi to amend the resolution that it had itself diluted only underlined how much electoral calculations are muddying policy waters. In the second issue, there can be little doubt that India was saved from the government’s DMK-driven folly only because the main opposition parties, led by the BJP and the Left parties, rejected the parliamentary resolution. They, unlike the likes of Mamata Banerjee, understood that larger national interests were at play.
As elections approach, Indian foreign policy it seems will be increasingly under pressure to bow to demagogic demands of the type that was seen in the past few weeks. Sadly, too many parts of the ruling party are willing to accept such calculations and the foreign ministry seems too supine to defy them. India’s global standing will, at least for the coming year, be threatened by forces from within. New Delhi needs to take a much closer look at what nearly became the Sri Lanka fiasco. It must try to preserve grand strategy from the excesses of tehsil politics.