In order to critically analyse the party’s stance on the topic, the first half of the following text is reproduced here from the BJP manifesto’s section on foreign relations, “Nation First, Universal Brotherhood.”
BJP believes a resurgent India must get its rightful place in the comity of nations and international institutions. The vision is to fundamentally reboot and reorient the foreign policy goals, content and process, in a manner that locates India’s global strategic engagement in a new paradigm and on a wider canvas, that is not just limited to political diplomacy, but also includes economic, scientific, cultural, political and security interests on the principles of equality and mutuality, so that it leads to an economically stronger India, and its voice is heard in the international fora.
BJP believes that political stability, progress and peace in the region are essential for south Asia’s growth and development. The Congress-led UPA has failed to establish enduring friendly and cooperative relations with India’s neighbours. India’s relations with traditional allies have turned cold. Its neighbours have drifted apart. Instead of clarity, there is confusion. The absence of statecraft has never been felt so acutely as today. India is seen to be floundering, whereas it should have been engaging with the world with confidence. The collapse of the Indian economy has contributed to the sorry state of foreign affairs in no small measure.
The aim is to build a strong, self-reliant and self-confident India, regaining its rightful place in the comity of nations. In this, it will be firstly guided by our centuries old tradition (of Hindi characters). At the same time, our foreign policy will be based on best national interests. A web of allies will be created to mutually further interests. All resources and people will be leveraged to play a greater role on the international high table.
India has long failed to duly appreciate the full extent and gamut of its soft power potential. There is a need to integrate soft power avenues into external interchange, particularly harnessing and focusing on the spiritual, cultural and philosophical dimensions of it. India has always played a major role in world affairs, offering a lot to the world. This has been its tradition since time immemorial. The magnetic power of India has always been in its ancient wisdom and heritage, elucidating principles like harmony and equity. This continues to be equally relevant to the world today in today’s times of soft power. Proactive diplomacy will be adopted to spread the same. India was reckoned not only as Vishwaguru but also a vibrant trading society; ancestors used to trade with foreign nations through the routes of sea, centuries ago. This was based on the strength of our business acumen and integrity, our products and crafts. The symbols of ancient civilizations stand as a testimony to the architectural and urban planning excellence. Brand India will be revived with the help of the 5 T’s:
Tradition, Talent, Tourism, Trade and Technology.
The guiding principles of our foreign policy will be: equations mended through pragmatism and a doctrine of mutually beneficial and interlocking relationships. Uniform international opinion on issues like terrorism and global warming will be championed. Instead of being led by big power interests, proactive engagement will occur with countries in the neighbourhood and beyond. In the immediate neighbourhood, friendly relations will be pursued. However, where required, a strong stand and steps will be taken. Regional forums like SAARC and ASEAN will be strengthened and dialogue, engagement and cooperation, with global forums like BRICS, G20. IBSA, SCO and ASEM will be continued. States will be encouraged to play a greater role in diplomacy; actively building relations with foreign countries to harness their mutual cultural and commercial strengths.
Also, the pool of diplomats will be expanded and empowered, ensuring the message is taken to the world, and our great nation represented on the whole in a befitting manner. The NRIs, PIOs and professionals settled abroad are a vast reservoir to articulate national interests and affairs globally. This resource will be harnessed for strengthening Brand India. India shall remain a natural home for persecuted Hindus and they shall be welcome to seek refuge here.”
The manifesto of a political party is a policy outline; it cannot be judged only on the basis of what is included or left out, and the BJP manifesto is no exception. Still, a comparison with the Congress election manifesto does give us an idea of the differences of approach, including in foreign relations. That political stability, progress and peace in the region are essential for South Asia’s growth and development is highlighted. In comparison, the Congress manifesto specifies working to improve relations with Pakistan and also resolving border disputes with China.
One of the BJP manifesto’s guiding principles on foreign policy is the unexceptionable, “In our neighbourhood we will pursue friendly relations,” but followed by the caveat, “However, where required we will not hesitate from taking a strong stand and steps.” Elsewhere in the manifesto: working with stakeholders towards abrogating the special constitutional status of Kashmir guaranteed under the Indian Constitution, given that Kashmir is internationally recognized by UN Security Council resolutions as disputed territory and bilaterally as well between Pakistan and India will not go down well especially most important with the Kashmiris. Unlike the Congress’ objective of continuing its quest for UN Security Council Permanent membership, regional and global forums other than the UN find mention. Strengthening the Indian Foreign Service, another manifesto objective, was to be expected, as Modi’s “India must walk tall,” reinforces what the hawkish South Block has always stood for.
As foreign relations come towards the end of the manifesto, it would be useful to look at the overall characteristics of it; they provide an overarching philosophy that guide the BJP’s world vision as indeed all other policy areas.
Three aspects stand out. The first is the guiding vision in the preface. Here, the historic achievements of India’s essentially Hindu civilization from the Vedas up to the 8th century before the Muslim kingdoms and British colonial rule; and in the colonial period the vision of sages such as Sri Ma and Swami Vivekananda and the Indian freedom fighters partly inspired by him are prominently highlighted. The continuum of Indian civilization, as defined by the BJP, must be revived.
The second, an understandable part of an election manifesto, is the persistent criticism of the Congress government, attempting in reverse what Congress made of the BJP’s “Shining India” election slogan in 2004.
Consequently, the third characteristic details how to improve almost all aspects of economic activity impacting the Indian populace.
If the BJP is elected what will be the reaction of its neighbours? At the official level naturally they will welcome any decision by the people of India and be prepared to engage with the new government. They will wait and see how the BJP government acts in external relations as it settles down and hope it will follow a pragmatic policy to improve relations beyond trade. At the same time. they will be watchfully cautious.
The writer is a retired Pakistani Ambassador and a distinguished visiting fellow at the National Defence University.