Sunday, May 31, 2015

Reversing a Decade of Decline

Foreign affairs after Nehru and Indira Gandhi have largely been left as an elitist affair that doesn't affect India (except the policy on Pakistan, which is a relic of Partition). This has of course, been a grave mistake, as foreign affairs is deeply intertwined with domestic affairs. But it is deeply ingrained in the Indian psyche to look at ourselves as an island, despite the centuries of foreign conquest that we have endured. It was a breath of relief then that Narendra Modi's first year has seen a significant upgrading of India's foreign policy, with a generous mix of domestic policy mixed in.

Most journalists, being very poorly educated themselves, falsely think the PM has overshadowed the Ministry and Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj and her MoS Gen. (retd.) VK Singh. But nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is, all those multi-billion dollar deals negotiated and signed with many countries have been won through hard diplomacy led by the MEA. Indeed, in terms of return on investments in the very near term, the MEA outshines every other minister except perhaps Power. Sushma Swaraj, despite the initial politics that saw her on the other side of the fence as Narendra Modi at the historic Goa summit of the BJP, was given the ministry, part of the Big 4 (Home, Finance, Defense and External Affairs, together with the PMO). And she has had a stellar performance.

Indeed, perhaps the best-known civil servant is also from the MEA, Syed Akbaruddin, who is now set to move higher up the chain. The Ministry has transformed itself from the apathetic, lackluster beast that it was for decades to a proactive one that not just takes care of foreign policy but also the interests of Indians abroad, as spectacularly seen in the Yemen evacuation that put India at the forefront of global efforts. In Year 1 of the Modi sarkaar, the MEA has stood out as the surprising star of the Union Government. 

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