December 31, 2006Foreign Affairs

Closet communalisation of foreign policy

India’s bridge to Middle East should not have a communal identity

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

In its comment on India’s reaction to Saddam Hussein’s execution, the Indian Express contends:

But South Block’s political compulsion to be seen as standing up for Saddam Hussein underlines…a tradition that puts alleged domestic sentiments above the regional complexities.

If Dr Singh and External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee choose to intensify India’s engagement with the Gulf, they will find the Indian Muslims as a huge diplomatic asset and a political bridge, rather than a domestic vote bank that needs to be managed. For too long New Delhi has been fearful of the impact of the Gulf politics on Indian Muslims. A smart policy in New Delhi would instead leverage the multifaceted links between Indian Muslims and the Gulf in an effective pursuit of national interests in a vital region. [IE]The argument, essentially, is that it is outdated to consider the Muslim vote bank while crafting India’s policy towards the Middle East. Muslims, it contends, are a wonderful bridge for a forward Gulf policy’. In effect, the Express is calling for transforming India’s Muslim citizens into an foreign vote bank’, to be used to pursue India’s interests in the Gulf. (On a side note, why not use Keralites instead?)

So what’s wrong with this view? Because, in principle, it just throws another juicy cut to the increasingly insatiable dog of communal identity based policy-making (See Khan’s question). Also because, in practice, it is foolish to believe that an instrument that wields power externally will not also affect domestic politics—and Islam, mind you, is an universal religion that is supposed to, at least doctrinally, take its cues from the very places which India seeks to influence.

The communalisation of India’s foreign policy has a long, sad history. The way to jettison it is by refusing to see this or that community in instrumental terms. The bridges that India builds will be all the more wonderful if they represent the diverse, yet composite nation that it is.

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