November 29, 2007Foreign Affairs

Foreign policy and national consensus

It’s not coalitions that force a government to seek consensus. It’s their composition.

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

Today’s leading article in The Times of India makes an important point: foreign policy has traditionally been formulated by the prime minister, with the establishment providing continuity across governments. As this blog has argued, India’s foreign policy is the preserve of a section of the ruling class as well as the foreign policy establishment (as it is in most countries). But it does not follow that the policies themselves serve the narrow interests of the class’ that shapes them. It is possible to make a reasonable case that on the most significant issues—the Pokhran-II nuclear tests, closer ties with the United States and even the ongoing detente with Pakistan—India’ss foreign policy is consistent with general public opinion.”

Contrary to the myth sought to be created, Indian foreign policy was always a leadership function and more often than not did not command a consensus. Non-alignment as a strategy (to be distinguished from non-alignment as an ideology with which Nehru had hardly anything to do), development of close relations with the USSR, nuclear tests, strategic weapons programme, economic liberalisation and globalisation and the strategy of the balance of power were all initiatives of leaders - Nehru, Indira, Rajiv, Narasimha Rao, Vajpayee and now Singh.

Such initiatives, when they prove successful, become established national policies. One wonders how many countries initiated foreign policies on the basis of a national consensus and then got them consolidated as national policies. We do have a major problem of resolving basic contradictions in a fragile coalition, but that should not mislead us to create a myth that our foreign policy history has been one of consensus. [TOI]It would have been good if the UPA government could push forward the US-India nuclear deal in the traditional manner, without the need for a political consensus. Some may argue that coalition politics has made this necessary. That’s not entirely accurate: it’s the composition of the coalition, and the Congress Party’s consistent submission to the Left’s blackmail, that has reduced the UPA government to chase an elusive national consensus.

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