April 10, 2008ChinaForeign Affairsforeign policygeopoliticsIndiainternational relationsLeftistsrealpolitikUnited States

Should India’s foreign policy clean your kitchen sink?

Why proponents of a friendly relations with China undermine their case

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

M K Bhadrakumar is at it again. He asks if India’s strategic alliance” (huh? which one?) with the United States

helped to discourage farmers in Vidharbha from taking their own lives in sheer despair, reduce the profound alienation of the people of Jammu & Kashmir or bring the neglected northeast into the national mainstream. Would Malabar exercises” or the Indo-U.S. defence agreement or the envisaged inter-operability” of the armed forces of the two countries make the South Asian security environment any less complicated? Would they help to ease India’s troubled relations with its neighbours? Do they tackle energy security or the looming food security crisis or the appalling illiteracy and malnutrition stalking the outer rings of our shining metros?[The Hindu]

Let’s indulge him and ignore for a moment that the India-US civilian nuclear power deal actually addresses energy security. Let’s assume that the answer is negative.

The question is: is foreign policy the relevant framework to address distressed farmers, disgruntled Kashmiris and neglected North-easterners? Or are these unhappy people victims of India’s inability to deliver effective governance? In his bid to attack India’s post-cold war foreign policy, Mr Bhadrakumar absurdly argues that foreign policy is somehow a cure for the rot in domestic governance.

His article, as before, is yet another attempt to argue why India should be pro-China and anti-America. But he fails by his own yardstick—will a pro-China and anti-America policy help people in Vidarbha, Kashmir and the North East?

Now pragmatic people will accept that India must maintain stable, hopefully friendly relations, with China. But pragmatic people will fail to understand Mr Bhadrakumar’s assertions that India’s foreign policy must necessarily antagonise the United States. Amusingly, he asserts that the nation got alienated from its foreign policy”. It is Mr Bhadrakumar who is alienated from the nation.

Here are some results of a nationally representative survey conducted in 2005-6 over 212,000 households:

First, there is a clear relationship between socio-economic status and the ability to respond to questions on foreign policy. The more elite (defined both by education and occupation), the more likely Indians will have an opinion on foreign policy issues. For the large number of rural landless, 69.7 percent don’t know” while another 24.3 percent have no response”. At the other extreme - educated urban professionals - the figures are 21 and 6 percent respectively, an almost four-fold difference. High non-response rates among the weaker socio-economic groups indicate that they may be efficiently” ignorant i.e. they are not interested in putting in the effort on an issue that has low salience for them.

Second, to the extent that Indians express their opinion about the degree of warmth (or positive feelings) towards a country (the choices were US, Japan, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia) the data is unequivocal: while the US does not rank above the other countries in all categories (Figure 1), no matter which way the data is segmented - by socio-economic group, income, state, gender, age, rural-urban - Indians have the warmest feelings towards the US followed by Japan, with (expectedly) Pakistan at the other end of the spectrum…

Fourth, the warmer sentiments towards the US are valid in every state. Even in states ruled by the Left parties who are the most vociferous opponents of closer relations with the US (Kerala and West Bengal), respondents clearly prefer the relationship with US over the relationship with China (Figure 3). We also examined the view that the need to placate India’s Muslims - an important voting constituency in an increasingly competitive voting environment - may be playing a role. While we don’t have data on the religious beliefs at the individual level, there was no statistical difference in states with higher Muslim population from those with low concentration of Muslims. The widely believed view that Muslims are anti-US does not find support.

Fifth, the evidence from other questions in the survey indicates that the Indian public is not naive and indeed demonstrates a streak of hard realism in its judgments about the US. Respondents were asked to rate the governments of countries both in terms of trustworthiness and how aggressive they felt the government to be. In both cases the US ranked lowest and this was perhaps why, in response to another question on India’s dealing with foreign governments, the majority of respondents felt that the Indian government should be tougher in its negotiations with United States.

[Devesh Kapur/CASI]

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