| by Prof. V. Suryanarayan
(Diplomacy Indian Style: K.P. Fabian, (Har- Anand Publications Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi, 2012)
( January 30, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) Students of Indian diplomacy are fortunate in one respect. Many distinguished former Indian diplomats have either written their reminiscences or critically evaluated various facets of Indian foreign policy. These constitute invaluable reference materials for the researchers. Among the diplomats who have written on foreign policy, mention should be made of Sardar KM Panikkar, KPS Menon (Sr), Badruddin Tayabji, CS Jha, TN Kaul, PRS Mani, JN Dixit, Muchkund Dubey, CV Ranganathan, Vinod Khanna, Lakhan Mehrotra and TP Sreenivasan. The latest addition to this galaxy is KP Fabian, who served the South Block with great distinction for more than three and a half decades. Meticulous in collection of data, sharp in analysis, lucid in expression and provocative in style, this book is an outstanding contribution to the growing literature on Indian diplomacy.
Years ago, when I was a student in Bombay University, I had to study a course on Historiography. One of the important themes that we were taught was the “theory of Cleopatra’s nose”. This stunning woman, as is well known, changed the course of Roman history and what made her attractive was her beautiful nose. If the nose was shorter and, therefore, less beautiful, what would have been its impact on Roman history? I was reminded of this theory while reading Fabian’s book. In many places the Author poses the question, how would Chanakya have responded if he was in charge of foreign affairs?
As students of international relations, we used to read Prof. Bimal Prasad’s book, Origins of Indian Foreign Policy. Prof. Prasad traces the origins of Indian foreign policy to the world view of the leaders of Indian National Congress, especially Jawaharlal Nehru. Fabian has gone further, he has delved deep into Indian history and highlighted that the first Indian diplomat was Hanuman, who was sent by Rama to Lanka as his emissary. Was Vibishana right in deserting his brother and joining hands with Rama? Fabian discusses in detail Sri Krishna’s efforts to mediate between the Kauravas and the Pandavas. A critical study of Chanakya’s Arthasastra follows. The Jataka tales and their contemporary relevance are referred to. This introductory chapter is path breaking. However, it must be pointed out that with a little more care, Fabian could have avoided certain mistakes. Living in anonymity is Agnathavasa, not Ajantavasa. Dutugemenu, who killed the Tamil king Ellara, is only a Sinhalese leader, not a Sri Lankan leader. Of course, for the Sinhalese, Sinhalese history is Sri Lankan history. Such a belief had been the undoing of Sri Lanka as a united nation.
The book is divided into eleven chapters. The first two chapters deal with the historical origins and genesis of Indian foreign policy and the last two chapters analyse the emerging international situation and how India should respond to the situation. Rest of the chapters deals with critical issues which confronted New Delhi since the dawn of independence. They include the problem of Tibet, the 1962 India-China War, the complexities of India-Pakistan relations including the wars of 1965 and 1971, the Simla Agreement and the 1987 military intervention in Sri Lanka. These chapters provide refreshing insights.
The success of foreign policy would depend upon correctly anticipating the emerging trends in international relations, so that when momentous events take place, the country is not caught off guard. It will also enable the Foreign Office to adjust to new situation. Unfortunately during recent years, India had been reactive to far reaching changes, which are taking place around us. This policy is in sharp contrast with the Nehru era. To illustrate, according to K. Subrahmaniam, Jawaharlal Nehru was deeply sensitive to the emerging trends in the communist world and its inability to solve many complex problems. Nehru told President Eisenhower that the United States should not be obsessed with communism as an ideology because it contained within itself the seeds of its own destruction. To Nehru’s credit it must be stated that more then any other political leader, except perhaps VK Krishna Menon, he was conscious of the Sino-Soviet differences and its benign fallout on India. Nehru was the first statesman to foresee the emergence of liberal trends in the Soviet Union. In his book, New Dimensions of Peace, Ambassador Chester Bowles has mentioned that Nehru told him in early 1950’s that Sino-Soviet association was unlikely to last long. In September 1959, in a speech in parliament, Nehru referred to the statement in Tass and how it indicated that the Soviet Union was taking a calm, objective and dispassionate view of the border situation. The Tass statement, as is well known, was the first indication of the Sino-Soviet differences being aired in the open. Nehru knew of the heated exchanges that took place between Chen Yi and Kruschev in Bucharest, he knew of the Chinese anger at the Soviet Union selling MIG planes to India, the withdrawal of Soviet technicians from China and the skirmishes in the Sino-Soviet border in 1960. Nehru dissociated China’s policy from communist ideology and characterized as an outcome of what he called “Chinese expansionism”. Such a stance enabled India to take advantage of the Sino-Soviet dispute and get considerable Soviet support in the years to come.
Unfortunately, as Fabian points out, New Delhi, on several occasions, not only did not make correct assessment of the situation, but actually worked on the assumption that what it wants may come true. In August 1991, there was news of an attempted coup against Gorbachev. The group opposed to Gorbachev claimed that they had captured power. Within three days Yeltsin crushed the coup. Unfortunately in the Indian Embassy’s assessment the coup was a success and the matter was reported to New Delhi. What is more tragic, the Indian Prime Minister made an announcement welcoming the coup just before it was crushed. This misreading of the realities also led to considerable problems in Sri Lanka. Any student of Sri Lankan history knows that there cannot be a viable solution to the ethnic problem unless there is a Sinhala consensus and Tamil participation. The India-Sri Lanka Accord, 1987, signed between Colombo and New Delhi led to sharp divisions within the Sinhala polity. What is more, neither the moderates nor the militants among the Tamils signed the Agreement. Without a Sinhala consensus and absence of Tamil support, the Accord itself became a source of discord in Sri Lanka. New Delhi also did not anticipate that pushed to the wall the LTTE and Premadasa would make common cause against India. When the news of ongoing talks between LTTE and Premadasa reached New Delhi, it was taken by surprise. According to media reports, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi told the DMK leader Murasoli Maran to use his good offices to dissuade Prabhakaran from entering into talks with the Sri Lankan Government. Rajiv Gandhi, according to media reports, was even wiling to consider the demand for Tamil Eelam. Another illustration from India-Nepal relations is in order. The rise of the Maoists and the outcome of the 2005 elections were not foreseen by the Indian Embassy in Khatmandu.
Fabian’s thought provoking book raises two interesting questions relating to decision making in Indian foreign policy. The first relates to the interface between various Indian Embassies and the Foreign Office and the second is the subordination of the foreign office by the PMO. In 1995, India decided to contest for membership in the Security Council for a non-permanent seat against Japan and lost heavily. I had the opportunity to discuss this subject with several Indian diplomats posted abroad and they were of the unanimous view that New Delhi did not even have a remote chance of winning the election. Fabian was Ambassador to Qatar at that time. On instructions from New Delhi Fabian contacted the Foreign Ministry of Qatar to seek its support. “The Foreign Minister promised to send instructions to New York to vote for India. But his body language was not coinciding with the spoken words”. New Delhi was also banking on the support of member states of ASEAN. But none of them voted for India. Why did the Foreign Office not realize that in terms of economic clout India was no match for Japan? Why did New Delhi persist in contesting for the post against the considered views of Indian Embassies abroad?
Equally relevant, on many crucial foreign policy issues like the War in East Pakistan in 1971, the decision making and co-ordination among various agencies was done by the PMO and the Foreign Office was relegated to the background. Even with regard to India’s policy towards Sri Lanka in1987 the same was the case. In fact the Foreign Secretary was not conversant with many important steps taken by the PMO. Is this a good precedent? Should all powers be concentrated in the PMO to the detriment of the Foreign Office? Fabian can and should provide answers to these questions in his next book.
Dr. V. Suryanarayan, Senior Professor and Director, (Retd), Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras is currently associated with two think tanks in Chennai, the Center for Asia Studies and the Chennai Centre for China Studies. He was also a member of the National Security Advisory Board of the Government of India for a term. His e mail address: email@example.com