India is too important a player in world affairs to follow blindly any borrowed models for pursuing her national strategy, either internationally or at home. Climate change, South Asia and global terrorism test our foreign policy, just as the issues of rural poverty, education and health of children, and internal peace challenge our domestic plans.
The Paris summit on climate change gave a platform to India to tell the international community that this country was willing to go the whole length with others for leaving behind a better world for the posterity, but without giving up on the principle of equity. Prime Minister Narendra Modi must be complimented for spelling out the three-fold approach of India on this issue — a clear stipulation that the lives of a few could not override the lives of all others, an assurance that India would do her best to balance ecology with economy, without abandoning the claim of the developing world on fossil fuel, and an appeal that there should be global collaboration on technology on renewable energy for the good of the entire humanity without — and this was implicit in his presentation — the developed nations becoming totally pre-occupied with business profitability.
The outcome of the Paris summit has established that India will never get marginalised or isolated on the global agenda on climate, in spite of the tinted views expressed by US Secretary of State John Kerry on the eve of the summit, to put India on the defensive.
On India-Pakistan relations, India has shown a welcome firmness, clarity and consistency that seemed to have been missing earlier. The short but exclusive one-on-one interface Prime Minister Modi had with Nawaz Sharif, Prime Minister of Pakistan, at Paris and the events that followed tend to prove this. Sharif had just come to Paris after putting it on record that Pakistan wanted talks with India without any preconditions. There is little doubt that the US desired resumption of talks — quite simply because that country needs to maintain its equation with the Pak army for protecting American interests in Afghanistan post-US withdrawal from there. In a situation of escalating threat from Islamic radicals all around, made evident by the rise of ISIS on one hand and the Taliban offensive in Afghanistan on the other, this is not surprising at all.
A nudge from the US to both sides if it was there, need not be overblown. What is important is to note that the Indian Prime Minister did not deviate from the line that Pakistan needed to abjure terrorist violence.
The joint statement coming out of the talks External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had with her counterpart, Sartaj Aziz at Islamabad, makes it clear that India does not shun bilateral talks on all issues, but would keep terrorism on the top of the agenda. India’s challenge is to pursue its own strategy towards Pakistan without, as far as possible, disturbing the India-US grid.
Just as on external issues India has to a adopt a strategy that serves its enlightened self-interest within the format of any multi-lateral cooperation or agreement, it is equally important that the Modi regime adopts a model of development and governance at home that suits a democratic India known for poverty, disparities and a continuing rural-urban divide.
The government’s rural outreach is weak. The management of “demographic dividend” needs to be given greater attention. Also, the irony of a mismatch between the Centre’s image and its empowerment in the sphere of law and order has become pronounced in the backdrop of Modi’s promise of strong governance. The government must quickly think of a way of handling these challenges that are typically Indian and cannot, therefore, be met with borrowed models of development. Considering the phenomenon of farmers’ suicides that stared the government in the face through the debate on land bill, it should have been possible for the Centre to be pro-active in getting the SDMs of the vulnerable districts to be additionally designated as “Officers on Special Duty” for three months before the harvest, to identify the individual farmer in distress on account of an apprehended crop failure, so that an appropriate financial help could be rushed to him in time to pull him back from a desperate end. No state government would risk not falling in line with this efficient administrative response. Look at the credibility the Centre would have achieved: the point being that this should be done even now while the long range projects in pursuit of sabka sath sabka vikas waited to bear fruit.
The perceived advantage of “demographic dividend” can become a source of “concern”, considering that two out of three children in India reportedly drop out of Class VIII and that an overwhelming majority of children have poor healthcare. The lower halves of the two verticals of education and health should be deemed to be of “strategic” significance so that the Centre’s monitoring of these is adequate. Even the skill development programme will not make any headway otherwise. This policy initiative will receive wide political acceptance as the states are bound to demonstrate their willingness to participate in a joint effort.
And finally, the Centre has to pay attention to the fact that in the world outside it gets the blame for poor law and order in the country, even though in our constitutional scheme of things this subject is put squarely in the domain of the state somewhat to the exclusion of the Centre. It is ironic that the Centre recruits and trains the managers of law and order belonging to the IAS and IPS and places them at the disposal of the states, and yet this has not helped to check the play of domestic politics at the state and local levels in this vital segment of governance.
Can there be a system of monitoring at the national level to check if a state government was failing the test on the law and order front? Indian democracy must evolve its own systemic answer for this.
D.C. Pathak is a former Director, Intelligence Bureau.