Monday, July 20, 2009

Veni, Vidi, Vici?

“Veni, Vidi, Vici” (I came, I saw, I conquered). These are the words used by Julius Caesar when he returned to Rome and informed the Senate about his victory over King Pharnaces II during the Battle of Zela, (located in today’s Turkey). He was brief and to the point.
Can Prime Minister Manmohan Singh say the same thing after his return from Europe and more particularly his visit to France which got special attention from the media? It is doubtful.
A first remark: the Indian Prime Minister has not the age of Julius Caesar when he went for his military campaign; the Roman general (not-yet-Dictator) was in his early-fifties, while Dr. Singh is in the second half of his seventies.
You may ask, what is the point to raise this issue?
The answer is simple, in order to ‘conquer’, a general or a Prime Minister needs the energy to do so. Strangely, the babus of South Block had fixed the Prime Minister’s program in such a way that he was scheduled to return to India from the G8 summit in L’Aquila, Italy (where he had a tough Agenda with top world leaders) and leave again just two days later for Europe to attend the French National Day in Paris. A day later, he returned to India via Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt where the 15th Non Aligned Movement summit was held; he was to meet the Pakistan PM on the side of the Summit.
For a person who has been through a by-pass surgery only a few months ago, this hectic schedule seems strange, to say the least. Having myself gone through the painful process of an open heart surgery, I remember how tough it was during the first year to live a normal life. But the Prime Minister is probably fitter than I!
It was rather shocking that the G8, under the influence of the United States, till recently one of India’s supposedly closest allies (do you remember that the first Manmohan Singh government nearly fell when the PM defended his special relation with the US), convinced the other world's richest nations to ban the transfer of enrichment and reprocessing items to countries that have not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. India was targeted.
Of course, South Block is cool, they are “not deeply concerned over the G8 stand”. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee even told the Parliament that New Delhi had received a country-specific clean waiver from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), therefore nothing to worry.
Atomic Energy Chairman Anil Kakodkar was more circumspect; he considered that “it would be a matter of concern” if the G-8 nations insisted on banning transfers of nuclear enrichment and reprocessing technology to non-signatories of the NPT.
One could however rightly ask, where was the PM when this decision to include the nuclear rider was included in the G8 statement. Was he not in Italy?
Apart from this, the G8, which has lost its relevance according to most analysts, was quite uneventful, if only for the discussions on climate change which once again demonstrated the gap of perception between the Indian (and Chinese) position and the Western stand. Probably in the end, everyone will have to make compromises and even the ‘emerging’ powers will have to admit that ‘development’ and ‘growth’ do not solve all the problems and could lead sooner or later to some catastrophic scenario for the planet.
Dr Manmohan Singh’s second trip to Europe of was more glamorous and interesting. It provided a better chance for India to ‘conquer’.

We were told that Dr Manmohan Singh was the Chief Guest at the French National Day parade. Before leaving New Delhi (he had just arrived from the G8) he declared that it was ‘an honour for the people of India’. His communiqué added: "India and France enjoy a close and wide ranging strategic partnership. Our relations with France encompass a large number of areas and have served our national interests well. We would like to build upon our partnership in the areas of trade and investment, high technology, space, nuclear energy, defence, education, culture, tourism and scientific research and development." It sounded good.
Despite the media coverage, the footages and images of the glamorous Indian Navy Sikh commander or Carla Bruni’s small talk with Mrs Gursharan Kaur, Dr Manmohan Singh was not the Chief Guest. He was only one of the Guests of Honour with President Hun Sen of Cambodia and the German President, Horset Köhler. The latter was sitting on the right-hand side of President Sarkozy, the place usually reserved for the Chief Guest. This is a detail.
The parade was truly grandiose and millions saw Indian jawans marching down the Champs Elysées (the French believe that it is the most beautiful avenue in the world, though Indians believe it is Rajpath). A rare and exceptional sight.
Of course in today’s world, there is no free meal (even at the Elysée Palace)! Paris needs New Delhi and reciprocally, India needs France, especially when relations with the United States are not as good as they used to be under the Bush Administration. An agreement on refitting 51 French Mirage fighters, is pending for a long time and the price, too high according to New Delhi, had to be thrashed out. A delicious French meal was a good occasion. The subject was on the agenda of the ‘working lunch’ and hopefully, the Mirages will be ‘refitted’ soon and upgraded with more efficient avionics and weapon systems. Some nuclear power plants are also in the pipeline with the French company Areva.
The ‘big deal’ for 126 medium multi-role combat aircrafts which the Indian Air Force badly needs is trickier. A couple of months ago, Dassault’s bid for Rafales was dropped by the Ministry of Defence. The French company was later reintegrated, but many questions remained as the plane is costlier than most of its rivals and it is doubtful if Dassault can deliver the fighters in time without jeopardizing the already ordered planes for the French Air Force and Navy.
Other matters were routine. Dr. Singh renewed an invitation for Sarkozy to visit India. It had already been accepted (remember, the French President had promised to take Carla Bruni to the Taj Mahal).
The Indian Prime Minister and the French President agreed to work in concert in the fight against terrorism. This is already happening.
During the Garden Party at the Elysee palace, President Sarkozy declared that "India's involvement is essential in all major global matters”. No scoop here either.
Anyway, the visit was probably useful to reiterate the 1998 ‘strategic partnership’, even if these two words have no real meaning any longer. It is only a modern avatar of the old Bhai-Bhai policy (India has even today a strategic partnership with China!).
From Paris, Dr Singh continued his journey to Sharm-el Sheikh in Egypt for the NAM Summit and his much-awaited meeting with Yousuf Raza Gilani.
During the SCO Summit in Yekaterinburg (Russia), the Prime Minister told President Zardari that there would be no dialogue with Pakistan until progress was made on the 26/11 enquiry. India’s policy however diametrically changed in Egypt and the press release after the meeting with Geelani stated, 'Both Prime Ministers recognized that dialogue is the only way forward. Action on terrorism should not be linked to the Composite Dialogue process and these should not be bracketed.”
Back to square one and returning to India, in time to receive Hilary Clinton who has finally decided to visit India.
All this tribulations show a lack of preparation not to say a lack of direction. Where were the Foreign Minister and his glamorous MoS? It is true that they are inexperienced but was it not an occasion to learn? S.M. Krishna was spotted in Egypt, but he did not accompany the Prime Minister during the other legs of his foreign tours.
Interestingly, Daniel Markey, a scholar at the Council of Foreign Relations has published a telling paper Developing India's Foreign Policy ‘Software’ in which he argues that “India’s own foreign policy establishment hinders the country from achieving great-power status”. He points out four main reasons:
“(1) The Indian Foreign Service is small, hobbled by its selection process and inadequate mid-career training, and tends not to make use of outside expertise;
(2) India’s think-tanks lack sufficient access to the information or resources required to conduct high-quality, policy-relevant scholarship;
(3) India’s public universities are poorly funded, highly regulated, and fail to provide world-class education in the social sciences and other fields related to foreign policy; and
(4) India’s media and private firms—leaders in debating the country’s foreign policy agenda—are not built to undertake sustained foreign policy research or training.”
This is something Indian politicians should ponder about, if they want to ‘conquer’.

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