The Congress Party should stand boldly with their Foreign Policy to advise the BJP Government

During the 2009 summit in Sharm-el Sheikh in a Joint Statement with Pakistan, Prime Minister Gilani stated that Pakistan had some information concerning threats in Baluchistan (mea.gov.in). In my perception, Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh would allow this with the fully intention and make Pakistan aware that (India’s eye on Baluchistan).

The high level criticism came from the BJP against the Congress Party and Dr Singh government. Former minister of external affairs and finance Mr Yeswanth Sinha speaking in the parliament debate lashed out Dr Singh’s administration and said, "All the waters of seven seas will not wash the shame at Sharm-el-Sheikh” (news18.com).

Now Prime Minister Narandera Modi speaks about Baluchistan’s human rights during his independence address. What makes Modi copy Dr Singh’s idea of dealing with Pakistan by mentioning Baluchistan’s human rights issues? After the August 2016 Independence Day speech by Modi, the BJP ministers are still searching for more diplomatic words. In particular, Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Union Minister for Law and Justice & Information Technology, has been compelled to give an explanation about Modi’s perception on Baluchistan. The issue remains that they are trying to defend what exactly Modi had said, rather than trying to differentiate the speech with Dr Singh’s joint statement in 2009. My point is that whether Dr Singh had clearance to add the ‘B’ word in the joint statement or if Modi’s speech did on Independence Day, it is clear that Modi had taken the idea from Dr Singh. Instead of shying away from the scene, the Congress Party should boldly stand by their policy and address to the public that the BJP is replicating and repeating their ideas.

I think former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh is aware of this issue and has politely yielded to the joint statement. This informs Pakistan that if interference continues within Kashmir then the threat level for Baluchistan will increase. Dr Manmohan Singh is not a realist. However, by allowing the addition of the word “Baluchistan” to the joint statement, he demonstrated that if required, India could change its tone from defensive to offensive retaliation. Silently, Dr Manmohan Singh exercised a realist approach to our neighbour in his own humble way. At the time, Dr Singh's perception was not directly recognised by the BJP opposition.

The BJP claims that including the ‘B’ word in the joint statement draws more attention to India’s involvement. Along with opposed Dr Singh’s approach, the BJP also failed to cooperate with the government in handling Pakistan with a more realist grasp and accusing them of giving Pakistan the ability to raise the issue across international forums.

Voicing the ‘B’ word in the joint statement demonstrates India’s capacity, capability and sacrifice, an important move that the BJP opposition has failed to recognize. However, Dr Singh knows that India will never compromise any of India’s interests, in any forums. But the fears of the BJP’s domestic politics do not burden Dr Singh. Dialogue is the only option to resolve the outstanding issue with Pakistan at this point. However, in the prism of realism, tackling Pakistan should not be an outdated policy. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi considered this approach during the East Pakistan crisis and it lead to the 1971 war. India had no other choice but to allow the flow of refugees from the former East Pakistan, which forced India to engage in the war with Pakistan, and subsequently the liberation and birth of Bangladesh.

Articulating the ‘B’ word in 2009 and 2016 really reflects on our large neighbour China. China’s military officials may not have fully considered this, but the diplomatic circles in Beijing are definitely heavily involved in the element of backup, extending interests and researching the region further. The reason China has spent huge sums of money on the Gwadar Port in particular corresponds with Beijing's ‘one China one belt policy’, and this is considerably concentrated within the province of Baluchistan.

Foreign policy in India has never been considered seriously by national parties for internal policy discussion. These issues are only discussed with select senior leaders. Many in the party, including senior leaders and cadres refuse to discuss these issues because they are dispassionate, indifferent or show an apathetic attitude. Well, in democracy any move of the ruling party policy would be questionable by the opposition and disused in the social media. However, refusing to address certain issues and opposing policies to gain cheap political victory is never advisable. The BJP, have taken this a step further, particularly with their actions toward prime ministerial candidate Modi and opposing any initiative taken by Dr Singh during 2013-14.Now the BJP is struggling to handle the opposition because they are blindly against the Congress Party’s noble notions under the Dr Singh administration. And, thanks to social media, the youth go this country find it easier than ever to compare and enjoying the dramas of the ruling elite.

What should the Congress Party do? They should not feel that they are the ‘B’ team of the BJP government on foreign policy articulation. First, the Congress Party stands strongly with their ideas and that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The Congress Party should take pride in knowing that their ideas were replicated and reproduced by the Modi government. The best example would be GST or Adhar card. Baluchistan’s struggle was really felt by the Congress Party during the Dr Manmohan Singh administration, but failed to take off because the BJP’s stiff opposition.

Second, apart from Dr Singh’s doctrine to add the ‘B’ word in the joint statement, Modi has spoken about Baluchistans influence from National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval.

“You do one more Mumbai, you lose Baluchistan” said by Ajit Doval.

Can Modi accomplish what Indira Gandhi did in 1971 with Pakistan? The Congress Party should be able to comfortably and directly ask this to Modi. The BJP government under Modi looks like a paper tiger. The Congress Party should not shy away from its responsibility in suggesting policy directions to the government. As the principle opposition, the Congress Party shoulders more responsibility, and further, i regards to foreign policy may be able to offer more to the Modi government.

Third, the action and direction taken by Dr Singh in 2009 must now by followed by the Modi government in order for the Congress Party to catch up, push forward and be victorious. There is no time like the present, and this applies to the Congress Party taking the issue to the media. This is the time to celebrate not to oppose the government. What Modi has done for Baluchistan’s human rights, was originally the idea of Dr Singh. The Congress Party should not make the same mistakes as the BJP in 2009 with opposing the ruling party. Media reports suggest that there is much confusion surrounding the Congress Party leaders about the issue of Baluchistan. The Congress Party should speak in one voice, particularly about the foreign policy matters with the government. The reason would be when they form the next government, the Congress Party would be in a very comfortable position to continue policies advocated by them now as the opposition.

Fourth, the external affairs ministry under Prime Minister Modi is only exercising the return of stranded Indians from the Middle East, with no policy making work given to the Cabinet Minister Susma Suraj, one of the senior leaders of the BJP.   As Modi’s own strategy for dealing with Pakistan was tried, tested and failed, instead of admitting his policy mistakes Prime Minister Modi said; “we should be careful while dealing with Pakistan”. In handling Pakistan since 2014, the BJP government had not only failed but now searches for new policy guidance, a step taken on the road paved by Dr Singh in 2009.

And finally, if Modi pronounces Baluchistan again in a statement, that is not wrong. But, Congress Party officials should remind the BJP that this was their policy. What and how the Modi government will raise the human rights issue of Baluchistan and further, how Pakistan would respond, will be developments that to be patiently waited for and watched carefully. In addition, the Congress Party will be closely monitored by the public. Advising and suggesting the government on sensitivity issue scores better reactions and votes from the public. Shy away from these, and the Congress Party will not receive any positive results or rewards at this juncture.

Antony Clement

Antony Clement is currently a student of the International Relations program at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, UK

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