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Rajiv Gandhi’s Foreign Policy: Diplomacy in Tough Times

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The end of the World War II in 1945 gave the birth to Cold War among the two superpowers. The U.S. and the USSR had respectively been spreading their ideologies (Capitalism and Socialism) across the globe. This was continued till the disintegration of the Soviet in 1991. International relations scholars described 1980s as the peak period of bipolar competition which had already expanded to the Indian Sub-continent. Shri Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister of our country during that time (1984-89).

Throughout the Cold War many developing countries were on the hinge, had stuck without moving either side but wedged with Non-allied Movement (NAM). Moreover, at that time India was leading the NAM, a trustful head for the Third World countries. Further, throughout the Cold War playoffs, building relations with other countries were not only a hard task but getting a new partner would be seen as suspicious in our old friend’s camp. Hence, in the Cold War era reaching out to new friends while keeping the old friends close to us was one of the difficult jobs and challenging. In general, articulating strategy and diplomacy would be really a tough choice but necessary. If a single word is spelt out wrongly would have greater consequences in the international stage. However, the neorealist thinker Kenneth Waltz “believes that bipolar systems are more stable and thus provide a better guarantee of peace and security” (Jackson & Sorensen, 2003).

In this article let us discuss his important visits and how Rajiv Gandhi’s state visits were received by the major-powers at the time of the Cold War and what India has gained from his diplomacy.

Since the end of the World War II (apart from the five established ‘major powers’ – the U.S., Soviet Russia, France, UK and China) India was the only country has been expected and has the required potential to become a major power. Surely, this would not be a sweet tune to neither the U.S. nor China. So both the countries worked against India with the strategy of containment policy supporting Pakistan in South Asia. As we said, the various U.S administrations have their strategy to contain to keep India within the Sub-continent, have been well working with the help of puppet regimes in Pakistan. On the other hand, China was blindly helping India’s adversary Pakistan to build nuclear arsenals and was then waiting to consider if Islamabad would lose the support of Washington at any point of time in a situation when the Soviet Union withdraws its forces from Afghanistan. Presuming the “U.S. inaction in the face of the Pakistani acquisition of nuclear weapons with the assistance of China, Rajiv Gandhi took the plunge and secretly authorized going nuclear, notwithstanding his personal sentiments to the contrary. The Agni was successfully test-fired in May 1989” (Baldev Raj Nayar & T.V.Paul, 2003).

During the Cold War period the international politics was tough but Rajiv Gandhi’s visits brought new friends and breakthrough in India’s diplomacy. Under his leadership it was a proud moment for India in the international system. The young Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s new approaches were received by the world leaders. He never goes for the state visits without having solutions for the long outstanding issues. Some of the divergent issues were converted into convergent because of fresh thoughts pouring in the Indian foreign policy making. It has strengthened India’s authority in the Indian Ocean and particularly gave a turning point in India’s relations with the U.S. and China. His diplomatic visits to Sri Lanka or Australia – there were new lessons to be learned. Therefore, the international relations scholars described, “Indeed, his period in office saw India become more assertive in power terms in the region. At the same time Rajiv Gandhi’s government “walking on two legs: Economic reform and nuclear weaponisation” (Baldev Raj Nayar & T.V.Paul, 2003). In May 1988, under the leadership of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, India detonated her second nuclear test. But it was built, a decade ago under the able administration of Rajiv Gandhi. He was the architect of pro-poor liberal economy. Moreover, modernization in telecommunication sector, reforms in education, science & technology took place under his leadership. He introduced computer in consultation with Shri Sam Pitroda, the communication wizard and Rajiv is the builder of the 21st century India.

Rajiv Gandhi always looks at our neighbors in two dimensions. First, when they are in need of our help he immediately reaches out to them. Through this approach he always makes them feel comfortable but at the same time keeps India’s interest alive. Second, his policies are formulated to make the neighbors to stay close to New Delhi. Also he never keeps quite in Delhi by sending a statement through the diplomatic channel while our neighbors were facing troubles.

In 1988, ‘The Operation Cactus’ in Maldives to thwart the coup against President Abdul Gayoom’s government would be seen as the best example for his realist approach. However, he always gave room for ‘mutual cooperation.’ Thus his foreign policy had the mixture of realism and liberalism, maintains India’s power balance in the Indian Ocean Region. Particularly in the Male crisis before the superpowers turn their focus on Gayoom’s invitation, Rajiv Gandhi “responded with an overwhelming speed and efficiency. With less than 16 hours since President Gayoom’s call – Indian troops were deployed in one swift motion” and saved the Maldives government (Vishnu Gopinath, The Quint, Feb 06, 2018). At the same time since Feb 2018, 16 weeks had gone; the new political crisis in Maldives is seeking India’s help. The department of external affairs has sent few statements regarding the Male issue and then kept mum. These approaches indicate that Modi’s government is not in a position to enhance India’s power projection in the Indian Ocean Region, but extending an olive branch to cool down China. These are the policy differences of the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the present Prime Minister Narendera Modi.

It would be understandable that the relations between India and Pakistan were never in comfortable course. During his visit to the SARC Summit in Islamabad the ‘mutual effort’ of Rajiv Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto brought a new twist in ‘normalization of bilateral relations’ between India and Pakistan. “Both prime ministers pledged not to attack or assist foreign powers to attack either country’s nuclear installations and facilities. This summit was described as the dawn of a new era in Pak-India ties” (Shaikh Aziz, The Dawn, August 2016). Further, both the leaders applied step by step approach and “widened their official contacts initiating unprecedented military – to military talks to ace tensions on their northern border, where Indian and Pakistani troops have skirmished for years” (Steve Coll, The Washington Post, July 17, 1989). These developments suggest us that the visits of the state heads are not only mandatory but it should demonstrate some valuable output.

Rajiv Gandhi’s intervention in the Island-nation of Sri Lanka was the striking example for bringing peace and unity in Sri Lanka, and India’s articulation of power. This was also with the aim of keeping the U.S. out of the Indian Ocean especially not to get a foothold in Colombo in the time of Cold War. For the same cause, he lost his life at the very young age but he never folded his hands nor sat quite when our neighbor was in need. R. Hariharan a military intelligence specialist wonderfully writes, “The Rajiv Gandhi – Jayewardene Accord, signed in the Cold War era in 1987 was undoubtedly strategic – collectively address all the three contentious issues between India and Sri Lanka: strategic interests, people of Indian origin in Sri Lanka and Tamil minority rights in Sri Lanka. The Accord was unique with respect to India’s beginning with respect to India’s articulation of power, set a strong message to its neighbors, global powers and delineated India’s strategic zone of influence in the Indian Ocean region” (R. Hariharan, July 28, 2010, The Hindu)..

These are indications of his presumption on the importance of the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) for our security and our responsibility in maintaining the freedom of navigation. Rajiv Gandhi was well presumed of China’s interest in the Sub-continent. Hence, he had formulated India’s policies toward in keeping our neighborhood closer to us. The whole of his tenure as the prime minister he thwarted the Chinese entry from the Indian Ocean.

The war with China in 1962 had completely stalled the ties between New Deelhi and Beijing. Accepting the then Chinese Premier Li Pang invitation in 1988 he landed in Beijing. Prof. Harsh Pant from the Department of War Studies, Kings College, London says “A new leaf in Sino-Indian ties” (Harsh V. Pant, 2016). “This visit was followed by a flurry of high-level diplomatic exchanges” (David M. Malone, 2011).  Further, Baldev Raj Nayar commenting about this visit a ‘turning point’, “When the two countries agreed to set up a joint working group to resolve the border dispute. A key element in the forward movement was the Indian concession not to insist on prior resolution of the border dispute, though without shelving it, but to move on to improve relations in other areas” (Baldev Raj Nayar & T.V.Paul, 2003). Further, both the countries come to an understanding of in realizing to initiate the trust building and set up a border management mechanism. Today, the Doklum crisis or Chinese troops crossing into India in the Himalayan border has been managed under this institutional framework. Thus changes were made in the Indo-China relations. However, Rajiv Gandhi never promised to the Indian voters that he would do miracles if he voted for power. But Modi has promised to the Indian public if voted to power he would do wonders in six months. Does he bring breakthrough in India’s border talks with China? Or does he raise the Doklum issue with China’s president often meeting him in various bilateral and multilateral forums? Further, in recent times Modi had to snub Dalai Lama to pacify China was not a policy mistake, but deliberately performed. He knows since the general elections are just ten months away from now if “China-triggered flashpoint would be more harmful for his political future” (Rajeev Sharma, dailyo.in). Hence, for his short-term political gains he decided to turning his back on Dalai Lama. Further, his ‘strategic restraint’ exposed in the case of crisis in Maldives also.

Rajiv’s first foreign state visit was to the longtime friend, the former Soviet Union. Commentators viewed the first destination was deliberately chosen. Apart from the usual bilateral ties between India and Soviet Union, various areas from military procurements to civil nuclear technology, and mutual agreements in other sectors, Rajiv had always maintained India’s ‘Special Relations’ with the Soviet Union. Because “Soviet Union consistently gave India valuable political, diplomatic and strategic support bilaterally as well as in international forums on Kashmir and other vital issues affecting India’s national interests” (Rajiv Sikri, 2009). However, in every meeting he raised the universal concern of the danger of nuclear weapons with President Mikhail Gorbachev. He stood against the illusion of ‘limited nuclear war.’ His presumption was at any moment nuclear weapons would not and should not be as a guarantor of global peace. At that time since India was the leader of the NAM obviously criticisms were poured out against India’s ‘Friendship Treaty’ with the Soviet. However, Rajiv Gandhi bravely raises the global concern on nuclear arsenals equally with the U.S. and the USSR. At this point the young prime minister’s articulation of foreign policy toward the West was sometimes concern for the Soviet leaders, but Rajiv comfortably expressed India’s view. Meanwhile, the USSR understood India’s rise through the prism of Rajiv Gandhi. Hence, the Soviet Union gave Rajiv Gandhi the ‘status of a world leader.’

In the Cold War climate Rajiv Gandhi and his predecessors were compelled to manage the U.S.’s regional containment strategy. For the U.S., they well know India’s leadership and major power aspirations. So they don’t want to give a path for the Soviet’s best friend India to rise out of the Sub-continent. At this juncture Rajiv decided to bring down the hostility nature of India-U.S. relations. He visited the U.S. in June 1985. “That trip has been hailed by many as likely to contribute to a new era of cooperation between New Delhi and Washington (Steven R. Weisman, The New York Times, 1985). He gave a wonderful speech which was sweet and short by carrying a hint in his hand which had the strategy for both the countries to have greater understanding. At the Joint session of the US Congress he said, “I am young and I too have a dream. I have no doubt this visit will help to bring about greater understanding between our countries” (Youtube). In his reply President Ronald Regan said, “Today we opened up personal channels of communication.” Further, signing a “memorandum of understanding” with the U.S., he promotes technological cooperation between both the countries (Baldev Raj Nayar & T.V.Paul, 2003). Hence, we should understand our present relations with the U.S. or China are the continuation of Rajiv’s breakthrough made during his visits to those countries in his premiership. Modi went to the U.S. several times in the last four years. What happened to the India-U.S. seriously negotiated nuclear deal? Are there any changes in the position of India and U.S. in the liability issue to implement the nuclear deal?

Conclusion

The 1980s has registered the crucial period in the history of Cold War. But each of Rajiv Gandhi’s visits was well planned in advance; policies were made with sufficient consultations, and had definite trajectories to strengthen India’s interest globally. His visits to Pakistan, China and the U.S., further, the way he was handling the crisis in the Indian Ocean islands would tell us how much is he committed in keeping not only India’s ambition in the international system but also have delivered India’s moral responsibility to help our neighbors while they required our support. Under Modi’s leadership our capabilities are not properly demonstrated. Modi even evaded in visiting Maldives in his Indian Ocean Islands tour in 2015, the reason for his evasion was stated by his office as ‘the time was not favorable for the prime minister to visit’. Rajiv Gandhi visited Pakistan in a crucial time of the Cold War. His office does not say that Pakistan’ situation was not conducive to the prime minister to visit that country.

Though he was advised about the thereat for his life but never shied away from facing the challenges. He involved in ‘making India ‘strong, independent and self-reliant’. Further, he never yields to any sentiments. He knew that there was no room for sentiments while making foreign policy. He was ready to sacrifice anything in the interest of the country. Thus ‘moral and physical courage’ were the central part of his foreign policy making. He carefully chooses his foreign visits as well as his policy had brought positive implications on India’s diplomacy. His breakthroughs have been standing today as good examples and as a guiding pillar for us to formulate policies with respect to many countries. It would be sure the present day diplomatic circle cannot articulate policy without pronouncing the name ‘Rajiv Gandhi.’

Hence, his achievements in the area of India’s foreign policy would not be wiped out or to be erased. The imprint of his legacy in the making of Indian foreign policy will stay longer in shaping of India’s diplomacy and ever lingers in our memory.

Antony Clement is a Senior Editor (Asia-Pacific), Modern Diplomacy an online journal. He is a researcher in Indian Foreign Policy. He consults on academic development and he is currently working on two books - “Discover your Talents” and “Diplomacy in Tough Times”. His research centres on India’s diplomacy & foreign policy and extends to domestic politics, economic policy, security issues, and international security matters, including India’s relations with the US, the BRICS nations, the EU and Australia.

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South Asia

COVID-19 pandemic and positives/negatives of the Pakistani government’s policy towards it

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The covid-19 erupt from Wuhan in December 2019. The first case in Pakistan was observed on February 26th, 2020.It is considered a global pandemic because of its contagious nature. It has engulfed many lives and economies. Whereas Pakistan, despite its socioeconomic and political problems, has tackled covid-19 efficiently so far. Objectives of these policies were to contain and mitigate the spread of covid-19. Pakistan made effective policies to hamper the unfurling nature of covid-19. It was praised by the director-general of WHO and he mentioned it as a lesson for the rest of the world. The upshots of the policies on its citizens were both positive and negative, but they helped a lot in sailing through covid-19.

Covid-19 has accentuated the inadequacy of the health sector. However, to combat covid-19, RFCC assists hospitals to evolve their capacities to provide treatments. Many hotels and motels were converted into quarantine centers. Number of ventilators, gears, beds, and testing capability has been increased. Pakistan got a loan of $760M to improve its medical handling. These policies seem effective as they are the major line to combat covid-19. Number of staff has also increased. These policies play a crucial role in containing Corona virus but due to lack of awareness, many people didn’t get tested. Overall, it played a positive role.

“Out of 220M population, 25% are living below the poverty line and 30% live in grave poverty,” said the PM Imran khan. Therefore, containing the poverty and retaining the economy is an arduous task. For this purpose, the Ehsas program was launched with a stipend money of Rs.12000 for the vulnerable. Employees wouldbe paid a salary during complete lock-down. The government displayed leniency in paying taxes to accelerate the investment. The banks remained open during the nationwide lock-down. However, an in-depth analysis reveals that Ehsas program didn’t prove effective due to the absence of a proper tracking system. The poor and needy people in rural areas were not affable with the technology, therefore they were unable to enroll in this program.

Moreover, the government’s policy of smart lockdown cannot be ignored. It started in April, targeting the disease hotspots. The purpose of this policy was to provide a breathing space to the most vulnerable section of the society. Because nationwide lock-down was threatening food security. Smart lock-down technology played a crucial role and made Pakistan distinctive around the world.

To dampen the adverse effects of covid-19 on society, section 144 was implemented to avoid public gathering. According to the health ministry “home quarantine, zoning of hospitals, and social distancing should be in the nitty-gritty of the policy.” They imposed a ban on air traffic and started screening at the airports for international travellers these measures proved beneficial to some extent. But unfortunately the government couldn’t ensure the SOPs.

In a nutshell, the aforementioned account enables a worthy conclusion that Pakistan has managed to contain the devastating effect of covid-19, however, the danger is not over yet. The second wave of covid-19 has started globally which can overturn the successful results other way round. Therefore, some stringent action should be taken to make the policy of containment of covid-19 more effective that is only possible if there is a consensus between the federal and provincial governments. The only way to limit the dangers of the virus is to come up with the unified and all inclusive national plans.

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Who pulls the strings of the government of India?

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While talking to a Cornell college professor, Rahul Gandhi lamented (March 2, 2021) that the RSS was making use of its educational institutions to propagate its tunnel vision (NewsMatters, March 6, 2021). `Wherefrom money comes to run hundreds of thousands of schools’, he asked.

The RSS, founded in 1925, is not only distorting history, and polluting syllabi but also compelling the BJP government to appoint its nominees to key posts whether academic or political.

The RSS’s rationale is that it is their government. As such, they have every right  to make appointments to all political and non-political posts and revise syllabus according to their own version of history.

A bird’s-eye view of appointments

Besides president Kovind Nath, a dalit, and Hindu-monk Yogi Adityanath, several parcharaks (apostles) were nominated for appointment as chief ministers, governors and cabinet ministers. The nominees included ML Khattar, chief minister of Haryana, Trivendra Singh Rawat, chief minister of Uttarakhand, Devandar Fadnavis (Maharashtra), and Ram Thakur (Himachal Pradesh).

The veterans appointed as governors included Balramji Das Tandan (Chhattisgarh), Ram Naik (UP), Om Prakash Kohli (Gujarat), Keshri Nath Tripathi (West Bengal), Kalyan Singh (Rajasthan), Vidya Saga Rao (Maharashtra), Vaju Bhai Bhala (Karnataka), Padmanabha  Acharya (Nagaland), Jagdish Mukti (Assam) and Tathaghat Roy (Tripura) (Source: Aryana P. Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansen, and Christophe Jaffrelot (eds), Majoritarian State).

Dr, Lokesh Chandra was made president of Indian Council for Cultural Relations. Ram Bahadur Roy, former ABVP organizing secretary who was jailed during Indira-Gandhi- imposed emergency was appointed to the Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts. Baldev Sharma, former editor of the RSS’s Hindi mouth-piece Panchjanya, was appointed chairman of the national Book Trust. Shakti Sanha, private secretary to prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was rewarded with appointment of Director of Nehru Memorial and Library. The memorial was the hub of Nehru-Gandhi legacy. A small-time actor Gajendra Chauhan was appointed Chairman of the Films and Television Institute of India. Hindu Nationalist Anupam Kher was appointed head of India’s Board of Film Certification.

Realising that educational institutions are key agents for ideological dissemination, the RSS thrust its nominees as vice chancellors and directors in universities and cultural institutions of higher learning.

RSS’s version of history

A distorted version is taught in RSS-run Vidya Bharti schools. Hindu caste system is well delineated in Rig Veda, Manusmriti and Bhagavad Gita. But, the RSS preaches that the Muslim Turks initiated the untouchability. Turks introduced commodes in India. “Hindus who refused to convert to Islam were forced to clean them. And, thus they became untouchable.”

Conscription power

While addressing a large gathering at Muzaffarpur, Bhagwat said, `RSS volunteers were so disciplined that they could be mobilized in a matter of days should the constitution and laws of the country so demand’. Many senior retired armed forces officers including former army chief General VK Singh have joined the RSS.

Inference

Bhagwat’s bonhomie with politicians, media, judiciary, industry, religious leaders and civil society reflects that the RSS would continue to keep the Modi government under its Octopus claw. Also it is keen to extend its influence in political, societal and non- governmental spheres. To deepen its roots, the RSS has initiated  programmes like Family Awakening (parivar prabodhan),Village Development (grama vikas), and Social Harmony (samara satta). 

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Cease-Fire Review: A ray of hope

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Pre-Negotiations are very much crucial to achieve the state of “Negociation Continuelle” (continuous negotiations) the only way due to which conflicting parties go for sustained mode of talks.  On 25th February Director Generals of military operations (DGMO’s) of India and Pakistan contacted with each other to review cease fire agreement, on line of control (LOC), which was held back in 2003.  Both States reaffirmed cease fire agreement and to restart weekly hotline contact at DGMO’s level. The agreement was largely violated by both states for several times and they were accusing each other for violations. But one thing is common that on both sides Kashmiris are suffering, they are raising their children in an environment of fear and severe violence. India and Pakistan are both nuclear capable states of South Asian region and are considered as the custodian of regional peace and stability. And without shadow of a doubt regional peace and security is a collective responsibility of the responsible states. Pakistan and India are the main conflicting parties of South Asian region and Kashmir is the bone of contention between them. Kashmir has been a question of integrity for both States. The Line of control also known as working boundary, divides Indian Kashmir from Pakistani Kashmir. There are several resolutions have been passed by the UN General Assembly to address the Kashmir issue but never implemented. UN wants to solve this issue according to the hopes of Kashmiris. The initiation of bilateral talks in the present outrageous environment is not less than a blessing in disguise and it will be fruitful for all the stakeholders; India, Pakistan and Kashmiris as well. This peaceful move from Pakistan and India is highly appreciated globally because Kashmiri diaspora is present worldwide and they are very much concerned with future of their homeland.

Indian Prime minister Narendra Modi, with his hostile ideology of “Akhand Bharat” assumed office in 2014. His political adventurism based on jingoistic-cum-hawkish policies dragged India State to the verge of staunch illiberalism where identity crisis burst up, which is more lethal than previously existing class crisis. Every community including lower class Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs etc. all are vulnerable to the identity crisis.  On 30th May 2019, he sworn for his second tenure as prime minister of the world’s so called largest democracy. He came with another adventurous mandate and the first demonstration took place when he suspended special status of Kashmir and abrogated articles 370 and 35A. His ideology is regarded as Nazi-inspired ideology because in contemporary scenario only RSS community and other proponents of Hindutva are only considered as “Real Hindustani”. All minorities are suffering in India because their basic living rights are kept aside. The ongoing farmer’s protests shook the foundations of the state, hundreds of thousands of farmers rushed to the Delhi against the anti-famer laws passed by Indian Parliament.

In India Separatist movements are getting pace; minorities are unsatisfied with governing approach of Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). Prime Minister Narendra Modi, reuined the secular and democratic face of India. On the other hand, Foreign policy of India is facing severe challenges because PM Narendra Modi’s approach is hostile based on hatred and prejudice. These attributes are fatal for State’s reputation at foreign lands; the recent India-China standoff was just a teaser of BJP’s whole story related to foreign relations. In addition to this, Economic goal of 2025 of India is again became a distant dream just because of belligerent policies of ruling regime.

In contemporary scenario if we look towards India, only Modi-Media nexus will be seen. But in reality the situation is getting worse day by day. The review of cease fire agreement, offered by India, is a positive step towards the regional peace. It is appreciated by both civil and military administrations of both states. When PM Imran Khan assumed office he offered dialogue to his Indian counter-part but Indian Premier refused to go for any sort of talks. India always took a position that to initiate talks first of all, Pakistan has to stop the cross-border terrorism. Both terrorism and talks can never go side by side, this Indian claim is not based on empirical evidences because Pakistan has been facing menace of terrorism  since 2001 and leaving no stone unturned to root out terrorism and safe havens for terrorists.

Currently, India is facing deep internal and external challenges. It is in the interest of India to have peace talks with Pakistan. On the other hand, it is a ripe moment for Pakistan to act decisively because it is the only time when India can review its decision of 5th August 2019.Moreover, it is a ray of hope to establish peace in entire region. This is the time when bi-lateral diplomacy can turn the traditional regional political dynamics. Both states are facing same problems when it comes to poverty, climate change, social security and the list goes on. The realm of these talks should expand and concern parties have to include economic and political regimes in front of each other otherwise momentum of talks will be lost. Regional connectivity is important to have eternal peace, Pakistan and India should review SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) that would provide basis for economic, cultural as well as political connectivity. Major Powers should also play their important role because world cannot afford rivalry between two nuclear states. Now, America is under a democrat President, and they should check every internal and external move of their Strategic and defense ally in Asia-Pacific region. Negotiations between India and Pakistan are in the interest of all other regional and extra-regional actors. Both states should adopt flexible approach while discussing the core issues and should avoid blame game. It will enhance the chances of continuous negotiation which is a pre-requisite for peace and progress.

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