Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Countering Another String of Pearls

Countering another string of pearls

T. P. Sreenivasan
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MILITARY COUP TO DEMOCRACY: The timing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Fiji is appropriate as racial harmony and non-discrimination, which India had wished for Fiji, have been accomplished. Picture shows Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama waiting to cast his vote in the 2006 election before he seized power.
Photo: AP MILITARY COUP TO DEMOCRACY: The timing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Fiji is appropriate as racial harmony and non-discrimination, which India had wished for Fiji, have been accomplished. Picture shows Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama waiting to cast his vote in the 2006 election before he seized power.

Narendra Modi’s visit to Fiji has to be followed up with a robust programme of co-operation in areas in which India has particular strengths

For a handful of islands scattered on the Australia-U.S. trunk route in the Pacific, with less than a million people, Fiji is new to international rivalries. The South Pacific has been a western lake with the happy co-existence of the U.S., France and Australia, inevitably dominated by Australia’s commercial interests. Some ripples occasionally disturbed the placidity of these waters when Father Walter Lini, the maverick Prime Minister of tiny Vanuatu, hobnobbed with the erstwhile Soviets, when the island states protested against the French nuclear tests and disposal of waste on the atolls, when the indigenous people asserted their rights in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, and when Libya’s Muammar Qadhafi did some sabre-rattling in the area. But these subsided and peace and tranquillity returned soon enough.
Political and protocol challengeThe arrival this week of the leaders of the two giants of Asia, India and China, who have also invited a dozen South Pacific leaders to meet them there, will be an unprecedented political and protocol challenge to Fiji. As a popular tourist destination, Fiji has enough luxury rooms to cater to the unusual group of diplomats in sartorial elegance, as against the tourists in bermudas and bula shirts and Fijians in Scottish kilts. But the political fallout of the visit will extend the tensions in the Asia Pacific to its southern corner.
Fiji was the first among the island states of the region to taste political upheavals, first on attaining independence from the British and then when the political compact between the native Fijians and the immigrant Fiji Indians collapsed on account of the first military coup in the region by Sitiveni Rabuka in 1987. India, in a reversal of its traditional policy of non-interference in such situations, fought for the rights of the Fiji Indians through economic sanctions and promoted their cause in the Commonwealth and the United Nations. By standing by Fiji Indians at a time of crisis, India sent a strong signal of solidarity to the Indian communities abroad. In the short term, the Fijians were concerned, but it dawned on them that it was the Indian position that led to the eventual return of democracy in the elections of 2014.
Although the present Prime Minister of Fiji, Rear Admiral (Rtd) Frank Bainimarama, first took power through a military coup, he concentrated on building communal harmony and creating a constitution devoid of the race-based electoral rolls, which was devised by the British. The abolition of the unelected Council of Chiefs removed the last vestiges of feudalism in Fiji. The moderates among the Fijians and the Fiji Indians supported him, leading to the removal of the racial divide in Fiji politics.
His Fiji First Party won an impressive victory even though the Social Democratic Liberal Party of the native Fijians and the National Federation Party, the traditional Fiji Indian Party, won some seats. Mr. Bainimarama had visited India twice to raise confidence among the Fiji Indians. As a nationally elected Prime Minister, he has no reason to be prejudiced against Indian influence in Fiji. His own senior advisers include Indian professionals and politicians such as Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
India is certainly at an advantage in its bid to retain influence in the region, even as China is making sustained efforts to woo Fiji and the other islands in the South Pacific. In fact, India had no competitors in Fiji, as Pakistan had no presence and China had maintained only a token presence in the island country. China was focussed on seeking recognition from the islands, many of which had diplomatic relations with Taiwan. Having won that battle after many of them adopted the ‘One China’ policy, China has proceeded to befriend them with trade and economic linkages. The Chinese now have a firm foothold in the South Pacific, but with the kind of soft power it enjoys in the region, India can resist the expansion of Chinese influence in the South Pacific.
Relations with other islandsApart from Fiji, Tonga, Vanuatu and Nauru have cordial relations with India, while Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Kiribati and others have warm feelings for India. The Indian brand is known in these islands mainly because of the Fiji Indian traders and businessmen. Nauru depends on India for teachers and administrators and had invested in the Paradeep Phosphates as part of its strategy to invest abroad in the context of its dwindling land. Tonga had a king who had a special relationship with Indian leaders and who had visited India. Vanuatu felt close to India because of its socialist dreams. At one time Australia had some apprehensions about the expansion of the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean, but it doesn’t resent Indian influence in these islands now.
Unlike Japan and Vietnam, Australia has no major problems with China, and their commercial and economic relations are significant. This is a factor which will have an impact on the attitude of the South Pacific towards China. But the human rights violations in China, which Australia resents, must be a concern for the smaller state too. The only factor that weighs in favour of China in the region will be the massive investments that it promises to make in return for a market and strategic space in the South Pacific.
The visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Fiji comes 33 years after Indira Gandhi’s visit. But the timing of Narendra Modi’s visit is most appropriate because racial harmony and non-discrimination, both of which India had wished for Fiji, have just been accomplished. But the visit has to be followed up with a robust programme of co-operation in areas in which we have particular strengths. Indian businessmen tend to deal with those countries which give them the maximum profits, but other things being equal, they will be happy to source Indian products for the islanders.
Mr. Modi will receive a royal welcome, with popular participation. The Chinese President is likely to be received warmly, but only by the government. The contrast will be too obvious to be missed. Moreover, the arrival of the leaders of the other island states at the invitation of the Indian Prime Minister will be impressive. Mr. Modi will also address the Fiji Parliament in which the successors of the indentured labourers, who came to these islands in the 19th century, are represented. That will be an emotional moment. China appears to have plans to build another “string of pearls” in its favour in the South Pacific, mainly through trade and economic cooperation. India can effectively counter these moves if it makes use of its assets in the region.
(T.P. Sreenivasan was High Commissioner to Fiji and other South Pacific island states from 1986-89.)

Monday, November 03, 2014

Remembering the Iron Lady of India

Remembering the Iron Lady of India

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November 03, 2014 14:35 IST
It is unconscionable to choose between Sardar Patel, who united India physically, and Indira Gandhi, who gave meaning, content and pride to the unity of the nation and became a martyr at the altar of national unity, says Ambassador T P Sreenivasan.
This year, on October 31, Indians were offered a Hobson’s choice between the Iron Man and the Iron Lady of India for veneration. Every patriotic Indian chose both, since it is unconscionable to choose between Sardar Patel, who united India physically, and Indira Gandhi, who gave meaning, content and pride to the unity of the nation and became a martyr at the altar of national unity.
Needless to say, a weak domestic policy cannot create a strong foreign policy and vice versa. Both should serve the developmental and security goals of the nation. As the prime minister from 1966 to 1977 and again from 1980 to 1984, Indira Gandhi pursued both with determination to become ‘the greatest PM of India’ (India Today’s survey) and ‘the Woman of the Millennium’ (BBC survey).
Richard Nixon may have called her a “witch” and a “clever fox”, but no one called her a “dumb doll” for long after she assumed office. She turned into a Durga in the eyes of an artist, and India itself in the words of her ardent followers.
Indira Gandhi may be remembered in history for her game-changing domestic legislations and actions, but her successes and visionary approach to foreign policy are no less significant.
The liberation of Bangladesh alone should secure a permanent place for her among the makers of the modern world. In one stroke, she eliminated the pincer of Pakistan on two sides of India and also won praise for liberating a people from the clutches of a dominant section of the country.
Mujibur Rahman, who was denied his right to rule the whole of Pakistan, was enabled to be the head of his “Golden Bengal”.
Indira Gandhi had no qualms to sign a Treaty of Friendship with the Soviet Union, which had a provision that any attack on either country will be construed as an attack on the other. Where is nonalignment, asked critics. But she was not concerned about such technicalities. Foreign policy is meant to serve the nation, not to confine itself to definitions.
The concept of nonalignment was broadened to cover the freedom to choose friends and allies. The Treaty kept the American fleet and the Chinese dragon at bay when the Indian army fought side by side with the “Mukti Bahini” till the Pakistan commander, General Niazi, signed the instrument of surrender, ushering in the advent of two nations -- a liberated Bangladesh and an invigorated India. Never before had India been such a dominant power in South Asia.
Indira Gandhi was as gracious in peace as she was fierce in war. She returned the Pakistani soldiers and the territory in the west and signed the Simla Agreement to begin the ending of the Kashmir issue.
When she agreed to turn the ceasefire line into a Line of Control, with adjustments to follow geographical features, she believed that Pakistan would eventually recognise it as the international border.
Whether Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had a secret agreement with her or not, he had explicitly vowed to keep the issue within the bilateral framework. No wonder, Pakistan hanged the Simla Agreement, together with Bhutto.
Indira Gandhi’s position on Afghanistan, that the Soviet troops would help maintain stability in the country, and her recognition of Kampuchea were clearly pro-Soviet in the eyes of the world, but she would not accept the Soviet notion of ‘Collective Security in Asia’, which would have landed her in the Soviet camp. Her management of the cold war was as masterly as the hot war in Bangladesh.
The decision to conduct a “peaceful” nuclear explosion in 1974 did not please the Soviets, but since they and the Americans had turned down her request for a nuclear umbrella in return for signing the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, they could not protest too much or impose sanctions.
It took a gritty Iron Lady to pave the way for the declaration of India as a de facto nuclear weapon state in 1998 by Atal Behari Vajpayee. It was quite amusing that some States, which insisted that India had become a nuclear weapon State in 1974, maintained that India had not become a weapon State on account of the tests in 1998.
Palestine was a matter of faith for India from the beginning and Indira Gandhi stood firm and developed a cordial relationship with Yasser Arafat. But she had the foresight not to isolate Israel altogether. India had recognised Israel and had consular linkages with it.
She had quietly authorised contacts with Israel to benefit from Israel’s strength in agriculture, irrigation and security. She had laid the foundations of a flourishing relationship with Israel, which developed after Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao established full diplomatic relations with that country.
Indira Gandhi’s uncanny ability to anticipate global developments and to take precautionary positions was best demonstrated when she decided to go to Stockholm to attend an environment conference in 1972. She was the only prime minister other than the host to attend the conference, as against more than a hundred global leaders who went to Rio in 1992.
She presciently sensed that the Stockholm conference was the beginning of an effort to usher in environmental colonialism. She saw how the West, having unscrupulously engaged in conspicuous consumption of the resources of the earth, was planning to deny development to the developing countries by imposing environmental conditionalities.
The questions she asked in Stockholm -- like “are not poverty and need the greatest polluters?” -- reverberated in the debate that developed regarding the linkages between environment and development and gave rise to the demand of the developing countries that “polluters must pay” for the regeneration of nature.
The assertion made by her, that the West had the main responsibility to take remedial measures, led to the compromise in Rio that all of us had “common, but differentiated responsibilities”. The Indian negotiators on climate change in Rio used the formulations of Indira Gandhi with decisive effect.
The signing of the Antarctic Treaty in 1983 to obtain consultative status for India was another significant measure Indira Gandhi took by stepping away from the consensus within the nonaligned movement, which wanted to leave Antarctica as a common heritage of mankind.
She did not want to remain outside an arrangement, which set aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve and established freedom of scientific investigation and banned military activity on that continent. She was not deterred by the fact that the Treaty was an arms control agreement among the states, which had territorial claims.
Apart from facilitating research by India on the icy continent, she ensured that India would be consulted on any future dispensation that may emerge on the continent.
In a single letter, Sardar Patel taught the architect of Indian foreign policy, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, a couple of lessons on China. If Pandit Nehru had heeded his advice, India-China relations would have taken a different turn.
Indira Gandhi fearlessly protected and promoted Indian interests by turning her father’s “moral politik” to realpolitik. Her timely moves in the international arena gave India immense strength.
Both Patel and she deserve our gratitude and reverence now and forever.
T P Sreenivasan is a former Ambassador of India and Governor for India at the International Atomic Energy Agency; Executive Vice-Chairman, Kerala State Higher Education Council; and Director General, Kerala International Centre.
You can read Ambassador Sreenivasan's earlier columns here.
Photograph: Floral tributes being offered to former prime minister Indira Gandhi on her death anniversary on October 31, 2014. Photograph: PTI Photo

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Advance Praise for Applied Diplomacy Through the Prism of Mythology

Applied Diplomacy Through the Prism of Mythology: Endorsements

T.P.Sreenivasan, a master of multilateral diplomacy and advocate of international and Indian environmental action long before it was so fashionable to be, is that admirable global actor--more rooted at home than to a peripatetic
lifestyle. And when home in Thiruvananthapuram, why ever not? A very sharp thinker, elegant but unsentimental writer and a generous friend, this volume will reward expert writers and novices alike.
David M Malone, UN Under Secretary General
I have known the prolific and often surprising Ambassador T. P. Sreenivasan in his many incarnations over more than a quarter of a century. Divya S.Iyer, with the uncanny link that she has established between diplomacy and mythology, adds value to this extraordinary output in this well-edited volume.
Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament
Divya S.Iyer has done her mentor, Ambassador Sreenivasan proud, by bringing together several of his thought-provoking and erudite contributions, on a whole range of subjects, in a most imaginatively structured compilation. Providing a running thread with India's own classical and religious traditions, she weaves Sreenivasan's wide-ranging  offerings into a coherent whole, illuminating the conceptual as well as experimental underpinning of her mentor's thoughts. A most creatively conceived gurudakshina to one of India's leading thought leaders on his seventieth birthday.
Shyam Saran, former Foreign Secretary of India
Ambassador T. P. Sreenivasan's writings are delightful and thought-provoking , laced with humour. As is to be expected, borne by his earlier books, most of them are about diplomacy, strategic affairs and global institutions. Somewhat unexpectedly, (for those who do not know, like me), there are writings on Kerala too and a bunch of essays that can only be described as a potpourri. Apart from making you think, they will bring a smile to your lips---a rare trait of any author. The essays have been attractively edited and brought together by Divya S.Iyer, with a dash of mythology thrown in. The mythology won't be obvious until you read the essays. Those are some very good reasons for reading the book

Bibek Debroy, Professor, Centre for Policy Research

Ambassador T. P. Sreenivasan has deftly popularised the art of statecraft and foreign affairs in India and reached out to a wider public to educate them about the nuances and constraints of diplomacy. This book reveals an interesting facet of Hindu mythology and its lessons for the conduct of diplomacy. It is a must read for everyone interested in the intersection of world politics and culture. A fascinating  collection of writings by a legend in India's foreign policy fraternity. Divya Iyer, the editor, with her deep interest in mythology has grouped the writings into chapters linked to seven legendary sages and shown how the conduct of diplomacy merges with mythology.
Sreeram Chaulia, Professor and Executive Director, JSIA