The three National Security Advisors (NSA's) of Independent India gathered on one platform to discuss and release a document Non-Alignment 2.0 brought out by a group of analysts and policy makers.
It was an interesting event, largely because the very term non alignment’ seemed to make all the NSA’s uneasy as they either sought to distance themselves from the document, or actually trashed it as impractical.
It is after a long time that one has read a document brought out by persons close to the Establishment, and including former foreign secretary Shyam Saran, that actually uses a term that has been described repeatedly by both the NDA and UPA dispensations as “irrelevant” and a “dead concept.” Clearly there is a realization that India needs to be more subtle and non-partisan in her foreign policy, rebuild relations with old friends in West Asia and Africa, and instead of relying just on hard power and economic growth also look at classical diplomacy based on old fashioned values to strengthen relations with the world.
There is a great deal that has been left unsaid in the document that explores India’s relations with Pakistan and China, but is not as specific and detailed in analyzing what needs to be done insofar as relations with the US are concerned. Israel has been totally left out of the section on West Asia, with India and the Palestinian struggle clearly not in the sights of Nonalignment 2.0.
At the same time the document is bold in parts, with the section on Internal Security actually going on to describe the state as “predator”. It makes it clear that “we need to openly acknowledge this blunt truth. In many parts of the country, the state has a history of a protracted and brutal suppression of violence and abuses of human rights.” Suffice it to say for the purpose of this column, that Nonalignment 2.0 is important for what it says as these arguments are rarely heard in the corridors of power these days, and not for what it has left out which is a great deal as well.
It was therefore not a surprise that the current NSA Shiv Shankar Menon to a lesser extent, and the two former NSA’s M.K.Narayanan and Brajesh Mishra had deep reservations about the document. More so as they have all served to take India away from the path of non-alignment into the lap of the United States, weaken her voice in the developing world, and turn many an old friend into foes. Mr Menon was his usual obfuscating self, saying little even as he admitted to having attended some of the meetings of the group before he became the NSA. He did recognize the importance of nonalignment even as he made it clear that he had reservations about parts of the document. He did not elaborate but clearly did not want to be seen heartily supporting an exercise
that actually went against the current conventional wisdom of South Block and re-explored nonalignment as a viable concept in the not so new millennium.
Mr Narayanan and Mr Mishra’s interventions were narrow and limited, both sounding outdated and almost phobic in their responses. Narayanan made it a point to cross swords with Shyam Saran directly, attributing certain sentences from the document to him. His presentation was more focused on internal security, as being a former chief of the Intelligence Bureau, he has found it difficult to move away from Left Wing extremism and Islamic extremism. He was not happy with the authors use of the phrase “sense of surge in the North East” terming it a “case of overkill.” Despite being the Governor of West Bengal, clearly Mr Narayanan has not had the time to visit the North east to see how much worse the situation has come. Sometimes silence is more dangerous than violence, as it has a lethal potential that can erupt at any point, without warning. The former NSA was also not happy with the description of India as a “hedging power” replacing it with the term “bridging power.” Again a case of wishful thinking as this is a role that India has long since discarded.
Mr Brajesh Mishra, as expected went many steps further, as the politician in him came to the fore. A votary of hard power, he trashed nonalignment with a snigger, and made it clear that the only choice before India was to be with the US. The former NSA who had held many a briefing lauding his government under Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee for the progress it had made with China, did not hesitate to point out that there could be no friendship between India and China. Using clever words he said, “non alignment implies protecting your country’s interests abroad and preventing the abroad from interfering
in your country.” And this he said could not be done only without a strong alliance with the United States.
At the end of the day the document and its group of authors stood isolated, not embraced but almost shunned by the National Security Advisors of India. The conclusion stressing the need for marrying idealism with policy; of maintaining a liberal, secular and = constitutional democracy; of upholding the ideals of the nationalist movement clearly did not make sense to the NSA’s who have in the last ten years at least made pursued policies alien to Indian national interests and sensitivities.
Probably Narayanan and Mishra balked at a document that summed up, “India already has enormous legitimacy because of the ideological legacies its nationalist movement bequeathed to it. But this legitimacy once frittered away, cannot be easily recovered. India should aim not just at being powerful, it should set new standards for what the powerful must do.” Theirs was a natural response, for in the last decade or more that is all the advisors for national security have done, frittered away the national consensus and India’s strength.