Angry demonstrations against New Delhi'spermission to the US navy to dock its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in an Indian portare utterly out of place. Left parties are behaving as if it is a repetition of America'sseventh fleet entering Indian waters as a pro-Pakistan statement during the 1971 Bangladesh war. They condemn the visit as an ?attack on our sovereignty and a shift in foreign policy?. According to Commander of the Carrier Strike Group II, Rear Admiral John Terence Blake, the carrier is on a ?friendship? visit to foster military relations and develop friendship with the Indian navy.
He claims that US took pains to ensure that the carrier didn'tpollute the environment. It is for India?a sovereign state and a nuclear power in its own right?to conduct tests to verify the US claims. If the protest is against the carrier providing support to American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Commander Blake sought to clarify the position by saying that the carrier lent support to forces in these countries when it was in Persian Gulf but it was no longer on the job after entering Indian waters. One hopes New Delhi seriously considered all aspects of the carrier'svisit before hosting it.
India is gradually coming out of the isolation and building strategic ties with major powers, including Japan, Australia, China and USA.
Indian navy has, of late, been conducting joint exercises with navies of several major powers. If it is a shift in India'sforeign policy, what is wrong with it? The country has to come out of the time wrap when it denied itself the nuclear power status and chose to be non-aligned. No country that wishes to play a global role, can afford to be tied down to stale policies. Nations have no permanent friends and enemies, only national interests. Foreign policy can'tremain static in the fast-changing world. It has to change keeping in view broad national interests. Rightly or wrongly, India chose to remain non-nuclear and non-aligned. Times did change. In May 1998, it defied the world and declared itself a nuclear weapon state. What is the point in raising hue and cry over hosting the carrier at a time when India is planning to develop an atomic-powered submarine and is conducting negotiations with US to become its strategic partner, get the sanctions imposed by US removed and join the comity of recognised nuclear weapon powers? Left parties? outrage over the visit of Nimitz is yet another example of their commitment to stale and out-of-date ideology and a closed mindset.
Comrades? commitment to non-alignment appears to be no less. They are equally, if not more, outraged by Condoleezza Rice'sstatement that non-alignment had lost its meaning in the post-Cold War era and advising India to think afresh and act in terms of a strategic partnership. Praising India as a ?good and strong emerging multi-ethnic democracy?, US Secretary of State talked about ?effective, principled multilateralism based on common values between US and India and other free nations like Japan and Australia and Korea and our allies in Europe as well as other large multi-ethnic, multi-religious democracies like Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa?.
If it is a sincere attempt to forge strategic ties with ?free nations and democracies?, as she puts it, no one needs to take exception.
However, New Delhi needs to underline the basic fact that it is keen for excellent strategic ties with US and other nations without compromising its sovereignty and independent foreign policy.
Although New Delhi promptly responded to Rice'sstatement by talking about its ?firm and abiding? commitment to the concept of non-alignment and insisted that there was no question of giving up its ideals that moulded much of its foreign policy since Independence, its enthusiasm for NAM dwindled as the movement lost its steam and much of relevance after the collapse of the erstwhile USSR. India has been rightly searching for numerous groupings other than NAM in pursuit of its national interests. Whatever the motivation of the founding members, who launched NAM, it gradually became a euphemism for a subtle partnership with USSR. Non-alignment has no meaning in the present scenario excepting in the context of an independent foreign policy guided not by a super power but by our own national interests. Indian expectations from NAM got a rude shock in the wake of Chinese aggression in 1962. It looked up to America and England for military supplies. During the run-up to the Bangladesh war, the friendship treaty with USSR was hailed as a masterstroke. One has no quarrel, if that is what they call non-alignment.
Rice is right that New Delhi needs to look afresh at its foreign policy by rising over perceived commitments. Where she went wrong was her unsolicited advice. No self-respecting nation, least of all India, can take sermons lying down. Washington needs to appreciate Indian sensitivities and the fact that it needs India no less than New Delhi needs the super power. Conducting diplomacy through media is counter-productive. Let it not repeat mistakes like connecting Indo-US nuclear deal with Iran gas pipe project.