The Proponent Of ‘Neutral’ Foreign Policy
Ranendra Sen, popularly known as Ronen Sen, is a senior Indian diplomat who had served as the Indian ambassador to the US, Russia and Germany in the past. Sen is one of those Indian Foreign Service cadres who got an opportunity to work with former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. After Vajpayee’s demise on August 16, 2018 at the age of 93, Sen paid a rich tribute to the astute statesman.
In an article published in a vernacular Indian daily on August 18, Sen said that he had seen Vajpayee talking rudely just once. Vajpayee had become the External Affairs Minister in March 1977. One day, he noticed that one of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s portraits was missing from the South Block Gallery of the Parliament. He immediately asked his officers: “Where did it (portrait) go?” Although he got no reply, the portrait was restored next day.
Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Sen claimed that Vajpayee was a liberal person in a true sense, as he knew how to work with people with different political ideologies (simultaneously). However, his personal relationship with Pandit Nehru is noteworthy. The first PM of India appreciated ‘young’ Vajpayee’s speech at the Lower House of the Indian Parliament after the latter became the parliamentarian for the first time in 1957. Nehru also sent ‘Opposition MP’ Vajpayee to New York to attend the UN General Assembly. Later, PM Nehru told then Foreign Secretary Maharaja Krishna Rasgotra: “This young man is very talented and promising. Please introduce him to the leaders of different countries.”
According to Sen, PM Vajpayee was the proponent of a neutral foreign policy. He wanted India not to be over-dependent on Russia (or the erstwhile Soviet bloc) and to take a ‘neutral’ stand on sensitive global issues. Later, Indira Gandhi and Dr Monmohan Singh followed his path and strengthened ties with the US and other Western powers. It is to be noted that Indira Gandhi arrived in the US for her first visit to a foreign country after becoming the Prime Minister (for the third time) in 1980.
Vajpayee used to say that “we have to maintain cordial ties with our neighbours, because we do not have the opportunity to choose neighbours”. “India has a diverse neighbourhood. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan…. Their characters are different. So, there is no scope for imposing own model….We have to deal with them separately….,” he told Sen in 2002.
The challenge was there and PM Vajpayee managed to overcome those quite efficiently. He was in favour of open discussion. It was his plan to launch the Delhi-Lahore Bus Service. Even after the Kargil War, he held the Agra Summit with then Pakistani President General (Retired) Pervez Musharraf. Later, the terrorists attacked the Indian Parliament. But, Vajpayee tried to maintain peace with Pakistan and resolve the ‘Kashmir’ issue. Also, he was very much concerned about the national security, as India had conducted five nuclear tests in 1998 under his leadership. He used to believe that ‘friendly diplomacy’ would serve India’s interests.
Vajpayee used to speak very thoughtfully during diplomatic meetings. As the PM, he visited Britain in 2003 and held a meeting with then British Interior Secretary David Blanchett who had a vision problem. There was a pin drop silence at the meeting room for few minutes after Blanchett said something to the visiting Indian PM, as Vajpayee was taking time to reply. However, the British minister thought that his Indian guest had left the room. Sen recounted that Vajpayee (later) told Blanchett that he used to take time to make comments.
It was Vajpayee who disrupted the Cold War order in the 1990s, sowing foreign policy seeds for future. Although history has not judged his outreach to China in a positive note, he played an important role in setting out a structure for New Delhi and Beijing to arrive at an understanding. Atal Bihari Vajpayee will always be remembered as the one who heralded India’s modern-day foreign policy.
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