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Miracle on South Block

Miracle on South Block

Author: Tarun Das
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: February 24, 2004
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/archive_full_story.php?content_id=41675

Introduction: In six years India's dreams have been transformed into possibilities

Six years. 1998-2004. A short span of time in a nation's life. A person's life. And yet, these six years have seen the re- positioning of India as never before. How has this happened? Who was the driver? Was it a central agenda, coordinated and controlled, or ad hoc with a great deal of luck? To understand the happenings of these six years, it is necessary to look at what has changed.

First, in spite of, or because of, the nuclear tests, India engaged the world as never before. Gone was the early policy of non-alignment (except as a nameplate), suspicion and insecurity. Very quickly, India learned to, and did, communicate with the world, especially the G- 7. Relationship- building became the order of the day through the system of regular, structured communication. A classic example was the India-US dialogue which helped change bilateral relations steadily and quite deeply. Brought new levels of trust and understanding through the teams spending quality time together.

Second, there was a strategy and a focus. G-1 (US), EU, G-7, Russia, China, Asean, Brazil, South Africa, Japan and so on. Each country and region was targeted. Prime ministerial visits were organised. Business delegations always in tow. These visits helped bridge gaps, cross barriers and evolve new friendships. The India-Asean summits. The India-Brazil-South Africa (IBSA) trilateral. The India-EU summit. New structures. New paradigms.

Third, the approach was clearly long term. How to build a lasting dialogue, friendship and relationship. Not focusing on immediate problems and their resolution. These became by-products of the mainstream of a longer term approach. This has been a framework which has served India well and, in fact, has been advantageous to others. No more the compulsion to resolve pending issues first before moving on to other work. Conversely leave pending issues aside; find areas of agreement and build on these. Especially, economic.

Fourth, no "begging". No pleading. No asking for anything. And, certainly, not asking for more! In fact, it has been the opposite. Debts have been prepaid. Inward aid programmes reviewed and discontinued. A policy based on self- respect and strength. A change from the past dependency on others rather than self. A change to finding solutions internally.

Fifth, clarity of thought, of word and of deed. An absence of confused, mixed-up idealistic thinking. An understanding of the realities of the world outside, of India inside and of approaches to different issues of bilateral or multilateral concern, keeping India's national interest upfront just as other countries do. A new learning. A new approach.

Sixth, an understanding of history and geography. An appreciation of what has happened in the past and what can happen today and tomorrow. The ability to look back and correlate it with the future, analysing unique psychological and other factors of each country and how India could relate, deal and negotiate.

Seventh, brevity. No grand eloquence. Practicality in approach. Realism and few words. Avoiding unnecessary verbiage. Say what we mean. Mean what we say. And be to the point. Manage expectations. Keep these low. Avoid hype. Let the achievements speak. A huge difference from eloquence, words, packaging and, often, little substance and content. Now, a "yes" or a "no" is direct and clear. Black or white.

Eighth, speed of thought, decision, response and action. After a long period of paper pushing and, of course, this continues in many matters, there are key issues on which speed is the norm. And rather than a defensive posturing there is a new environment of offensive initiative wherever required. It comes from incisiveness of thinking, use of data, study of detail and broader perspectives.

Ninth, an approach of "letting go". Not "control". Not "regimentation". But, relaxing the tight reins and letting the work flow, the process carry on, the dialogue be continuous. Space and opportunity provided. And within that, trust for implementation of broad policy directions.

There are two persons who have provided the continuity. Two-three persons who struggled through ups and downs, through differences with many, through changes in the team in the foreign office. The prime minister, the national security adviser and the joint secretary responsible for foreign policy in the PMO. And, quite closely integrated, the National Security Council team. Others form part of the team from the ministry of external affairs and the intelligence agencies but the Three Musketeers are the core. And they have followed a vision and strategy with steady determination. Each of the speeches of the prime minister articulates the vision and parameters.

Today, as India stands near the centre of the world stage of international affairs, and as India's economy shows new impetus and growth, the trials and tribulations of the Three Musketeers have borne amazing results. The prime minister as the leader, the national security adviser as the strategist and the joint secretary as the key input.

The history of India's foreign policy has been rewritten and 1998-2004 has witnessed a transformation as never before. Out of isolation, away from the corner of the world, into the centre of global affairs, a new framework has emerged. And, clearly, while an army has been at work, the commander-in-chief has been the prime minister with a unique chief of staff - CEO, as corporates would say - the national security adviser. Without doubt, the relationship of mutual trust between the two has made the difference to India.

No writing on 1998-2004 can be complete without reference to two other members of the leadership team. First, Jaswant Singh, who led the engagement with the world, especially the US. He broke new ground. He institutionalised the concept of dialogue. He had the confidence to engage the world. Second, Yashwant Sinha, who in the last 18 months has extended this concept to South Asia, Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa. Quietly. Successfully. He has emerged as a steady, consistent team member.

Whatever is done in the future in regard to India's international relations, the years 1998-2004 will surely be judged as the six years which witnessed real change in India's strategy and India's relationships around the world.

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