Ifndias elite diplomatic communities are generally struggling shyly with the public to comment on current foreign policy policies,but last week’s letterby a set of retired diplomats attacking another set of retired diplomats exploded this particularly polarized can of suffering creatures.
For a servicethatalways proud of itself in nuance, the letter firmly puts thegroup of 33 former ambassadorssigned it, called the Forum of Former Ambassadors of India (FOFA), in the pro-Narendra Modi camp; while the statements ofConstitutional Conduct Group(CCG), a larger body of retired civil servants, is increasingly seen as critical of the Prime Minister.
This letter is not the first FOFAs to remove the public domain. Like the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, FOFA has been criticized earlierJustin trudeaucomments on farmer protests, ofthe World Trade Organization’sdouble standards in agriculture, and in favor of the President of FranceEmmanuel Macrontaking a tough line on Islamist terror attacks. The most well -known member of the FOFAs is former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, who in 2002, refused to entertain criticism of the European Union’s Gujarat unrest.
The burden ofLatest dispute of FOFAshas unfair criticism of Modis ’foreign policy, when in fact, there is always continuity for example, the 1998 nuclear tests were conducted under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee and led to the 2008 Indo-US nuclear agreement under Manmohan Singh | (Except, FOFA forgets how well the BJP triedsi stymiethe nuclear deal during the Singhs era and even prevented the PM from speaking during a confidence vote in Parliament.)
But what most FOFA rails is not only the criticism of CCGs in the Modigovernment, but the global conduct of foreign policies like the former National Security Adviser.Shiv Shankar Menonand former Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran who were both signatories to the CCG statements were particularly disputed by China’s Modis foreign policy handling as well as the Covid crisis, while accusing him of image management.
The big difference, of course, between FOFAandCCG is that theRashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had keen interest at first. Senior and powerful RSS leaders like Krishna Gopal and Dattatreya Hosabale, the number-two man in the organization just next to Mohan Bhagwat, spoke at FOFA meetings. While Chandra Wadhwa, RSS functionary who manages RSS vishesh sampark or special initiative projects, and curator of the India Foundation, is the only non-ambassador to regularly post RSS documents to the WhatsApp Forums group .
Some will say, so what? After all, RSS has no secret of wanting to make friends and influence people, so what’s wrong if it seeks to win over a group of retired Indian diplomats?
As for the diplomats in question, it is up to them whether they want to be guided and influenced by one or another thought process or ideology after all, the freedom to practice and believe whatever you want is the basis of a democratic state.
In what case, one might ask, why the secret? Why does FOFA want to hide its inclusion in RSS? Last week’s letters, in fact, did not mention the fact that FOFA has such a relationship with the BJPs ’leading ideological mentor.
Questions to FOFAs organizers, Bhaswati Mukherjee, and Chandra Wadhwa, asked at the time Hosabale told the forumsome a few months ago, did not give any response. Talk to the Ambassadors, will tell Wadhwa.
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It becomes political
Certainly, this is not the first time that the Indian Foreign Service (IFS) has been widely segregated. Former IFS official Brajesh Mishra, who became famous for his association with Mao Ze Dong (during Mao ‘smiled‘in Brajesh Mishra) when he was posted to Beijing in 1970, ceased service in 1981 because he disagreed with Indira Gandhis who refused to openly condemn the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; he later joined the BJP in 1991 and became Vajpayees strong National Security Advisor in 1998.
Nor is it the first time that a former diplomat has joined politics and become a service foreign minister like S. Jaishankar. The former IFS officer of the batch in 1953, K. Natwar Singh, joined Congress in 1984 and became minister of state in the Rajiv Gandhis government and a full minister in 2004, when Congress returned to power under Manmohan Singh.
The charge of former diplomats becoming partisan in politics does not hold the water of what they were expected to do.
IFS officials join all types of political parties Pavan Varma joined Nitish Kumars Janata Dal in 2013; Meira Kumar joined Congress in 1985 and emerged to become minister of justice and social empowerment in 2004 and Speaker in 2009; while Hardeep Singh Puri, minister for urban affairs and civil aviation in the current Modi government, joined the BJP in 2014.
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With us or against us
In todays deeply polarized politics, George W. Bushs you are with us, or against us mentality prevails. Even the simple act of questioning, for example, about Modis June 2020’s statement at the all -party meeting thatnor had there been any interferenceof China towards India nor any posts taken, are considered unnecessary interest.
But what is significant is FOFA’s perspective on the other side on how India should deal with China, for example, maximizing benefits by allowing the controlled entry of Chinese investments into India is exactly that contemplated by the Modi government. PrincipalEconomic Advisor Sanjeev Sanyalhadsaidin Marchthat apart from the sectors with strategic planning, India is clearChina’s investment proposals.
If someone wants to set up a button factory in India, how does it matter if the company is from America, Indonesia or China, Sanyal hadasked.
Meanwhile, FOFA believes that criticism of the Modi government’s management of theCovidpandemicis similar to joining the foreign lobby which tarnishes the image of the PM at home and abroad. FOFA may remember that Indira Gandhi was the first to master the foreign hand argument, as she closed the dispute at home. And now the disapproval seems to be emerging in the forum itself after the publication of the letter.
The time was when foreign contacts were the glue that combined politicians of different colors together the memorable example in 1994, in PMP.V.Narasimha Rao asked Vajpayeeto lead the India team to the Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva to counter international criticism of the human rights situation in Kashmir and prolonged criticism of the 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid.
Today, Indias diplomas are covered on both sides of the fight for the soul of Indias. RSS has chosen its own. Will it be a fight until the end?
The author is a consulting editor. The views are personal.
(Edited by Neera Majumdar)
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