The veteran diplomat turned politician says Modi can’t promote ‘Make in India’ abroad and peddle ‘Hate in India’ at home. A special report by Debayan Mukherjee
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has infused a lot of “personal energy” into his diplomacy, but it’s difficult to push the Make in India initiative abroad while promoting “Hate in India” at home, says former UN Deputy Secretary General and Indian central minister Shashi Tharoor.
According to the seasoned diplomat, Modi’s foreign policy is dogged by a growing perception that the “salesman is selling an empty package”.
“He has brought a lot of personal energy to his diplomacy and there is no underestimating that. His travels have been tireless. He has been a salesman for his view of India and Indian development,” Tharoor said in an interview during a visit here to promote his book “An Era of Darkness”. “But there are two problems,” said the author-cum-Congress leader.
“The first is there is an increasing perception that this salesman is selling an empty package. The reality at home is not being given enough importance. For example, Indian investors are not investing enough in India. Our home-grown capitalists are taking their money abroad. At the same time, Mr. Modi is trying to sell the attractions of investing in India to foreigners. This is a genuine problem,” said the Lok Sabha member from Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram constituency.
“The second problem is that diplomacy has always got to be a means to an end. In our time we were clear that the purpose of our foreign policy is to promote a transformation and development of India and the Indian people.
“That is, we need good relations with countries from which investment comes, we need good relations with countries which are sources of our energy security like the Arab world, we need to be on good terms with countries which are important sources of food security, countries where Indians are working and, therefore, they need to feel secure in those foreign countries and so on.
“It cannot be an end in itself. It’s difficult to promote Make in India abroad if you’re promoting ‘Hate in India’ at home,” says the keen student of history, who was Minister of State for External Affairs between May 2009 and April 2010.
He said the main difference between the Congress and the BJP lay in their different views of nationalism — the former believing in an inclusive one which embraces all, irrespective of religion and language, and the latter promoting a narrow variety that is not shared universally.
“Unfortunately, what the ruling dispensation prefers is a narrow-minded nationalism which reduces India to a particular community, the Hindu community, and that too a particular view of Hinduism which may not be shared universally by everyone. For example, the Dalits may dissent from that narrative.
“To call the one nationalism and the other not is absurd. They are all different variants. One is inclusive and the other is narrow-minded nationalism and the (proponents of the) latter happen to be in power now. Some are feeling left out of this nationalism which I feel is a dangerous aspect.”
Having spent a considerable time at the United Nations, Tharoor, who ran for the post of Secretary General in 2006 along with eventual winner Ban Ki-moon, did not want to read too much into the emergence of right wing politics in many countries.
“For example in France, Marine La Pen has captured some 30 percent in the polls but 70 per cent are still opposed to her brand of politics and it’s unlikely that she will win the presidency.
“In Holland, Geert Wilders may have become a highly-visible figure, but he is not going to be capturing the majority. Brexit was an anti-immigrant vote, (Donald) Trump’s victory was partly fuelled by xenophobia. All these things are true but each country’s politics has its own domestic reasons,” Tharoor said.
The charismatic 60-year-old politician gave some hints about his next literary venture.
“This book (‘An Era of Darkness’) has just come out and is coming out in the UK on March 2. My publishers are very keen that I write something on the 70th anniversary of India’s independence about the national character and us as a people.”