#Modi and Amit Shah : Weaponising Indian foreign policy for their electoral exigencies

This “head hunting” adventurism seems to have infected India’s foreign policy, except with China
Swati Chaturvedi, Special to Gulf News
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the only man he trusts, Amit Shah, his party president, have crossed a sacrosanct line – they have weaponised foreign policy and made it hostage to their electoral exigencies.
Consider this: India is surrounded by hostile neighbours and had one friend left – Bangladesh. Shah has on numerous occasions, in his hate-filled rants, compared Bangladeshi migrants in Assam to “termites”.
He said he will throw the “ghuspetia” (interlopers) out. The deployment of the controversial Assam Citizens Register (ARC) set off a screeching dog whistle against minorities and has a disturbing, scary parallel to the Hutus calling the Tutsis “cockroaches” just before the Rwandan genocide.

After Shah deployed the “termites” phraseology for the sixth time in speeches in states headed for the polls, even Bangladesh protested publicly.
Take for instance Modi’s sweet nothings exchanged with the newly minted Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan on social media. First Khan’s letter to Modi asking for talks was leaked, leaving Khan in an uncomfortable position in Islamabad. Then came the ludicrous spectacle of observing a celebration for what the government calls “surgical strike day” against Pakistan on September 29. If that was not enough, Army Chief Bipin Rawat, who has a knack of wading into issues, made a bellicose statement that India needs to carry out more surgical strikes.

This “head hunting” adventurism seems to have infected India’s foreign policy, with China, an established great power, now being the only exception.
Worse, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman publicly boasted of “cutting off Pakistani heads” in an interview to a Hindi channel on September 15. Her statement raised questions about India’s commitment to the Geneva Convention. This is the first time ever that an Indian government official has publicly said Indian Army soldiers have “cut off” heads of Pakistani soldiers during operations at the Line of Control.
This “head hunting” adventurism seems to have infected India’s foreign policy, with China, an established great power, now being the only exception.

India then invoked a horrific killing of a BSF personnel to justify the retreat from foreigner minister level talks with Pakistan in New York. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs made a nasty personal attack on Khan when calling off the talks. Khan then retaliated by tweeting about the “small men” he had encountered.
India’s foreign office has a long institutional memory and it is unlikely that an official would have drafted the personal attack on Khan. Unfortunately, under the Modi government, diplomacy is carried out by several people, excluding the foreign minister and the foreign office.

They include Ajit Doval, national security adviser, a former spook with no domain experience in foreign affairs and a penchant for publicity.
Then there is Ram Madhav, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharak, drafted by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as the general secretary, who fancies himself as Modi’s Henry Kissinger and meddles continuously in complex foreign affairs and Kashmir.
Modi has also now taken to saying in public that Pakistan supports Congress president Rahul Gandhi as Prime Minister. This is an astonishing line to cross and has never happened before in India’s foreign policy where you start playing domestic politics by citing another country.

This is the second time that Modi has indulged in this. The first was during the Gujarat state elections which the BJP won with a thin margin. Modi said in a public meeting that former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, former Vice President Hamid Ansari and a former Army Chief were “conspiring with Pakistan against him”. This incredible claim of treason was then disowned by Modi’s own Prime Minister’s Office, saying publicly they did not know what Modi had based his claim on.
The Modi government has a penchant for using foreign policy to score domestic political points. A junior Modi minister is permanently telling off rivals by saying “go to Pakistan” on social media.

Modi’s promise in 2014 to make India secure is in a shambles. It is shambolic that such a critically important relationship as India-Pakistan is so adversarial with no prospects of normalising for the rest of Modi’s tenure.
Khan is only beginning his term in office and will have a long memory. Shah’s “termite” comments had Bangladesh indignantly saying “Shah is not qualified to talk about Delhi-Dhaka ties”. Shah’s pejorative comments have also made the situation difficult for a friendly Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina, alienating a rare friend in the neighbouring region.
By weaponising foreign policy as a domestic weapon, Modi and Shah have created an awful legacy. This is also testimony to the quite spectacular failure of Modi’s foreign policy in the neighbourhood.
As elections approach, expect more intemperate language, weird conspiracy theories and the wreckage of Indian foreign policy at the altar of the vote bank.

Swati Chaturvedi
Swati Chaturvedi’s book “I am a Troll – Inside the BJP’s secret digital army” has received international acclaim. Her twitter handle is @Bainjal.