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"The MEA Is incompetent"

"The MEA Is incompetent"
HE is a very angry man. And if K. Natwar Singh is to be believed, he has ample reason for his ire. As vice-chairman of the Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust, which organised a conference on "The making of an Indian Ocean Community", Singh found resistance from a totally unexpected source—the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), where he spent so many years. "The meeting provided a forum where delegates from all over the region could freely discuss and coordinate the idea of an Indian Ocean community, without political or other interference. Yet when we approached the MEA for clear-ance, instead of showing the interest it should have, the response was lukewarm, bordering on reluctance. Subsequently, I could not help but feel that the ministry was intellectually bankrupt, administratively incompetent, and internationally ignored." Faced with such indifference, he says, he was forced to go to the Prime Minister. "I told him that there was an acute lack of intellectual curiosity in the ministry, which seems more comfortable and interested in pushing files."

The Prime Minister not only promised all help, he even inaugurated the conference, where he spoke at length. So how did the ministry react to this? "Well, although the Finance Minister, Dr Manmo-han Singh, the Speaker, Mr Shivraj Patil, the Commerce Minister, Mr Chidam-baram, and the former and the current navy chiefs were among those whoattended the conference, there was not a single representative from the MEA. Does that answer your question?" he asks.

Not true, says the MEA. "The acting foreign secretary, K. Raghunath, and the Additional Secretary, policy planning, R.S. Kalha, were present at the inaugural session. Two former foreign secretaries were also present throughout. We were asked to nominate two observers, who returned with the views and ideas put forward at the conference, and we are now examining them," contends Kamalesh Sharma, additional secretary, economic relations, MEA. "I even wrote a personal letter offering all assistance and expressing my willingness to meet anyone who wanted to talk to me," he adds.

The media, which by and large ignored the conference, added insult to Natwar Singh’s injury. "Instead of realising andhighlighting the importance and relevance of the conference, all that one national newspaper did was print a politically motivated editorial," he says. According to him, India has been shying away from its obligations as a major regional power for too long. "We are a major economic and political power, apart from the fact that we are very strategically placed geographically. And geography, after all, is the mother of good policy."

 But what did the conference really achieve? "What does any conference, be it the UN General Assembly or the SAARC meetings, really achieve? People get together, discuss ways to overcome common problems, achieve common objectives. We are interested in cooperation, not competition. Conflict is implicit in competition, explicit in hegemony. In cooperation, there is no conflict,’’ he concludes.

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