October 23, 2020
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The Left And The Right Of It

If the CPI(M)-led Left Front in its anti-Americanism is blatantly blackmailing the UPA government on its foreign policy, even communalising it by references to the Shias of India being closer to Iran, the politically expedient BJP seems to have no id

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The Left And The Right Of It
The Left And The Right Of It
Transcript of the BBC Hindi Special Programme Aapki Baat BBC Ke Saath with Sitaram Yechury, senior leader of CPI(M), the largest supporting party of UPA government, and former foreign minister Yashwant Sinha. The topic of the programme was: Have the pro and anti-American ideologies in India made the country’s foreign policy directionless ?


Nagendar Sharma: Have the pulls and pressures of pro and anti-American posturing by various political parties rendered India’s foreign policy directionless?  

Yashwant Sinha: Well, there is a certain confusion, but this country has such a reserve strength inherent in it that a foreign policy cannot be directionless. Certain decisions may seem to suggest that the foreign policy is dithering, it happens at times, but it cannot be called directionless. 

Sitaram Yechury: Well, as Mr Sinha has said, it is not directionless, but has shown a deviation in the recent days. The foreign policy in recent days has shown a clear pro-America tilt from the earlier independent policy. It is clear from the Indian decision on Iran, which in our view was a grave error, and it is the work of Left parties to bring back the policy on the right track, as being a stooge of any country would not help in any way.

Nagendar Sharma: Is the Iran issue heading towards being a major point of confrontation between the UPA government and Left parties ?  

Sitaram Yechury:  It may become a major issue of confrontation. The danger of instability for the UPA government would be there if it violates the Common Minimum Programme. Our point is that the government would last five years if it adheres to the CMP. We find that the CMP is not being followed in the foreign policy - as was done in the economic policies earlier. We want the government to follow the CMP. The stability of the UPA government depends on its rectification of mistakes in these policies - if it does not do so, we may have to think afresh. 

Listener from Bhagalpur: The July visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh saw India and the US sign a nuclear pact, which has resulted in our country losing its nuclear sovereignty. Now the latest decision to please America by voting against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting in Vienna gives an impression that the UPA government is trying to secure the UN Security Council permanent membership by American support. Would it help ?  

Yashwant Sinha: I think you are right. We opposed the Indo-US nuclear pact as we do not agree with many points of the agreement, and similarly we opposed the vote against Iran also. These two decisions have created a wrong impression about India’s foreign policy, and you are right in saying that the present government is more than inclined to please America without considering its repercussions. Now it is not clear whether America would help the Indian candidature for the UN Security Council, there is no clarity in the American view so far. Therefore we must not take our foreign policy on a path of blind pro-Americaism. We should do what is in the interests of the country.

Sitaram Yechury: For a change it looks nice to agree with Mr Yashwant Sinha, because when he was the foreign minister we differed with him on many issues.  The UPA government is deviating from the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) on key foreign policy decisions and we strongly object to this. We would like to tell the government very clearly that India should at least abstain and not vote against Iran, if the issue comes up at International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna on November 24, and India should strongly place its view that this entire issue should be solved within the IAEA and should not be taken to the UN.  

Nagendar Sharma: But Mr Yechury, there are no indications from the government that it is taking your suggestions on Iran seriously. Even the Prime Minister has hinted that if a second vote on Iran were to take place, the government would decide at an appropriate time. In these circumstances, how far would your opposition go? Would it be merely criticism or something more than that ?  

Sitaram Yechury: That would depend on what stand the UPA government takes on November 24. We are clearly telling Manmohan Singh government that it should not repeat its past mistake. At this moment we are doing all that is possible to put pressure on the government, and it is not Left pressure alone, there is pressure from the international community as well. The experience of trying to secure a permanent membership of UN Security Council by being a stooge of America shows it was a wrong move. If the Indian government makes the same mistake again, the experience would be the same.

Listener from Rajasthan: All major political parties in the country say there is a consensus on the foreign policy, but in reality it does not seem to be so. Today NDA criticises all decisions of the UPA government, and earlier the Congress and Left were doing the same when NDA was in power. Why this contradiction?  

Yashwant Sinha: Well, there is a broad consensus on the foreign policy within the political class of the country. The differences which emerge are due to the details on how to reach a point of agreement, and I think such differences are essential for a vibrant democracy. The direction of the foreign policy is right, at times we tend to deviate from a consensual point, that is what draws criticism, I see nothing wrong in this.

Listener from Rajasthan continues: Mr Yechury, during the past year and a half, Left parties pressure on the government has been ineffective as is clear from the Indian decision on Iran. Why so?  

Sitaram Yechury:  Whether the Left pressure has been successful or unsuccessful would be known during the next ten-twelve days’ time, when we would come to know about the government decision on Iran. Our pressure on the government would be continuous for the implementation of the CMP, which very clearly states that UPA government would pursue an independent foreign policy and not be a stooge of any country. It remains to be seen whether the government would return to the original independent policy. If it does not, then our decision would be known soon.

Listener from Delhi : Mr Yechury you are the head the CPI(M)’s international department, and have recently returned after addressing the UN General Assembly session. Why is there a contradiction in your stand on the foreign policy and Volcker issue? You criticised former foreign minister Natwar Singh on the Iran vote and are now defending him on the Volcker issue...

Sitaram Yechury:  We are not trying to save anyone on the Volcker issue. We want to make it very clear. What we are saying is almost the same what Mr Volcker has himself said, that he prepared the report on basis of what he got from Iraq. He has himself admitted that neither did he go to Iraq nor did he verify any documents. He has also said he did not feel the need to do so - if India wants it can conduct its own probe. This is precisely what we have been saying since day one, that the entire matter should be probed and then only can something be said with surety.

Nagendar Sharma: Mr Yashwant Sinha, is the Volcker report and naming of Mr Natwar Singh a fallout of the perception that he holds anti-America views? Why is the NDA seeking his ouster from the cabinet even before a probe on the matter. Does this issue reflect an unease due to India’ relations with Iraq ?  

Yashwant Sinha: Well, in this issue I do not see any reflection of Indo-US or Indo-Iraq relations. Volcker committee was not only independent from any American influence, but it was also independent from the UN as well. It was formed by a UN Security Council resolution, it was an independent committee, it had two members other than Mr Paul Volcker also. It was given eighteen months time to probe the matter, and after the report has come out, there seems to be prima facie basis for a probe. As Mr Yechury has said, there was a need for a probe, and we think there should be a proper and thorough inquiry into the matter. Since the probe would be linked to External Affairs Ministry, it would have been inappropriate for Mr Natwar Singh to have continued as the minister. Now what the government has done would be discussed further in the coming days. But I feel that what the government has done in the matter is incomplete.

The listener continues: Mr Sinha, do you think there is any relevance of SAARC, or its summit is a mere annual ritual ? Why has SAARC not been able to emulate the EU ?  

Yashwant Sinha:  Yes SAARC is very much relevant, and in the present times its relevance has increased. I am not a pessimist and I see hope in SAARC as a regional organisation. It is correct that it has not been able to rise up to the level of, as your mentioned, the EU. Right now, countries of all the major continents, Europe, Latin America, Africa and Asia are forming strong regional organisations to increase trade ties - which is important for development. It is also correct that SAARC has been moving ahead at a very slow speed, that of a tortoise. The reason for that has been it being overshadowed by bilateral relations - mainly Indo-Pak relations and more recently Indo-Bangladesh relations. But it is beginning to move on the right track, and India’s role as a big nation of the region is very important.

Nagendar Sharma: Mr Yechury is the blind anti-Americaism a practically possible proposition in today’s unipolar world? Afterall, it is the only super-power of the world. If Manmohan Singh government supports the US and in return can get its support for the UN Security Council permanent membership, what is wrong in it?

Sitaram Yechury: Well, we do not oppose America for the sake of merely being seen as a force opposed to the most powerful country of the world - our opposition is based on issues and the reality facing the world. Efforts made by India till now to secure a permanent membership of UN Security Council should be treated as a closed chapter. Efforts to please America and secure its support for the UN Security Council permanent membership was a big mistake. Infact if any country took the most opposing stand against Security Council expansion, it was America. It should not be forgotten that the US had gone to the extent of saying it could even veto the resolution for Security Council expansion, if it was even placed for discussion. We feel that compromising the country’s foreign policy for the wishful thinking of securing permanent membership with American support is not in the country’s interests.

Listener from Southampton: Mr Yashwant Sinha, since you have been a foreign minister of the country, can you tell me how often does a situation arise when there are differences between the Prime Minister’s office and the External Affairs Ministry as was seen recently during India’s voting at IAEA on Iran, and the latest Volcker issue?  

Yashwant Sinha: Well, in the recent days, many developments have taken place which have hurt India’s image. Whether it has been the defence pact with the US or the nuclear pact, on both issues there was no consensus within the country. Now you have talked about government policies and coordination, yes gaps were clearly evident. So far as India’s candidature for the UNSC permanent membership is concerned, my view is that the Security Council is incomplete without a country like India being its member. We have been living without this for past 60 years and would be able in future also. 

However, the major weakness which I saw in the approach of the UPA government, for this whole exercise, was being a part of G-4 (Group of four - with Germany, Japan and Brazil). Now what happened due to this was that India was clubbed as a rival country by those who have problems with Germany and Japan, and, infact, had no troubled relations with India. I would like to give you an example here. Russia has been supporting India at all international fora on almost all issues including that of India’s candidature for permanent membership, since the days of the Soviet Union. This time however, Russia also joined China in opposing India’s bid. This happened because China was against Japan becoming a permanent member. Similarly, America and China also opposed India’s bid in almost one voice. So what I am saying is that by joining the G-4, India attracted the opposition of all the countries which were opposed to Germany and Japan, but were not directly against us.  I see no problem in having joined hands with Brazil. 

Infact, to my mind, a better strategy for India would have been to form a group with developing countries from Latin America, Africa and Asia. In all three of these continents, India has many friends. Look at African Union, it was a big group of 53 countries, a majority of them have good relations with us, but India could not coordinate its efforts properly with them. So I think that having gone with countries of the developed world, like Germany and Japan, did not prove to be a beneficial strategy for us.

Nagendar Sharma: Mr Yechury, what should be in Left parties view Indian line for UNSC permanent membership, and should India maintain a distance from America on this issue?

Sitaram Yechury: I agree that instead of forming a group of G-4, the previous NDA government and the present UPA government should have taken an independent line for its candidature. India is recognised in the world as a leader of Non Aligned countries and of poor countries, this should have been the basis of our campaign to seek membership. We have to start afresh now. India should launch a campaign along with other developing countries of the world that the United Nations urgently requires major reforms. One of the main areas of reforms is required in the basic UN functioning. Presently, it is the Security Council which takes decisions on behalf of this world body. The General Assembly merely has an advisory role, it has no decisive role, which in our view is a major flaw. Similarly, keeping big countries out of the Security Council questions its representative character. These are key areas which require changes, and to play a larger role at the international fora, India should take lead in this campaign.

Listener from Mumbai : Mr Yechury, how is it that despite the Left parties being in a decisive role today, we perhaps have one of the most pro-America governments in India’s history. Can you change this?  

Sitaram Yechury : You are right that there is a strong impression in the country that this government is dithering from the CMP. Our pressure is to bring the government back on track. Now the important question is what if the government does not return to an independent foreign policy? In this case, our decision would be known in the coming days.

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