An election manifesto is a statement made by the political party to showcase the policies they will implement if they win the elections. For any voter, the manifesto is like a clear map of the terrain which they shall have to navigate in coming years. Foreign policy is an important aspect of any government in power. The main aim of the foreign policy is to have a definite sense of national goals, values and interests that the government would pursue. However, the manifestos released by both national parties are more blurry than clear. Though the national parties did lay down their arms and ambitions, the promises are very vague.
This comparison of the foreign policy in the manifesto of Indian National Congress (INC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been made with the assumption that the policies mentioned will be implemented once they come to power.
Immense focus on Regional organizations.
Both INC and BJP have acknowledged the crucial role the regional organizations play to facilitate trade and investment. INC reaffirms their faith in regional organizations like ASEAN and SAARC to enhance economic and cultural cooperation’s. India enjoys relatively sound relations with ASEAN. India has constructively engaged in Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations which would be the world's largest free trade bloc comprising 3.5 billion people (Das, 2019). Despite ASEAN being one of the second largest trade partners of India in 2017-18, with a share of 10.58% in India’s overall trade (Das, 2019). It is showing modest growth and constitutes about a mere 2.5 per cent of ASEAN's total trade as compared to 14.1 per cent with China (Ashraf, 2019 ). Also, with the increasing hostilities of China in the South China Sea, India’s commitment towards the supporting ASEAN to counter the dominant force of China would be imperative. The ASEAN countries often look up to India to balance its relations with China, but neither of the manifestoes addresses the upcoming challenges in its relations with ASEAN.
INC has vowed to revive “SAARC to reap the benefits of geographical proximity in terms of trade, investments, tourism and cultural exchanges’. However, this would be a thorny terrain since according to World Bank SAARC is one of the least integrated regions with intraregional trade accounting for less than 5 per cent. India hasn’t taken concrete steps to take leadership in this organisation. The BJP government said that given the circumstances with Pakistan, it was difficult to go ahead with SAARC (Kumar, 2019). In this aspect, INC made no specific mention to its stand on Pakistan's participation in SAARC.
Interestingly, BJP hasn’t mentioned SAARC in its list of multilateral and regional organisation, though it has mentioned other organisations like BIMSTEC and ASEAN. The BJP government disdain for working with Pakistan is seen in its impetus given to The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), a regional organisation set in 1997, devoid of Pakistan. Though the organisation has immense potential, any significant economic projects are yet to take off. Trilateral meetings like Russia-India-China and Japan-America-India is said would be encouraged.
Permanent Seats in Security Council
India has been lobbying for a permanent seat in Security Council for many years. The stakes are huge; India would effectively able to defend its interests. With China constantly vetoing any efforts taken by India against Pakistan, this step would be a game changer. However, neither of the INC or the BJP has laid down concrete steps as to how they will rally the cause. Though both the parties have shown incredible commitment towards the cause, vague directions will be like driving through a tunnel with no idea when the destination would reach.
INC has placed its trust in “United Nations and other countries to eliminate terrorist groups, terrorist act and cross border terrorism’. It also said that they would persuade the United Nations to constantly review the list of terrorist and to expand the scope of sanctions. In spite of that, this is a lost cause, since China veto’s any efforts taken against Pakistan by India in the UN.
BJP has shown faith in international forums like UN, BRICS, SCO, Commonwealth etc. to combat terrorism and corruption. BJP has plans to create a ‘Comity of Nations Against International Terrorism’ a voluntary multi-lateral forum which will ensure that “necessary measures are taken to isolate countries and organisations which support terrorism on the global stage’. This is quite similar to INC soft narrative “to persuade other countries to compel Pakistan to end its support to the terrorist groups it shelters verifiably’.
With roughly 940 Foreign Service officers, India has one of the most understaffed diplomatic corps of any country. (Bloomberg, 2018). Both the national parties have affirmed this inadequacy of Diplomatic Cadres officers, and they have promised to increase the recruitment significantly. However, they fail to recognise the real issue, i.e. bureaucratic hiring process in which the foreign ministry can take only those who pass India’s colonial-era civil services exam. (Bloomberg, 2018)
Agree to Disagree
Non-Alignment V/S Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam
The core objectives of Non-Alignment were to ensure that India did not define its national interest or approach to world politics in terms of ideologies and goals that had been set elsewhere (Khilani, 2012). Many critics of Non-alignment movement are of the viewpoint the principle of nonalignment seems irrelevant in the 21st century. However, the non-aligned movement remains a necessary reflection of its anti-colonial heritage, and it has shaped India’s foreign policy since independence. India’s ambition to become a great power will require India to retain maximum strategic autonomy and to pursue its own developmental goals. Thus the principle of nonalignment is guiding force for India to build its national power and to create a foundation of a just and equitable global order.
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly in 2014, Modi first preaches the philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam or the world is one family emphasizing how this philosophy has guided India since Vedic times. (Lakshman, 2014). According to the BJP manifesto, the philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam will form the basis in India’s global cooperation in terms of progress, prosperity, peace and security. The philosophy of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakams stresses on the importance of unity to solve world problems. Global problems like climate change, refugee crisis, the immigration crisis, nuclear proliferation do require the consensus and combine efforts of the world. In theory, the principle of Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam seems idealistic, since its national interest drives each country. For example, the US’s President Trump withdrew from Paris climate agreement claiming that "The Paris accord will undermine the US economy," and "puts at a permanent disadvantage” (Price, 2018). Thus the complex world of geopolitics will try to suppress any effort at solving the global problems.
BJP cajoling of Non-resident Indian (NRI)
BJP’s pandering for the NRI could be seen since 2014 elections, wherein BJP urged the NRI’s to campaign for Modi. The process is more systematic now with the applications like NRI4NAMO which provides various options to the NRI’s to campaign for their cause. Though the NRI’s cannot vote for the general elections, they make up for it by funding the campaign or holding meetings to rally for the BJP party, influencing their respective friends and families in India to vote for the party. Among the most active NRIs were those from the U.S., the U.K. (where a car rally in support of the BJP’s campaign was held recently), the Gulf countries and Australia. (Hebbar, 2019 )Thus it makes sense for the BJP government to include the welfare of NRI in its foreign policy to continue to pursue its NRI influence around the world.
INC’s Law on Asylum v/s BJP’s Citizenship bill to Hindu Sikhs Buddhist and Sikhs
Despite having one of the largest refugee populations in South Asia, India is yet to enact a law that addresses the issue of asylum. The term ‘refugee’ is not mentioned in any domestic law. The INC has promised to “pass a law on asylum consistent with international treaties and conventions”. (The Indian Express, 2019)
Until now, asylum is granted on a case-to-case or ad hoc basis which makes the process lengthy and prone to bureaucratic failings. India is yet to have a formal policy on it, and neither is it a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention. An asylum law will systematise the process and make the process more convenient to both the refugees and the government. (Kumar, 2019)
The BJP has proposed to introduce the citizenship bill across the country. They promised that they would remove every single infiltrator from the country, except Buddha, Hindus and Sikhs (Merelli, 2019). The intended exclusion of Muslims in the manifesto openly targets the Muslims population. “#NaMoforNewIndia,” reads the hashtag appended to the BJP’s tweet, which leaves little doubt to what kind of “new India” the party is pushing for—one where non-Hindus are not welcome. (Merelli, 2019). The aggressive stance of BJP will be harmful to the secular fabric of India.
INC impetus to Soft power and BJP’s focus on Space Technology
The endeavour to strengthen India’s soft power globally through expanding the Indian Council of Cultural Relations is a welcome cause. Indian has strong Diaspora across the world, and the projection of wider soft power will be crucial to India’s growth of becoming a major power.
On the other hand, BJP’s impetus to Space technology perfectly syncs with the successful launching of the anti-satellite weapons which cannot be ignored. Nevertheless, India’s forays into space technology will strengthen its stance against the growing military competition in space. China, India’s regional rival operates around 30 satellites and ASAT weapons which could be used by its armed forces during conflicts. (The Economist, 2019)
BJP’s University of Foreign policy V/S INC’s National Council on Foreign policy
A University of Foreign policy, in theory, makes perfect sense but in reality, it would be a waste of additional resources. India already has competent universities wherein the subject of foreign policy is already taught.
INC claims that foreign policy of India under the BJP government has been reduced to the whim of one man. To counter this claim, INC projection of listening to a council could be seen with the initiative to establish a National Council on Foreign Policy consisting of members of Cabinet Committee on Security, scholars, diplomats etc. However, the purpose of foreign ministry is to provide counsel and advice to the government. Thus a separate council on foreign policy could create strife between the foreign ministry and the government.
India is at a pivotal moment in its history. The extraordinary changes of the last two decades are fundamentally transforming India’s economy and society. These changes have, for the first time in history, created the possibility that India can become a reasonably prosperous and equitable society. (Khilani, 2012). However, the foreign policy mentioned in the manifesto of both the BJP and INC doesn’t take into consideration of geopolitical standing of India. The promises mentioned in the manifesto aren’t sufficient to combat the challenges India is facing. There hasn’t been a single mention of the challenge India faces with China, its regional rival. The reluctance to set formal public goals on foreign policy, however, makes it harder to form an elite consensus within parties and across them. (Mohan, 2019).
The World Bank. (2018, October 9): Retrieved from https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2018/10/09/realizing-the-promise-of-regional-trade-in-south-asia
The Indian Express. (2019, April 3). Retrieved from: https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/INC-manifesto-2019-promise-to-pass-a-law-on-asylum-5657024/
The Economist. (2019, April ). Retrieved from
Ashraf, J. (2019, January 26 ). India needs to boost exports with ASEAN countries: Indian High Commissioner to Singapore. Retrieved from The Indian Express: http://www.newindianexpress.com/world/2019/jan/26/india-needs-to-boost-exports-with-asean-countries-indian-high-commissioner-to-singapore-1930468.html
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Das, A. (2019, February 26 ). India, ASEAN eye mega trade agreement. Retrieved from China Daily: http://global.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201902/26/WS5c749456a3106c65c34eb624.html
Hebbar, N. (2019, March 30). BJP enlists NRIs to pull in votes. Retrieved from The Hindu: https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/bjp-enlists-nris-to-pull-in-votes/article26689493.ece
Khilani, S. (2012). NonAlignment 2.0: A Foreign and Strategic Policy for India in the 21st Century. India.
Kumar, A. (2019, April 2). INC Promises to Set Up Foreign Policy Council, Law on Asylum in its Manifesto. Retrieved from News 18: https://www.news18.com/news/politics/INC-promises-to-set-up-foreign-policy-council-law-on-asylum-in-its-manifesto-2086245.html
Lakshman, N. (2014, September 2018). 'Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam' is India’s philosophy: Modi. Retrieved from The Hindu: https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/vasudhaiva-kutumbakam-is-indias-philosophy-modi/article6453203.ece
Merelli, A. (2019, April 12). The BJP’s threat to restrict Indian citizenship unmasks the ugliest side of nationalism. Retrieved from Quartz India: https://qz.com/india/1591557/bjp-threat-to-restrict-indian-citizenship-targets-muslims/
Mohan, C. R. (2019, April 10). Diplomacy by stealth. Retrieved from The Indian Express: https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/raja-mandala-bjp-INC-manifesto-lok-sabha-elections-2019-5665767/
Price, J. (2018, January 28). Trump Says the U.S. Could Re-Enter Paris Climate Deal. Retrieved from Complex: https://www.complex.com/life/2018/01/trump-paris-climate-deal
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