NEW DELHI: India is heading for a “geo-political sweet spot” and even the Devyani Kobragade episode reflects India’s rising clout as not too long ago, the US would have brushed aside entreaties to let the Indian diplomat return home.
Delivering the IDSA K Subrahmanyam memorial lecture here on Monday, noted commentator Kishore Mahbubani said Devyani would have not have come back if the US did not attach a high strategic value to ties with India.
“The fact that Devyani returned is a signal that India has arrived. US had to face the question: Can we afford to lose India?” said Mahbubani, who is dean of the Lee Kuan Yew school of public policy in Singapore.
Mahbubani spoke of India’s success in drawing a red line – the diplomat was arrested for maltreating her maid and false declarations about her salary – to argue that India needs to utilize its geo-political advantage for maximum gain.
“The courtship is coming,” he said, pointing to the visits by the Japanese emperor followed soon after by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The former career diplomat said India needs a “hard-headed and tough minded” approach to foreign policy in the Lee Kuan Yew-Goh Chok Tong tradition with New Delhi seeing itself as a pivot in balance of power equations.
Pointing out that the US was a lot less accommodative of France over the Dominique Strauss-Kahn incident, Mahbubani said though Devyani’s arrest was a setback, India’s standing rose after she was allowed to return.
Mahbubani’s larger argument was that India had to recognize that it needs to make the most of major power blocs wooing it. “My worry is that India will sail into the sweetest of geo-political spots and sail out of it,” he said.
With his lecture titled ‘Can India be Cunning’, the former Singapore diplomat said geo-politics was an unsentimental game and held up India’s position in the US-China dynamic to argue that India should improve ties with Beijing to extract benefits from the US. The discussion was moderated by Sanjaya Baru, former media advisor to the PM.
Arguing that protecting national interest was a legitimate and moral goal, he said, “In foreign policy, it does not pay to be nice. Just depending on good actions and good intentions can make you suffer.”
With regard to India’s troubled ties with Pakistan, Mahbubani suggested that China’s handling of Taiwan could offer some lessons as Beijing improved people to people contacts even when official ties remained frosty.
“I found in Pakistan a keenness to follow Indian films. I think India has a considerable soft power potential that it can use. It can make a difference even if government to government relations remain difficult,” he said.