PM's press meet: foreign policy takes a back seat before Lok Sabha polls

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s press conference on Friday serves as a possible indicator of issues that would likely dominate or be on the back burner in the upcoming general elections due to be completed before May. One indication is that foreign policy is taking back seat as India inches closer to general elections and countries like the United States, China and Pakistan won’t have much impact on Indian politics in the 2014 general elections despite pending major issues with each one of these.

The surprising thing in this context is Pakistan. If one goes by the current trends and presuming that no big ticket terror incident takes place till the upcoming general elections, Pakistan is unlikely to be a factor in Indian general elections. If this happens, it will happen perhaps for the first time in decades.

Pakistan has been Banquo’s Ghost in past several Indian general elections, particularly the last one in 2009 which came close on the heels of the Mumbai terror attacks, India’s own 9/11. Since then, India has had a checkered history of terror strikes but none of these has been as big and as ambitious as Mumbai’s 26/11.

India too was not a major factor in Pakistan’s recently concluded general elections. This may denote the gradual maturing of peoples in India and Pakistan but that is an entirely different subject and a different story.

 PMs press meet: foreign policy takes a back seat before Lok Sabha polls

Manmohan Singh. Agencies.

Confining ourselves to the foreign policy aspects of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s Friday’s press conference, the event was unusually low on the foreign policy content. It is another matter that the actual Q&A session lasted just about an hour and the Information and Broadcasting Ministry botched it up by restricting entry to just about three hundred specially invited.

In this sense the UPA government made only a half-hearted but well-choreographed move by not making the press conference an open-for-all event unlike the previous occasions when the venue was Vigyan Bhavan to accommodate all accredited journalists. By doing so, I&B ministry has diluted the importance of PIB press cards. A total of 2019 journalists are presently accredited with Press Information Bureau.

Only three foreign policy issues were touched upon by the Prime Minister at his today’s press conference and that too perfunctorily. The three issues were: his promised-but-never-happened visit to Pakistan, the Devyani Khobragade case and the Indo-US nuclear deal.

Here are the Prime Minister’s answers on these three issues and my attempted decoder at the end of each issue.

On Pakistan

Manmohan Singh said he still hoped to visit Pakistan in next four months, adding that circumstances were "not appropriate" to visit that country so far. “I would very much like to go to Pakistan. I was born in a village which is now part of west Punjab. But as Prime Minister of the country, I should go to visit Pakistan if conditions are appropriate to achieve solid results. I have thought of it many times, but ultimately I felt that circumstances were not appropriate for my visit. I still have not given up hope of going to Pakistan before I complete my tenure as Prime Minister.”

On missing the bus to strike the peace deal with Pakistan, the Prime Minister had this to say: “I have tried to improve relations with all our neighbours to the best of my ability. At one time, it appeared that an important breakthrough was in sight. Events in Pakistan, for example, the fact that General Musharraf had to make way for a different setup, I think that led to the process not moving further. But I still believe that good relations between India and Pakistan are very essential for this sub-continent to realize its full development potential, to get rid of poverty, ignorance and disease, which has been the inevitable lot of millions and millions of people in this sub-continent of ours.”

Decoder: This is all a man who has invested so much of his political capital on Pakistan can say about Pakistan at the fag end of his tenure. The truth is the Indo-Pak relations will remain in a limbo till new government takes over in India. And yes, it is indeed correct that towards the end of General Pervez Musharraf’s tenure as Pakistan President India and Pakistan were close to clinching a couple of historic accords but it could not happen.

Indo-US Nuclear Deal

Asked to comment on what was the best and the lowest moments for him as PM, his response was as follows: “I will need time to reflect on this. But certainly, the best moment for me was when we were able to strike a nuclear deal with the United States to end the nuclear apartheid which had sought to stifle the processes of social and economic change, and technical progress of our country in many ways.”

Decoder: The nuclear deal happened during his first tenure. It looks like Manmohan Singh’s unsaid confession that his second tenure had no achievement or milestone comparable to the India-US civilian nuclear cooperation agreement.

On Devyani Khobragade Incident

Manmohan Singh did not exactly breathe fire in his first public remarks on the Devyani Khobragade incident and appeared conciliatory. "Our government attaches highest priority to strengthen the strategic partnership between our two countries. There have been recently some hiccups but I sincerely believe that these are temporary aberrations and diplomacy should be given a chance to resolve the issues that have arisen," he remarked.

Decoder: He does not want to be an interventionist in this case knowing full well that intervening on this incident at the highest political level may make things messier. His conciliatory tone may also be indicative of an imminent political resolution of the dispute.

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Updated Date: Jan 03, 2014 19:32:39 IST