Prime Minister Narendra D. Modi fast tracked the Look East policy of P.V. Narasimha Rao by going forward with an Act East policy. During the 1990s, the economic size of India was not sufficient to achieve more than looking at the east of India with an intensity that had been absent during the period in office of his predecessors. Among the multiple “buses” that India missed boarding was membership of ASEAN, the offer of which was turned down by then Prime Minister, Indira Priyadarshini Gandhi, presumably on the advice of those around her who visibly favoured the Soviet line in matters of economic and foreign policy. This was a contrast to the eagerness shown to be a part of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1969. Saudi Arabia and several other Muslim-majority countries wanted India to be a part of the grouping in 1969 when it convened at Rabat, but General Yahya Khan, the then dictator of Pakistan prevailed over New Delhi’s diplomacy and ensured that the invite given to India to join was withdrawn. It was only in 2019 that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj was invited by the hosts of that year’s conference, the UAE, to be the Guest of Honour. The Prime Minister of Pakistan sought to replicate what Yahya Khan had earlier done, and threw what in colloquial terms is known as a “hissy fit”, demanding that the invite to Sushma Swaraj be withdrawn. Given that by then the Pakistan government had become an international beseecher of assistance from the prosperous GCC countries, this time around the OIC refused to bow to Rawalpindi’s dictates. EAM Swaraj attended as Guest of Honour and gave a memorable speech. The prestige of the OIC was boosted by the manner in which the organization stood up to GHQ Rawalpindi and its Hinduphobia. To the amateur sociologists in khaki at the ISI, any Muslim living in a country that does not have a Muslim majority has to be seen differently from those in countries with a Muslim majority. That Muslims usually do much better in countries where the majority of the population does not belong to that faith. The OIC would do well to recognize this, and to go forward in the direction taken by the UAE and more recently by Saudi Arabia, two countries where the rulers are completely devoted to the tenets revealed by the Prophet Mohammad more than 1,500 years ago. They understand the necessity of co-existence and mutual respect of faiths, the absence of which leaves a country in ruins after a while. The OIC has a responsibility towards the billion-plus Muslims of the globe, and this is to ensure that the extremism of Wahhabism and its cousin Khomeinism be rolled back, and the Ummah get returned to the path of harmony of all human beings given that each is the creation of the same Eternal Force. In such a context, it was a disappointment that Official India refused to openly back the Afghan people rather than remain silent at the Trump and Biden-assisted capture of Afghanistan by the Taliban. As Suhasini Haider has pointed out in a newspaper column, the Lutyens Zone refused to understand the inevitable outcome of the surrender to the Taliban at Doha by President Donald Trump in 2020. Rather than reverse such a disastrous course, the man who cast himself as the obverse of Trump meekly went along with the handing over of power to the Taliban. In this, Joe Biden has followed the example set by Bill Clinton in 1996, who was the US President who ensured that the Taliban took over power in Afghanistan in 1996.
This unfortunate decision of Clinton to hand over Afghanistan to the Taliban in 1996 was the precursor to the 9/11 attack of 2001, although former President Clinton has thus far escaped the responsibility for the act of terror that was perpetrated by Wahhabi hijackers who were sheltered by the Taliban and their sponsors across the Durand Line. That terror attack changed the world in the manner than the WHO-approved response of government to the virus that leaked from a Wuhan lab in 2019 did. Hundreds of millions have become poorer and more wretched as a consequence of WHO-mandated lockdowns that killed jobs and changed society on a scale unprecedented in human history. The number of those who are poor has shot up as a consequence of the lockdowns that were imposed by country after country on the prodding of the WHO in 2020. Statistics are the proof of science and the fact that Sweden has the lowest additional deaths in Europe despite its mild measures shows the fact that lockdowns hardly helped. During 2021, PM Modi refused to get stampeded into another crippling series of lockdowns once the Delta variant spread across India, and far from presiding over a disaster as was forecast by the usual doomsayers, the Prime Minister looks upon a country where the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 has gone down sharply after a sharp spike earlier in the year, and the economy appears set on the path towards recovery. India is the world’s most populous democracy, and even if the GDP of the country is barely larger than that of Amazon, the fact is that being a democracy and having a central position where the security and freedom of access into and out of the Indo-Pacific is concerned have given India the status of a major power. What is needed is to ensure that such a status is leveraged to advantage. A way of ensuring this would be to avoid the usual Lutyens Zone obfuscations in foreign policy, and clearly state that New Delhi stands on the side of those powers that seek a free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. Prime Minster Modi, assisted by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Defence Minister Rajnath Singh have several times made this point publicly. Unless those countries seeking to shift manufacturing and other assets from the PRC to another location are convinced that India will under no circumstances fall under the domination of the PRC, they will hesitate in shifting the facilities they own from China to India. Another action that needs to be taken is to anchor India within an alliance system that would deter any attack by the Sino-Wahhabi alliance, or ensure the defeat of Sino-Wahhabi forces should such an attack be launched across the Himalayan massif or elsewhere. In the meantime, India need not be ambiguous about its commitment to the democracies. It is an error to not join in the diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics that has been agreed to by the other members of the Quad. The only outlier is India, and in case the other Quad partners regard it as desirable that India join them in a boycott, this should be done. It is welcome that Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla publicly asked the military in Myanmar to not ride roughshod over democracy but ensure justice to those it jailed during the coup less than a year ago. India needs to call for the release of a trusted friend, the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, rather than avoid the subject of her illegal incarceration altogether. PM Modi is a leader defined not by words but by action. So must the policy of India be.
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