Polaris | Indian Foreign Policy for Dummies

So, you’re an aspiring expert on Indian foreign policy affiliated with a media outlet, think tank, university, foreign government, or consultancy. Or perhaps you have to write a paper or book section on the subject, but haven’t had time to do the necessary research. Don’t panic. Below (with due credit to European blog Kosmopolito for providing inspiration) are a few quick and easy rules to keep in mind when writing on Indian foreign policy—basically, everything you need to become a leading expert on the subject. Now, just sit back and wait for that call from Foreign Affairs or al-Jazeera.

Tip #1. Attribution is overrated. There is no need to cite or quote real, serving government officials, the ones actually responsible for setting and enacting Indian foreign policy. Don’t bother calling them or even finding out their names. Retired ambassadors, military leaders, civil servants, scientists, or spies are sufficient—and generally, the longer retired, the better. Opposition MPs, independent think tanks, and Indian media sources can also be used to corroborate your reflection of an official Indian position. Feel free to refer to any sources you use as “authorities” (or, better yet, “leading authorities”), “unnamed officials,” “India,” “New Delhi,” “South Block” (which conveniently encompasses the PMO, MEA, and MOD, so that none of them can make credible denials), or simply “sources”.

Tip #2. So is authority. For up-to-the-minute insight on Indian foreign policy, you can never go wrong by citing Kautilya, Lord Curzon, Jawaharlal Nehru, General Sundarji, or George Tanham. Just about anything can be framed as Kautilyan, Curzonian, or Nehruvian, and using those big words also sounds impressive.  Nuance, too, is overrated. There’s no reason to read their entire books or speeches (just follow them on Twitter or Facebook). If it must be someone living – and this may or may not be an important consideration if you work for a television channel or the New York Times op-ed page – try leading authorities Ramachandra Guha, Tom Friedman, Amitav Ghosh, William Dalrymple, Pankaj Mishra, or Julian Assange.

Tip #3. Buzzwords are your friends. If India acts in any way against the United States, the West, or Israel – or cooperates at all with China, Russia, or Iran – describe its position as “non-alignment” or “strategic autonomy”.  If India appears to rebuff China, Russia, or Iran, or cooperate in any way with the United States and the West, label it a “U.S. ally” or say it is sacrificing its “independent foreign policy”. If India does not respond sufficiently to an action by a smaller country, call it “weak” or “reactive.” If it does respond in any way, shape or form, describe it as “aggressive” or “nationalistic”, or allude to its “hegemonic ambitions”.  Sprinkle your article with the words “grand strategy” and “sovereignty” – and make mysterious allusions to chess or “The Great Game” – and you’ll sound just like a seasoned professional.

Tip #4. So are scapegoats. There is absolutely no reason to report – let alone detail – any foreign policy successes. However, any and all failures necessitate immediate condemnation and self-flagellation, and can be attributed, directly or indirectly, to bureaucrats,  bureaucracy, corruption, red tape, opacity, transparency, electoral politics, coalition politics, dynastic politics, cadre politics, socialism, nationalism, liberalization, protectionism, Narendra Modi, Lalit Modi, or nuclear weapons. There is certainly no need to acknowledge – let alone address – any apparent contradictions.

Tip #5. The Golden Rule for foreign correspondents: Any time India and Pakistan are mentioned in the same article, the writer must state that they are nuclear-armed neighbors who—having been torn apart during a bloody Partition into “Hindu” India and “Muslim” Pakistan—have fought three (or is it four?) wars against each other, two (or is it three?) over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Tip #6. Remember: you can never disprove a negative.  If you don’t have a clue what is going on, just write that there is an absence of Indian strategic thinking. Or simply state that India doesn’t have a foreign policy.

DISCLAIMER: This is an archived post from the Indian National Interest blogroll. Views expressed are those of the blogger's and do not represent The Takshashila Institution’s view.