Such interference will add to troubles of UPA regime, already afflicted with policy paralysis
Pressure exerted by the United Progressive Alliance government's southern comrade, the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham, forced India to vote in favour of the U.S.-sponsored censure motion against Sri Lanka on Thursday in the 47-member U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, urging that country to probe rights abuses in the war against the Tamil Tigers.
But this is not the first time a UPA ally has influenced India's foreign policy. Last September, the Trinamool Congress, which routinely railroads economic decisions the UPA government would like to take — from permitting FDI in retail to increasing rail passenger fares — also cast a long shadow over India's relations with its eastern neighbour, Bangladesh, when the party torpedoed the Teesta River Waters Agreement.
At the time, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Bannerjee, apprehensive that the treaty would adversely affect irrigation and power projects in the northern part of her State, even refused to accompany Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Dhaka. This time the DMK, by threatening to pull out its Ministers from the government at the Centre if India did not back the U.S.-sponsored resolution, exerted a similar influence on the UPA.
Since then, the Indian government may have underscored the fact that it did so only to enable Sri Lankan Tamils to get justice and it did not wish to infringe Colombo's sovereignty. But it is more than apparent that it allowed domestic political compulsions to prevail over the country's strategic interests. The fact is the government did what it did under pressure from the two Tamil parties, the DMK and the AIADMK.
Running counter to its policy of not voting for a country-specific resolution, and that too against a close neighbour, the UPA government defended the volte face, saying it was in line with the assurance Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had given in both Houses of Parliament — that the government was “inclined” to back the UNHRC resolution — and that it had “diluted” the intrusive character of the original resolution moved by the Americans. But the development, say foreign policy experts, could impact India's ties with Sri Lanka, and help China increase its influence with the island nation at the cost of India.
For the UPA government, afflicted with policy paralysis, largely because of opposition from its allies to policy decisions, interference in foreign policy is only going to add to its troubles.
In the run-up to the election of the next President, the UPA government needs to devise political management tactics to keep its allies on board that can complement the new media management strategy, of which we got a glimpse on Thursday. Displaying admirable reflexes for a change, a sure-footed Prime Minister's Office succeeded in quashing a damaging news report about losses to the exchequer as a result of the government's coal block allocation policy, within hours of the story appearing in a leading daily, TV channels picking it up and the opposition raising it in Parliament. The PMO posted portions of a letter from Comptroller and Auditor-General Vinod Rai to the Prime Minister on its website, describing the report as “exceedingly misleading” and stressing that the purported CAG report on which it was based was at a preliminary stage.