For a consensus: On campaigning rhetoric and foreign policy  

Elections should not prompt politicians to break the consensus on foreign policy 

Updated - June 03, 2024 01:44 pm IST

Published - June 03, 2024 12:30 am IST

With the curtains coming down on the general election 2024, every party will take stock of its campaign on issues of domestic political importance. However, it is also necessary for all concerned, particularly those forming the next government, to review the disturbing trend of revisiting questions of foreign policy. Both sides have ratcheted up the rhetoric over India’s international ties and in some cases, even the re-opening of settled bilateral agreements. At the start of the campaign, the ruling party focused on the issue of the half-century-old Katchatheevu agreement, that accepted the island as Sri Lankan territory, to target the Opposition Congress and the DMK that were in power in 1974. In response, Congress leaders asked whether the 2015 Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh could also be reviewed for its land concessions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has led the charge on other foreign policy fronts, especially on Pakistan, calling the Congress party a “disciple of Pakistan” and comparing its manifesto pejoratively to that of the Muslim League that founded Pakistan. U.P. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath even proclaimed that were Mr. Modi to be re-elected, he would reclaim Pakistan Occupied Kashmir “within six months”. Other brash comments over India’s use of its nuclear arsenal, or that the government will transgress international boundaries to kill ‘terrorists threatening India’, have raised eyebrows in many capitals. The clashes between the Indian Army and Chinese PLA at Galwan in 2020 that led to the deaths of 20 soldiers have often been raised by Opposition leaders in campaign rallies, as in the past as well. Meanwhile, throughout the campaign, Mr. Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar accused “western powers” of attempting to interfere in Indian polls.

Such heated campaign rhetoric is meant for domestic audiences, but it would be unwise for political leaders to assume that India’s international partners are not watching and listening carefully. India’s ties with its smaller neighbours carry the highest levels of sensitivity, and raking up these issues and exposing India’s vulnerable faultlines, just to make political capital, seems short-sighted. While domestic policy has always been deeply divisive, India’s polity had for long achieved a bipartisanship when it came to foreign policy positions, and often took pride in the deployment of Opposition leaders to defend India’s case worldwide, including at the UN. The proper platform for the government to assert foreign policy, or for the Opposition to air its differences with it, is not the hustings, but Parliament. It is hoped that as the dust settles, leaders will reflect on the potential damage to India’s credibility from campaign propaganda, and restore a more enduring consensus on international relations.

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