Have just come off watching a shockingly poor show earlier this evening put up, unfortunately, by the BJP foreign policy rep, Harinder Puri, in the ‘Foreign Policy Debate’ on Times TV featuring Puri, Pavan Verma of JD(U), and Manish Tiwari of Congress.
Asked about whether a Narinder Modi-led BJP government would, after a Pakistan-supported terrorist attack such as 26/11, retaliate with a military strike on cross border terrorist camps, Puri hemmed and hawed — still too much the Indian Permanent Representative at the UN in New York (from which post he retired) to call a spade a shovel,stating weakly that he couldn’t speak about what such a govt would do, that it would depend on the prevailing “context”, but that such a strike “would be on the table”. Seeing an opportunity to show up his erstwhile ex-IFS colleague for his pusillanimity, Verma, now with Nitesh Kumar, stated forcefully that “appeasement” was intolerable and that while there’s every reason to “engage” with an adversary, the process of engagement “should not leave India defenceless”. It was a mightily clever interjection. It showed muscularity and made sense sans any element of Puri’s waffling and, more importantly, without in any way committing himself or his party to any specific course of action. Verma also deftly placed a (Hindu) cherry atop this cake by reminding Puri and the audience of “sama, dhan, bhed, dand” as the four essentials of Indian statecraft! Tiwari, on his part, stuck a knife into BJP and twisted it saying before coming into power in 1998 Advani had promised “hot pursuit” of the terrorists across the LoC in Kashmir, but as Home Minister failed to order such action. Verma and Tiwari went unchallenged.
On another occasion, Verma airily dismissed Puri’s reactions as “college [level] debating” techniques, even as the latter looked appropriately sheepish.
Puri also seemed unsure about how to respond when, apropos continuity in foreign policy, Tiwari pointed out that Congress had picked up where the Vajpayee govt had left off as regards relations with the United States in terms of fleshing out the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership and the framework of defence cooperation and following up with the nuclear deal the BJP was keen on. Again Puri fluffed it,spluttering about how while he supported the deal and the military links, the Congress had failed to “implement” the nuclear deal (by buying nuclear reactors from the West!!!). It left a disturbing thought in my mind. Has the Narinder Modi team settled on following through on the N-deal any which way, the 2010 Nuclear Liability Act passed by Parliament notwithstanding — the position the Manmohan Singh regime has been inclined towards? If no such Party line has been put down, shouldn’t Puri be asked to be less voluble along the lines he was and to back up a bit, lest he begin sounding like one of those who actually pushed this wretched, one-sided, hurtful to India’s nuclear weapons program and status-deal?
True, television is a strange thing with the digital speed being the medium. The pace is so fast there’s not a moment for honest reflection. All the things you really wanted to say, all the witty remarks you’d have liked to make, simply don’t come to the tongue with the TV cameras on your face, recording every twitch and bead of sweat. Like most people, Puri doesn’t look as if he is naturally made for TV. All the more reason then that he better pick up his game fast, lest he lose the foreign policy end of it to better prepared political opponents who can think well and speak better on their feet.