Weak advocacy by BJP rep

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.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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2 Responses to Weak advocacy by BJP rep

  1. Atul says:

    I don’t think Harinder Puri was speaking the official line of BJP. He was speaking more for himself and its that typical ambiguous tone of diplomats. I wouldn’t read too much into it.

    Though its same Mr Puri, who thumped his chest a bit too much when last time, India won the temporary membership of UN Security Council. He actually said that now since we are in UNSC, we have no intention of going out of it. Ironically, he was thrown out after two years of temporary tenure. With that ended, the Indian quest for a permanent seat on UNSC.

    We have not stopped begging though !!!!

  2. Shaurya says:

    This is the achilles heel of the BJP as an organization, i.e: they have not seem to have thought through how they want to go about policy and not just foreign. They seem to have the right instincts and attitude but fail to think through the policy choices and impact thereof, unless an able person is appointed at a certain post, who can steer the way through. Examples of this are Arun Shourie in disinvestments, Jaswant Singh at the tail end of the NDA regime as def min.

    Examples, where their instinct did not pan out in good policy are the NCRWC, which started with an extremely limited political mandate hampering a very able Subhash Kashyap but even the largely benign reforms proposed were eventually scuttled by the INC.

    Another example is the yo-yo like behavior with Pakistan blowing hot and cold, where I believe that the policy was not thought through, Op. Parakram is its prime example, but full marks for intent and approaches. This is where I tend to agree on the BJP with Pratap Bhanu Mehta, who has said that while they excel at pointing out the current systemic faults and the poison that the INC spreads in our politics, they offer little else apart from a negative bound agenda. There is no positive vision that they seem to articulate, which resonates as fundamental change.

    Two case in points, when Modi says Secularism means India first, half the hacks are scratching their heads to understand, what does he mean? At root, the issue is the RSS as an organization, does not think beyond this India first principle, which no one will disagree to but that was not the question. Recently at a speech in Assam, Modi says Hindus from Bangladesh should be welcome – this type of an approach will instantly raise questions in the Indian Muslim mind, as to if, they do not belong here?

    The same message could have been communicated by saying, anyone who is persecuted because of their faith in our region, India will make policies sympathetic to their needs. The message would have been clear enough, without the sectarian overhang. It is this sectarian overhang that the RSS and the BJP, who Modi represents need to learn to overcome. This is what Modi’s test is going to be, if elected. While he lacks ANY national governance experience or indeed does not seem to be very well versed with national policy issues, he does bring to the table administrative experience and the willingness to get things done, without boiling the ocean.

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