On the eve of the India-Africa Forum Summit involving 54 states from that continent lying across the Ïndian lake, some home truths need to be acknowledged. While our foreign policy rhetoric and public posture has been pro-Third World, in the essential interests and thrust of Indian foreign policy New Delhi has been anything but attentive. African states have been the worst sufferers from Nehru’s time, primarily because relations with black states segue into the traditional subcontinental varna prejudices — fair & lovely, dark & ugly, etc, manifested also in the routine discrimination faced by African students in Indian colleges and universities. In the Indian Foreign Service, not surprisingly then, its members kill each other and scruple to nothing to wrangle a posting to even minor West European outposts, what to talk of prize billets in Washington, NY, San Francisco, and London, an African posting is seen as career death!
From the beginning, the MEA’s treatment of black African states has been condescending and patronizing– the very attitude, ironically, Delhi has always been over-sensitive about when dealing with white, Western countries! Indeed, so disinterested has the Foreign Office been in sub-Saharan Africa that not long ago when Mozambique and Tanzania offered India the richest iron ore vein in East Africa to mine on condition that it also build a 700 km railway line from site to the coast — which would have been needed anyway to carry the mined ore to Indian ships — the Indian ambassador who had worked these govts and secured the concession was told gruffly by the MEA Desk that “[Black] Africa is not on our radar”!
This and other opportunities that MEA/GOI has squandered over the years are detailed and analyzed in my new book — ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’. A particularly egregious example in the book of how Delhi turned down a security role on the East African littoral concerns Mozambique. Being satisfied with the perimeter security provided the African Union Summit by the Indian Navy, Maputo was keen that India help it found and equip its navy, including officering it at the highest echelon, and has permitted an Indian radar station to be set up on its northern coast as part of the surveillance grid IN oversees in the Southwestern Indian Ocean. The Indian Navy was jumping at this chance to gain enormous goodwill, have a demonstration effect elsewhere in the littoral, and to project power. But, yea, MEA negatived it!!! And we are now talking about contesting this Africa space with China where strategic opportunities have been witlessly ignored and neglected? PM Modi expects this same Foreign Office, manned by diplomats who look down on black African states to suddenly turn around, and realize his grand plans? Well, Good Luck, 7, Race Course Road!