Sunday, March 30, 2014

India Gets It Right -- Mostly -- in UNHRC

The extent to which domestic politics and narrow sectarian interests sometimes dictate India's foreign policy to the detriment of the larger national interest was once again made clear when India decided to abstain from the vote on the UNHRC resolution in Geneva that targeted Sri Lanka.  It was absolutely the correct thing to do -- indeed, I would go so far as to say that India should have voted against the U.S.-sponsored resolution.  I had criticized India's decision in 2012 to support a similar UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka.

Why does it demonstrate the importance of domestic politics?  Because, whatever explanations the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) might come up with for the change in the vote this time (that this resolution was intrusive compared to previous efforts), the the key difference was that the UPA government is no longer being held hostage by Tamil politics parties and their one-upmanship on the issue.  This allowed New Delhi to pursue the national interest, which they had given the go-by the previous two years in the interest of coalition politics.

The Congress party -- the main constituent of the ruling UPA coalition -- has not had much of a base in Tamil Nadu in decades and it is unlikely that they would either gained or lost many votes based on New Delhi's UNHRC votes.  Indeed, so poor are the prospects for the Congress in Tamil Nadu that P.Chidambaram, one of the stalwarts of the current Union Cabinet, has decided that he will not even stand for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

But the UPA included the Dradvida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) for whom the vote mattered a great deal because they are one of the two primary Dravidian parties in the state.  Though India had voted for the resolution last year, the DMK walked out of the coalition to demonstrate to their base that they were tough on the issue.  This time, with DMK no longer part of the UPA coalition, the UPA government had no such political compulsions.

The Colombo government has been busy losing the peace ever since it won the war against the murderous LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam).  Distressing as this is, it ill-serves Indian interests to irritate Sri Lanka.  India's interests are best served by trying to privately coax the Colombo government to move forward in reconciling with the long-suffering Tamil population in the country.  India's decision to abstain from the UNHRC vote should help.  But considering the state of Indian domestic politics, it might be too much to hope that these imperatives will not interfere with Indian foreign policy in the future.


  1. I agree with you Sir that India's foreign policy decision in case of Sri-Lanka is unsound and based on the domestic considerations, especially the vote bank politics. The ignorance of our political leadership of the new and emerging challenges and greater interference of China in the region would create a very unfavourable condition for India in the region which the country will find hard to tackle. I hope that in coming days the government will understand this and work to strengthen Indian position in the region.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Anuradha. We can but hope -- and vote!