Sept. 10, 2015: Subject Association, Department of Political Science, Jamia Millia Islamia organized a lecture by the well-known journalist, Suhasini Haidar, on the topic, “Indian Foreign Policy under Modi: Tough Talking or Soft Power?” at the department, on Thursday. The session was chaired by Prof. Badrul Alam, Head, Department of Political Science, JMI.
Ms. Haidar, who is currently the Diplomatic and Strategic Affairs Editor for The Hindu national daily, spoke about how India’s foreign policy has evolved over the years, keeping up with its values and the global changes, and India’s relationship with various countries. “What we are seeing about the evolution of policy is that it has become much more interactive. What you see on twitter today does matter,” Ms. Suhasini Haidar said. “There are obvious displays of hard power- the strategic partner upgradation with the US, Australia, the new strategic partnerships with the UAE, Japan … they are all headed in a certain direction,” she continued, quoting the Foreign Secretary to add, “what we hope to see is really the evolution of India from a balancing power to a leading power.”Borrowing from Joseph Nye’s listing of what entails soft power and applying it to the Indian case, she went on to talk of the understanding of soft power in terms of the idea of Shantiniketan to Bollywood, what India has given to the world in terms of education, the international yoga day, the political values in terms of what India represents politically to its neighbourhood, and the legitimacy of its foreign policy like how the world saw the validity of India’s argument about its role in the 1971 Bangladesh issue. Coming to the present day scenario, she highlighted how global terror was a cornerstone for lot of agreements now, and how the Indian Diaspora has come to be a critical part of India’s foreign policy. “All these elements have come together in a crystallized form. The Prime Minister has visited 26 countries in one year, a world record. The relationship with these countries has crystallized more fast-track … India’s role in Yemen has demonstrated India’s hard power capabilities being used for rescue,” she argued.
She further spoke of India having been able to push for UNSC reforms, taking a tough position on China’s blocking of access to South China Sea as events that demonstrate “the possible effects of the type of activism” that the Foreign Secretary has talked about in his addresses.
Responding to a question about the Syrian refugee crisis, Ms. Haidar maintained that it is a myth to think that India has had a consistent position on the issue. She emphasized on the need to question whether intervention is necessary and if it is a good idea at all costs. “We should stop taking the narrative of other countries and build our own narrative about Syria, a place which is like the pin of a grenade. When Damascus falls, if it does, to ISIS, that would be the beginning of the end of the world as we know it,” she argued, adding that if after building its own opinion India feels that intervention is required, then it will have to take a position.
Ms. Suhasini Haidar concluded by referring to tough talking as the “entry point” which doesn’t always work and therefore needs to be backed by delivery. “Tough talking can take you to the top but it’ll win you enemies. It cannot win you a seat at the table,” she said, and went on to talk about Hillary Clinton’s idea of America as a ‘smart power,’ while arguing that “India should try and be a sensitive power, the first the world has seen.”