Continuing the series where we compile the illustrious list of worst-performing cabinet ministers of the country that held few of the most important job profiles, this time, we have circled around the Foreign Affairs ministry or the External affairs ministry. The Videsh Mantri, as we like to call, has the paramount duty of establishing and determining India’s foreign policy concerning other nations.
However, over the course of the last 75 years, India has had the misfortune of having few non-performing ministers leading the all-important portfolio. A momentary blip in the performance of the ministry can set a nation back by decades. So, in no particular order, here is the top-5 worst foreign ministers of India.
Jawaharlal Nehru – India’s first Prime Minister, and for inexplicable reasons referred to as ‘Chacha Nehru’, held the all-important ministry of foreign affairs from 1946 to 1964. He remains the country’s longest-serving Foreign Minister, and possibly the worst candidate to have ever graced the spot.
It is not an overstatement to say that Jawaharlal Nehru during his tenure acted as a Chinese agent in control of the Indian government. Jawaharlal Nehru’s tenure was marked by one disaster after another, concerning China and Pakistan. The man practically ceded all Indian advantages to the Chinese, as well as our northwestern neighbours without any foresight.
He described China as a great country and friend of Indians, even while the Chinese communists, led by Mao Zedong, refused to reciprocate a similar sentiment. Jawaharlal Nehru’s admiration of China continued well up to 1962, when the red rogue country mounted an all-out offensive on India’s northern frontier.
Even in 1954, when China squeezed India out of Tibet in the Panchsheel agreement, Nehru called the five principles “wholesome” and erroneously described it as “a very important event”.
The Kashmir blunder of 1947-48 is perhaps ‘Chacha’ Nehru’s biggest faux pass. Newly carved Pakistan was allowed to occupy a part of Kashmir even though Pakistani troops had been beaten black and blue. It was under Nehru that the country went to the UN to raise the Kashmir issue and to this date, it is an albatross hanging around the neck of India.
Nehru also failed to realise the strategic importance of Balochistan province, and turned down an offer by the ‘King’ or Khan of Kalat, Mir Ahmadyar Khan, to accede to India. Today, Pakistan is occupying the Balochistan province, which forms 40% of Pakistan-administered territory, and China is using the Gwadar port for building presence and influence in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
Nehru’s blunder of gifting Indian land to China and Pakistan have been well documented, but what slips under the radar is how he gifted away one of the tactically important Coco Islands to China through the Burmese government. As a result of that, the current Xi Jinping authoritarian regime has access to an island which by most estimates, is used to spy on the Indian forces.
Greater Coco has for long been known to be managed by the Chinese, with reports over two decades of signal intelligence facilities, maritime bases, a radar facility (which is, apparently, all but confirmed) and as a general surveillance hub to keep tabs on Indian military activity.
A military presence in the Coco Islands, if truly established, would give China the edge to monitor India’s naval activities with other powers in the region. It will also affect other regional powers such as Australia and the USA, and strengthen China’s foothold in the Indian Ocean.
Served the Prime Ministerial post in a golden platter, Rajiv Gandhi during his tenure as the Prime Minister, frequently shuffled his cabinet ministers. The media described his charade as a “wheel of confusion”, where the ministers were transferred between different ministries willy-nilly. As many as 5 Foreign Ministers were inaugurated under Rajiv’s tenure, with the supposed young prodigy himself holding the portfolio on two separate occasions – once in 1984-1985 and another time in 1987-1988.
Late former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in 2015 had attributed the mysterious escape of Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson from India after the December 2, 1984 gas tragedy in his chemical factory in Bhopal, to a quid-pro-quo by then Prime Minister/ Foreign Minister Rajiv Gandhi, to secure freedom to his childhood friend jailed in the USA for 35 years.
Swaraj mentioned that Rajiv was keen to secure the release of his friend’s son Adil Shahryar, who was serving 35 years in a US jail. She quoted Arjun Singh’s book, which claimed that Rajiv Gandhi had ordered him to make arrangements for Anderson’s safe passage to the US.
Rajiv Gandhi was many things. He was Indira Gandhi’s son, Sonia Gandhi’s husband and the father of Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Vadra. He was a pilot and an alleged genocide enabler. He was also the country’s Prime Minister. Above all however, he was a scamster who also served as India’s foreign minister and interpreted the name of the ministry literally. He helped a ‘foreign’ fugitive individual escape India. After all, isn’t this what the foreign ministry was set up for?
In the biggest re-shuffle in former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet since he assumed power for the second time in 2009, Salman Khurshid was crowned the foreign minister in 2012. Khurshid, currently in the news for all the wrong reasons, had similarly become a monster in the public’s eye for his undying fidelity for the Pakistanis and the Chinese.
Khurshid disregarded rumblings from within his own government as well as inflamed public opinion, as he hosted a sumptuous lunch for visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and his 50-member entourage at Jaipur’s Rambagh Palace hotel. The entire fiasco is known as the ‘Biryani’ gate.
Khurshid, after a visit to China, started waxing lyrical about the country. Showered with flowers at Tiananmen Square – the place where democracy died, Khurshid became a Chinese poodle to the very core. Asked whether he would like to live in China, he replied in affirmative, and only later added the caveat that not as the foreign minister.
One of the founding members of BJP, Jaswant has had an illustrious record in public service. However, the big blemish on his record came during the ICE-841 hijack in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Make no mistake, the incident is seen as a failure of the BJP government under Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and IB chief Ajit Doval. However, being the foreign minister at the time, Jaswant has to cop some of the heat as well.
On December 31, 1999, the then Vajpayee government had to release three dreaded terrorists, including Masood Azhar from Indian captivity, in order to secure the safe release of 176 Indian passengers of the hijacked aircraft.
Popular sentiment and media narrative played an important role in forcing the then government to surrender to the demands of the hijackers that resulted in the release of Masood Azhar. The nation wanted forces to fight, but at the same time, compatriots were not willing to make any sacrifices in the interest of the nation.
Jaswant Singh had gone to meet the families of the passengers who were held hostage by terrorists, where he was mobbed, and despite trying to explain the situation, failed miserably at it. Despite the distinctiveness of the situation, India and Jaswant Singh could have handled the situation better.
Swaran Singh was a worthy orator who served in the ministry during the 1971 war. However, despite having mastery over his vocal crafts, he could not convince the USSR – a fast friend of India at the time, and the US, that its liberation plans for East Pakistan were sound.
George H. W. Bush, who at the time was the US Ambassador to the UN and led the US delegation at the UN security council, demanded an unconditional ceasefire by India, refusing to hear and accept Swaran’s version.
In the months preceding the war, the USSR’s attitude towards the crisis in East Pakistan was on the whole ambivalent. The Soviet Union repeatedly stressed that it upheld the territorial integrity of Pakistan, and it carefully refrained from giving overt support to the insurgents. While the Soviet Union came around to the realization and provided India the support it needed during the attacks, the fact that Swaran Singh couldn’t convince them earlier, was a blemish.