India’s post-independent Foreign Policy is a mix of aggression and Defensive posturing, with more emphasis on laid-back approach. Even the aggression was not to the extent we were capable of. This is where Dr Jaishankar changed things. With his decades of experience, the man made politicians realise what a calculated aggression looks like.
Initial years of Dr Jaishankar
Dr Jaishankar has humble but relative privileged beginning to his life. He is the son of K. Subrahmanyam and Sulochana Subrahmanyam. K. Subrahmanyam himself was a strategic affairs analyst, commentator and civil servant. But, unlike many others, Dr. Jaishankar used his upbringing to add to the earlier established legacy of his family.
He studied Chemistry from St. Stephens College and did Ph.D in international relations from the Jawahar Lal Nehru University. Both these institutions later shaped his career.
Dr Jaishankar joined the Indian Foreign Service in 1977. At that time, India’s moral voice was not much respected at international forums due to the legacy of Emergency of Indira Gandhi. Logically, Diplomats had a tough task in hand, that is building up credibility of India in what was then “Liberal Democratic World order”.
A decade later, Dr Jaishankar was well experienced in monkey balancing between Cold war era rivals. He had served as third and second Secretary to India’s mission in Moscow. Then from 1985, he served as first Secretary in Washington D.C.
Spent 2-decades understanding the nitty and gritty
Dr Jaishankar has showcased his mettle and in 1988 he became First Secretary and political adviser to the Indian Peace keeping Force (IPKF). The mismatch between political establishment’s narratives and facts on the ground resulted in a big loss to India’s credibility in Sri Lanka.
The failure had probably a deep impact on his psyche and in his later years he has been using this experience to ensure that there is unity in India’s political set up and Indian envoys. In other words, he wanted to ensure that Yes means Yes and No means No.
From 1990 to 1995, he spent watching the political turmoil in India and ensuring the world that everything is fine. During 1991 Economic crisis, he was Counsellor (Commercial) at the Indian mission in Budapest, ensuring that sentiments about India’s economic prospects are good.
Dr Jaishankar had now spent 2 decades in Foreign Policy establishment. He now started to work towards building a Foreign Policy aptly suitable for India of 21st century. Economic liberalisation had kicked off in India and at the same time, the USA was trying to bring India under its sphere of influence.
With his experience in dealing with the USA, Dr Jaishankar had foreseen that the USA is looking at India as a country with potential and that is why it would love to dominate India. To counter this threat, the only solution was strengthening relationship with like-minded regional allies.
Balanced out the USA and regional allies
But at the same time, remaining in good books of the United States was also a pragmatic need. Dr Jaishankar led this initiative during his days as Joint Secretary (Americas) at the Ministry of External Affairs from 2004-2007.
Often media people credit Manmohan Singh’s political accumen for going ahead with the Civil Nuclear deal, but it was Dr Jasihankar who led the back channel negotiation. He led the negotiations on agreement. To assuage fears of the nuclear power countries, Dr Jaishankar was choosen to represent the Indian government at the Carnegie Endowment International Non-proliferation Conference in June 2007.
Dealing with the United States was terrible. It was back-breaking stuff and no one other than Dr Jaishankar understood it better. He started to work on Plan B and that was to ensure the support of regional countries. He has always been supportive of Economic relationship with China, but pragmatism told him that China would do something radical in future.
Frankly, signs were already there. Dr Jaishankr is said to have introduced China Hawk Shinzo Abe to Manmohan Singh. We all know the result of this initiative. Today, Japan is our QUAD partner and an inseparable economic ally.
Favoured bond China, but not blindly
In 2007, Dr Jaishankar was appointed as High Commissioner to Singapore. In Singapore, Dr Jaishankar saw economic stability and opportunity for India to learn from its strength. He oversaw the implementation of Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA). CECA helped businesses to build bilateral bonds. Now, you know why Singapore is biggest contributor to FDI in India.
It is not that Dr Jaishankar did not try to strengthen our bond with China. In fact, he is the longest serving Indian ambassador in China. He oversaw the improvement in economic, trade and cultural relations between both countries. He also held talks on border disputes. At the same time, he conveyed to China that India would not compromise with its geography.
He was the one who told China to stop issuing separate visas to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Dr Jaishankar took similar proactive measures on the issue of Akshai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh. Dr Jaishankar’s name was enough to shake off Chinese officials in their Premier Li Keqiang’s office.
On one end Dr Jaishankar was favouring people-to-people contact with China, while at the same time, he conveyed to them that India won’t compromise with its core interests. It was Dr Jaishankr who saved India’s face on diplomatic forums during the dovish era of Manmohan Singh government. He was the one who safely negotiated the departure of fellow Diplomat Devyani Khobragade incident.
The matching of two similar minds
It was on the back of his stupendous record that PM Modi called him from retirement and handed him the post of Foreign Secretary. Dr Jaishankar’s imprints can be seen in how Foreign policy has shaped during PM Modi’s era. It won’t be far-fetched to argue that Foreign tours which PM Modi is often praised for is the brainchild of Dr Jaishankar.
He is the only one who can pass on the message that strengthening regional allies is better than strengthening the bond with any established hegemon on the global stage. Currently, India has better relations with every other country in the region except China. Even controlling the excesses of China is directly attributable to his pragmatism. Moreover, India has been able to take all of United States’ strategic allies on its side.
Dr Jaishankar is the rockstar
During his stint as Ministry of External Affairs, Dr Jaishankar’s status has only risen, along with India. He can be frequently seen countering the USA, China and any other geographical entity trying to browbeat India. India’s Foreign Policy has become the very definition of independent Foreign Policy. Tell me, except for India, how many countries are there which have been approached by both Russia and Ukraine for negotiating peace building?
Throughout his career, Dr Jaishankar saw dovish Foreign policy establishment for major part. He has spent more than 30 years trying to change that. He was partly successful, but his initiatives got wings during Modi era. Finally, that moment has arrived and Dr Jaishankar is aptly termed as hero of Indian Foreign Policy. While Raghuram Rajan may not be the rockstar banker he was described as, Dr Jaishankar definitely is a rockstar diplomat.
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