Narendra Modi & Rajiv Gandhi : CONTRASTING LEADERSHIP IN DIPLOMACY & FOREIGN POLICY
Thirty five years ago, on 29th July 1987 to be precise, the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi signed an accord with Sri Lankan President Junius Jayawardene which was called Indo-Sri Lanka accord. This was apparently to bring peace in the strife-torn Jaffna, the Northern Province of the Island-nation.
That myopic decision of Rajiv Gandhi to sign Indo-Sri Lanka accord proved to be disastrous in multiple ways. Let’s analyse it later.
In March 2022, Russia attacked Ukraine for its own reasons. The end to this three-month old war seems to be elusive. US and other NATO countries mounted intense pressure on India to take a stance against Russia and in favour of Ukraine. So much so, India was almost accused of being a part of the alleged war-crimes perpetrated by Russia in Ukraine.
However, Prime Minister NarendraModi maintained “strategic neutrality” withstanding all criticism from most of the Western countries starting from US. He successfully and effectively prevented India from entering into the vortex of war in which India had no role to play.
The war between Sri Lanka and the LTTE was essentially an internal conflict by two warring section of society. It was none of India’s business to have interfered in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka. India ought to have taken a “strategically neutral” stance, as it was taken now in Russia –Ukraine war. All that India could have done in Sri Lanka – LTTE conflict was to say that “The innocent Tamil population should not be put to any kind of hardship and India will extend moral support to the Tamil civilian population whereas it is the job of Sri Lanka to tackle LTTE militarily”
Instead, Rajiv Gandhi made India a party to the Sri Lanka – LTTE conflict by taking upon himself the task of ushering in peace in Jaffna by deploying Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF). Not confined to that biggest blunder of sending in India troops, he also assured the LTTE that “India would do everything to ensure devolution of political and economic power to Jaffna province”
Junius Jayawardene wryly dismissed India’s statement and said, “Devolution is our (Sri Lankan) business. Maintaining peace is your task” He sat back happily watching the Indian Army and LTTE fighting against each other. That needless war between IPKF and LTTE cost India a bomb. Thousands of Indian Army personnel attained martyrdom. It was not India’s war but still our soldiers died while fighting against the LTTE.
This myopic decision on the part of Rajiv Gandhi to have become a part of Indo-Sri Lankan conflict ultimately took his own life. The brutal LTTE bombed him to death on 21st May 1991 at Sriperambudur, near Chennai. The LTTE had taken revenge against Rajiv Gandhi for sending IPKF.
Cut to 2022, NarendraModi efficiently balanced the pressure of the Western forces and India’s historically important strategic ties with Russia. He was aware that on one hand US was an undependable ally and on the other hand India cannot afford to antagonise Russia. For, Modi had succeeded in establishing cordial relationship with most of the Central Asian Republics (Confederation of Independent States) which are rich in petroleum products, mineral and natural resources. And undoubtedly, these countries were in good relationship with Russia. Had India taken an anti-Russian stance, Vladimir Putin would simply ask these Central Asian Republics to turn off the tap of the natural resources to India.
Instead of making comments on the merits and demerits of the war and analysing who is right and who is wrong, Modi used his diplomatic skills to bring out thousands of Indians, mostly students from the war-torn Ukraine. The speed with which the MEA officials both in Delhi and Kiev worked to bring the last Indian out of Ukraine by utilising the airports in Romania, Hungary and Poland was simply amazing. The world watched India’s prowess in this “rescue mission” with froze fascination and grudging admiration.
By his far-sightedness, grit and determination, Modi had ensured that India remain steadfast in its wise policy of “strategic neutrality”. World leaders, including those who had decried India’s neutral stance like US and Britain, praised India in general and Modi in particular for its “majestically neutral” stance. India’s stature and Modi’s reputation grew by leaps and bounds. Modi moved a few notches up in being called World Leader once again.
In contrast, by his myopism, eager to play the role of a world leader and without any proper preparation at home, Rajiv Gandhi pushed India into a needless war with LTTE thus allowing thousands of Indian Army personnel getting killed and himself became its victim.
That is Narendra Modi and Rajiv Gandhi, a contrasting leadership in diplomacy and foreign policy.
By S. A. Hemanth