In the early years following independence in 1947, India ambassadors were judged almost entirely by the quality and style of their political reporting. But, India soon found that in the contemporary world, safeguarding economic interests is as if not more important, than political diplomacy.

I recall in the early 1970s, when we worked tirelessly in Moscow to secure entry of India private sector companies to the Soviet market in areas ranging from tea and coffee to cosmetics and other consumer durables.

With the advent of liberalisation, I remember lobbying at the level of Head of State in Cyprus and Malta for getting preference for power equipment offers by BHEL and for urging that contracts for supply of trucks should not be cancelled because of some sub-standard equipment supplied by manufacturers in India.

In the contemporary world, the power and influence of nations is determined primarily by their economic growth and power. For nearly six decades, Japan stayed away from involving itself or participating in conflicts abroad. But, it based its diplomacy primarily on trade and investments abroad and developed governmental institutions, whose sole job was to secure markets and investment opportunities abroad. Its economic influence was enough to enable it to trounce India in elections to the UN Security Council in 1997.

China is successfully outmanoeuvring the entire Western world in Asia, Africa and West Asia primarily through its aid, investments and trade efforts. Japanese and Chinese diplomatic missions abroad and the Ministries concerned in their capitals work closely together in promoting trade and investments abroad and in facilitating inward investments.

Intrusive government involvement is today an integral part of the global economic scene. The British Chancellor of the Exchequer directly took up the Vodafone issue when he was in India and his High Commissioner was present in the Supreme Court when it delivered its verdict.

President Obama focused his attention largely on economic gains to American industry and exports, while speaking of the success of his visit to India. Indian prime Ministers may have been more discreet about their lobbying for Indian companies. But it is no state secret that this is common practice.

The recent controversy involving the GMR in Maldives is a murky affair, including domestic political rivalries, growing Islamist influences and efforts to marginalise Indian influence in the Indian Ocean Region.

There have also been allegations of malpractices. It would severely undermine Indian influence and credibility in its entire neighbourhood if the Government remained an idle spectator to these developments. Indian diplomatic, political and economic influence has to be discreetly and firmly used, to ensure that the Maldivian Government and the Indian Company involved reach an amicable settlement.

(The author is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan.)

(This article was published on December 7, 2012)
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