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Don't mess with me. Regards, India

Mumbai (2012-02-27): For once, I want my country to say that. Just be the bully on the block. On second thoughts, not really a bully, a smart power held in awe and given the respect due to it. India, the regional super power, the emerging economic power, the soft-power giant, the majestic elephant: are all fine. But can my government just behave like any kind of power for once?

I'd really like Foreign Minister S M Krishna to roll up his sleeves and say to the Norwegians, give back those Indian kids you have taken away from their parents, or else you will get a bloody nose. Niceties be damned.

I'd like to tell the Italian foreign minister, yes I agree with you, India is really a great country but no we aren't returning those sailors who killed our fishermen. They can develop a taste for Meen Moiley instead of pizza in a Kerala jail.

I'd like the PM to tell the American NGOs, stay the hell out of Kudankulam. I would like him to tell their big businesses to compete fairly for contracts. We buy cheap, we want value for money, whether nuclear plants or fighter planes.

I'd like to tell Israel and Iran, take your war to your own backyard; don't use my land to settle your quarrels. Traffic is a mess in my city; don't bring your biker bombers and sticky bombs here.

I'd like to tell China, the Dalai Lama is our guest and if you don't like that, tough. I'd like us to tell Pakistan... Actually, let's not even go there, there is too much one can say to that country but can't with a candle in one hand. So one can send a message out at SAARC to all our neighbours, don't mess with us and we don't mess with you.

Can we do that? The answer really is NO. We would like to, sometimes. It is so tempting. But it doesn't really work that way in international relations. We have to play the game, like most other countries of being soft and hard. International media frowns upon us for being the bully in the region, yet they also praise us for using our soft power judiciously.

India hesitates to use its hard power. We have fought four wars in our 64 years of existence since Independence, but those wars were thrust upon us. We have never invaded or dominated another country. We have lost territory in our wars.

We confuse the world with our stands on many issues. We support the United States backed resolution against Syria in the United Nations, but we feted Myanmar's president Thein Sein when the rest of the world saw his regime as repressive. Why, we even posed for photographs with the Taliban, remember Jaswant Singh and Muttawakil?  We stand for anti-imperialistic forces and pro-democracy groups in Nepal but we let down a progressive and democratic President Nasheed in Maldives. Confused?

Trying to make sense of our foreign policy can be frustrating. Not just to outsiders, even to the ones who work in the corridors of power. A senior officer who one day holds a press briefing on how two-faced Pakistan is regarding action on 26/11 perpetrators will in a month make a complete U-turn and tell the same media how Pakistan has changed!

Why don't we flex our muscles? Why do we seem apologetic in our dealings with the West? Why are we appeasing smaller nations in our neighbourhood? Why do we ignore the East? Why does it seem that there is no common thread in our dealings with the world and just knee-jerk reactions?

The only explanation could be that we suddenly find ourselves in a leadership role for which we were not prepared.Suddenly we are where we wanted to be, aspired to be, and now have to act the role.

But we have to find our way of doing things. And that by default is not to be a hard power or a soft power but a persuasive power. Blame or praise Mahatma Gandhi and Gautama Buddha for that, we follow the middle path of peaceful coexistence.

© copyright midday

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About me
I am the Editor News, at Asian News International (ANI), Indias leading Multimedia News Agency and the India Correspondent for Channel News Asia, a Singapore based broadcaster.
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