Shekhar Gupta writes about how Modi’s early foreign policy successes have turned into failures in the last six months. He has a point to make. But, in sacrificing the microphone for the megaphone, he loses credibility. It is a pity because an opportunity for some well-founded critique has been frittered away.
The column features some blatant exaggerations and ‘driving a truck through the gap’ kind of assertions. The GDP growth slowdown on account of demonetisation is one of them when the biggest elephant in the room is that of bad debt in banks and corporate sector’s inability to invest.
GDP growth overstatement is a problem but that applies data prior to 2014 as well. It is a methodological issue after the base year was revised and other revisions to calculations made.
Wait! Why am I writing about GDP and domestic issues while blogging on an article that was supposedly on foreign policy. Well, that is precisely the point. In accusing Modi government of using foreign policy for domestic political goals, he falls into the same trap.
But, the article is about foreign policy errors and it should have stuck to that theme. It is Mr. Gupta’s willingness and inclination to make an omnibus statement out of a valid and relevant issue that raises doubts on the correctness of some of his assertions and
interpretations on his core topic – foreign policy.
At this stage, his point about Mr. Trump having become ‘cool’ towards India is well made and should be well taken. But, one should not make much out of it. Not yet. Mr. Trump’s focus is clearly on other issues and priorities, including the mid-term elections. India might be getting caught in the cross fire, for now.
So, on two core issues, Mr. Gupta actually concedes that the issues were outside Modi’s control – China and US behaviour.
His core points are domestic chest-thumping on so-called external successes, erroneous decisions on trade issues with the United States, on the lack of effective military build-up, change of Defence Ministers (four in four years) along with issues of competence, etc. Some of these points are well-made, substantiated and some are merely asserted.
For example, he writes,
The Chinese make three warships per year. We struggle to make one in three and still take a couple more to fit missiles and sensors on it. After much noise over Make in India and private sector, our achievement is a big cipher.
A friend of mine did some digging and sent me information that “the Indian Navy has added 3 destroyers (1 each in 2014,2015 and 2016) / total fleet is 11 destroyers. They have also added 3 frigates (1 each in 2014, 2016 and 2017)/ total fleet is 16. So it is not 1 ship every 3 years but 2 ships every year. You can see here and here.
Overall, it could have been a very thoughtful, serious and scholarly critique, even within the limited framework of a newspaper column but manages to fall well short of it.
In that sense, it is remarkable that it shares a large similarity with the subject matter of the article itself:
(1) It mixes up issues and loses focus – as he says India’s foreign policy did
(2) It confuses loudness for effectiveness
The second is a very Indian failing too.
Hence, the header of the article: Shekar Gupta’s Self-Goal.