Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s enthusiasm in his first term (2004-09) for pushing ahead with major foreign policy initiatives seems missing in his second stint (from 2009).
The civil nuclear deal with the United States, intended to put India at the high table of nuclear co-operation, took up a lot of energy in his first tenure as prime minister.
While India and the US still debate the implementation of that nuclear deal as Singh sets off for the US again, the “selling” of the deal as a solution to India’s electricity problems was clearly over-stated.
Singh also thought nothing of voting against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in September 2005, signalling a major shift in India’s foreign policy and sending a signal to Washington that it had a new strategic partner.
In his years as Prime Minister, Dr Singh has junked India’s Nehruvian foreign policy that spoke about rights and interests and allied it closely with global American objectives even though public positions may fall short of Washington's expectations.
Singh’s inability to improve relations with the US while ensuring that LNG flowed to India from Iran was a sign of weakness. India needs both nuclear power and gas – one can’t happen at the cost of the other.
In his nine years-plus as PM, Singh has maintained a moderate, non-hawkish posture towards Pakistan. But following Musharraf’s domestic problems and the November 26, 2008, terror attack on Mumbai, the mood between the two countries soured with Ashfaq Kayani, who took over from Musharraf as army chief, junking his predecessor’s India policy.
Today, Pakistan and India are at odds once again. With China, Singh has maintained the steady, incremental approach of his predecessors while building up India’s defences. His first term began with the hope of quick progress on a boundary settlement, a process that shows little movement now.
Troublesome parties like Trinamool Congress in Kolkata and the AIADMK-DMK have restricted the Centre’s space in foreign policy-making, with the UPA-II unable to pass a constitution amendment bill to settle a small border row with Bangladesh.
When it came to crunch time (Mumbai 2008), Singh showed that he was a moderate who didn’t fall into the trap set by the hawks at home demanding military action against Pakistan.
We can be sure of one thing the next prime minister from whichever party, will be far more hawkish.