NEW DELHI: If we want larger countries to respect our sovereignty, we must respect the sovereignty of smaller countries: former diplomat Mani Shankar Aiyar.

Highlighting the growing “inconsistencies” in foreign policy, former ambassador MK Bhadrakumar said that foreign policy has seen a fundamental change after the Modi government came to power. He was speaking at the Idea of India Conclave in Delhi. The discussion was chaired by senior journalist Seema Mustafa.

“The present government has completely debunked and de-linked the idea of non-alignment…there is a fundamental shift in foreign policy,” said the former ambassador.

Echoing the concerns of the former ambassador, senior Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar assessed the two years of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government. He said that there “should be an overarching goal, a strategy to arrive at that goal,and tactics to overcome contingency.” Citing the failure of the present government on all three fronts, he further added that if “we want larger countries to respect our sovereignty, we must respect the sovereignty of smaller countries.”

There was wide consensus on the failed neighborhood policy pursued by New Delhi. Talking about the worsening relationship with Nepal, Bhadrakumar said that the present situation is largely because of the “doctrine of akhand bharat”. “The present government wanted Nepal to be a hindu rashtra but it became a secular state instead,” he said.

The policy of only including Hindu refugees from Bangladesh as legal migrants again is problematic and symbolizes the communal character of the government. Then there is policy paralysis vis-à-vis Pakistan. Also, the appropriation of the hot pursuit in Myanmar was criticized because the government did not respect the sovereignty of Myanmar. Overall, said Mani Shankar Aiyar, it is the imperial dimension to our foreign policy vis-à-vis small neighbors that is the reason for such a situation.

Bhadrakumar spoke of PM Modi’s fancy for “geo-economics”. He said that the development agenda of the present government critically depends on China. Pointing out the road ahead he said: “unless we strengthen our relations with China, we will have problems.”

The panel agreed on the fact that the “personalized”, “centralized” style of PM Modi’s policy was posing a major problem and as Aiyar said, it had marginalised the foreign office, and the historical memory that came with it. Several case studies were cited to support this argument: Modi’s sudden visit to Pakistan to wish Nawaz Sharif on his birthday; calling heads of states by their first name; the Sabarmati swing diplomacy for the Chinese President.

Alarmed by the onset of the emerging Cold War 2.0 between the US and China, Aiyar warned the government against the consequences of picking sides, and working against China at this stage.

The intriguing session was followed by a round of questions and answers. Several tough questions were put forth ranging from the relevance of the Non-Aligned Movement today to the role of the Indian diaspora in the larger policy framework to India’s role in West Asia, especially for the Palestinian cause.