End of the Manmohan Doctrine

Speaking at a seminar at the University of Warsaw earlier this month, I gave a tentative obituary to the so-called Manmohan Doctrine. The doctrine, never officially espoused by the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, was put forward by his key aide for such semiotic formulations, Sanjaya Baru.

The point is that Singh did develop a grand strategy that sought to capitalise on the sudden surge in Indian economic growth that began in the mid-2000s and use it to get overseas leverage to help even further consolidate this growth story.

At one point, with growth heading to a sustained 9.5% level, Singh began moving Indian foreign policy away from its traditional free-riding and obstructionist attitude. He also pushed for the reform of the foreign policy system with the idea of developing a strategic culture in India.

But it didn’t last. Lehman Brothers, the telecom corruption scandal and the collapse of the policy equation between him and Sonia Gandhi saw that growth level start to decline. Singh’s doctrine began to unravel.

There are still residual bits of the policy: the gains with India’s neighbouring countries are still holding, the strategic relationships with the US and Japan that could transform India — a key word in Singh’s geopolitical vocabulary, and so on. But the brave new world Singh had envisaged is on hold, if not gone for good. In truth, much of what survives in the geopolitical sphere is now driven by other countries’ fears of China as much as by the promise of India’s economy.

The doctrine was perhaps a flash in the pan for India, but it also showed how New Delhi’s international vision began to change once prosperity seemed inevitable. The sad part is that the doctrine could have survived if Singh had been able to pass just a few economic reforms and keep the growth rate at 8 plus. He didn’t, and the window has probably closed for the next few years.

Until next time.

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