FS choice chance for Prime Minister to send a message

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is arraigned against his own advisors over the appointment of the next foreign secretary. And what's important is that this is no longer about who favours whom, but has now turned into a larger question of Singh's worldview versus his own establishment.

Singh's growing distance from his advisors surfaced well and truly in Japan recently when he endorsed his counterpart Shinzo Abe's idea of treating the Indo-Pacific as a strategic geopolitical space a vision that his own advisors did not share. Such were the nature of differences that the PM is believed to have sought independent advice and inputs on the content of his two defining speeches in Tokyo.

When the PM was to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping for the first time in Durban, then too there was a debate on whether Singh should be upfront in expressing Indian concerns or should he just hear Xi out. He decided against predominant advice and took charge of the conversation. That's how the trans-boundary river issue returned to the front burner.

Even during the Depsang crisis with China, India emitted doubtful signals at first, trying to downplay the issue. Ultimately, New Delhi was forced to take a tough stand to send the right message.

In many ways, these are tough days for India. The relationship with the United States has lost political direction, with bureaucracies on either side playing defensive on what was to be a bold strategic agenda.

On the other hand, Washington and Beijing are exploring new common ground, which may have a significant impact on how matters pan out in Afghanistan and Pakistan ahead of the transition.

Even though India is entering election year, the Manmohan Singh government cannot take its eye off the external world. Today, New Delhi looks jaded while new governments in Washington, Beijing and Tokyo are far more energised to take the initiative. Singh has a choice does he want to resign to this fact and embrace the "safe" non-aligned approach or does he want to send a strong signal that India is willing to do business, even if it's his last year.

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