Won by UPA 1, lost by UPA 2

As they meet in Delhi this week, India's ambassadors must speak truth to power on the reversal in our international fortunes.

It was a British diplomat, Henry Wotton, who famously said at the dawn of the 17th century that "an ambassador is an honest gentleman sent to lie abroad for the good of the country". The evolution of diplomacy over the last four centuries has, of course, made this dictum a lot less insightful. But Wotton remains right about one thing. Ambassadors must be honest men and women who must be truthful at home. Promoting the nation's interests abroad is but one part of an ambassador's job. Equally important is the duty to apprise the political masters at home of the developments beyond borders, and the opportunities and dangers they present to the national interest. Above all, an envoy should let the sovereign know how the nation looks from a clinical external perspective.

India's ambassadors, who are gathering in New Delhi this week for the last annual brainstorming session under the decade-long UPA rule, are in a better position than most to reflect on the undeniable reversal of India's international fortunes in the second term of the UPA government. Having created unprecedented diplomatic opportunities in the first term, the UPA has managed to squander them in the second.

To be fair, not everything that went wrong was under the control of the nation's foreign policy establishment. Although the UPA government's failures on the economic front have been the most damaging, there is enough blame to go around the Delhi durbar. Some of it must be put squarely on the timorous worldview of the ruling Congress party. And the rest must be owned by foreign policy managers.

Any review of the UPA government's foreign policy record in the second term would highlight at least three major debacles. The first was the mishandling of the nuclear liability legislation in 2010 that turned one of India's greatest diplomatic victories in the UPA's first term ó ending India's prolonged atomic isolation ó into a disaster. After overturning three and a half decades of international nuclear sanctions against India in the first term, the UPA enacted a piece of self-defeating legislation that prevents the participation of foreign and domestic companies in the long overdue expansion of India's nuclear power generation programme. Even India's worst enemies could not have orchestrated it better than UPA 2.

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