'We've Lost the Ability to Be a Model Country': Former NSA Shivshankar Menon

India now seems determined to cut itself off and isolate itself.

On January 4, 2020, The Wire uploaded a video of a talk delivered by former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, where he spoke out in stern disapproval of the Centre’s stance on several issues. The full text of the talk is produced below.


We are increasingly isolated; there has been no meaningful international support for this series of actions that we have been discussing today.

Apart from a few committed members of the diaspora and a ragtag bunch of Euro MPs from the extreme right and this isolation is really increasing if you look at what’s happening abroad, the list of critical voices abroad is quiet long.

High Commissioner for refugees and human rights for instance has condemned the CAA calling it fundamentally discriminatory in nature, but it’s actually a cumulative effect of a series of actions, same high commissioner for human rights had also expressed extreme concern about the situation in Kashmir and we seem to know that we have isolated because an Indian origin representative, the only Indian origin woman actually in the house was going to be present, who has tabled the resolution which is critical of CAA and of several recent actions by the government.

Rather than attending this meeting and rebutting these charges which was to duck this, they’ve actually broken the bipartisan consensus which used to exist in the US, at least existed for the last 25 years, NDA, UPA doesn’t matter.

On improving India-US relations or the significant democratic presidential candidates have spoken out on these issues, there have hearings held in the US Congress, language on Kashmir has been inserted into the angle of Foreign Appropriations Act for 2020 and the resolution which Pramila Jaypal has introduced now has 29 co-sponsors, including Republicans and the only Indian origin lawmaker who attended the ‘Howdy, Modi’ conference.

So the question arises, why is this? Are we in violation of our international commitments after all India is signatory not only to the UDHR but since April 1979, to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights since 1967.

You be the judge, Article 2(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says:

“Each state party to the present covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognised in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Notice, it’s for all persons under their jurisdiction, it’s not for citizens, this prevention of discrimination. There’s a very similar article in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, secondly, not only is it not confined to citizens and applies to all persons present under territory it also prohibits discrimination on grounds of national origin which as you’ve just heard is exactly what the CAA does. All the knowledgeable people that I have spoken to agree that we seem to be in violation of our international commitments and for those who think that the laws in as any case , international law cannot be enforced, you must consider the political and other consequences of being perceived as violators of international law and of not keeping our word.

Global public opinion on India has shifted in the last few months. Look at media abroad, I mean the criticism in the West comes from the extreme right, from Wall Street Journal all the way to The Guardian and other leftist sort of papers, includes, almost everybody in between NYT, Washington Post and so on. Some in India, supporters of the Bill and the Act have drawn comfort from official media in authoritarian states, to them one could only say “be careful what you wish and whom you hug.”

Even our friends have been taken aback, the Bangladesh home minister is quoted in a Bangladeshi paper, as saying, “When I asked what he was going to do about the NRC, CAA and threats of deportation to Bangladesh”, [I hear] “Let them fight among themselves”.

Also read: The World is Already Recognising Refugees from the ‘Hindu Rashtra’

Is this what you want? If this is how our friends feel, think of how happy it would make our adversaries.

What we have achieved in the recent past is to hyphenate our image with Pakistan’s in a fundamental way as religiously driven and intolerant states. Kashmir has been discussed in the UNSC again after 40 years and we’ve lost in a sense India’s ability to be an example, and a model for other countries in the subcontinent.

As we were during the freedom movement, in the early years of the republic and immediately after radical reforms started working in India, in the 90’s and the first decade of this century. We gifted our adversaries the platforms from which to attack us, at the very least we can say that it’s an investment because investment is an act to trust and faith and seven countries have issues travel warnings.

None of this helps us, it’s one thing to go alone in pursuit of national goals, as we did in 1971 while assisting the birth of Bangladesh but then we had global opinion on our side, it’s quite another to do so in the pursuit of sectarian, divisive and party political goals as we seem to be doing now.

What the world thinks matters more to India now than ever before.

More than half our GDP is the external sector, we depend on the world for energy, capital, technology, markets, essential, raw materials, fertilisers, 80% of our imports are maintenance imports.

So disengagement or doing it alone is not an option. But we seem determined, with actions like this, to cut ourselves off and isolate ourselves.

This can lead to no good end.