THE GIST of Editorial for UPSC Exams : 05 JUNE 2019 (The immediate neighbourhood (The Hindu))

The immediate neighbourhood (The Hindu)

Mains Paper 2 : International Relations
Prelims level : BIMSTEC
Mains level : India and its neighbourhood relations


  • The government has shown its commitment to its strategy of “Neighbourhood First” by inviting the leaders of neighbouring countries for the second time to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony on May 30.
  • The focus will continue this week when he makes his first visit in this tenure to the Maldives and Sri Lanka, something that has become tradition for all Indian Prime Ministers.
  • The obvious difference between Mr. Modi’s invitations to his taking office the first and second time is that in 2014 they went to the leaders of the eight-member South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), while in 2019 they went to leaders of the seven-member Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).
  • BIMSTEC includes five SAARC members (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka), and Myanmar and Thailand, while leaving SAARC members Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Maldives out, due to the geographical location of the Bay of Bengal.

Subsuming the other

  • To extrapolate from this that BIMSTEC has replaced SAARC, or that the Modi government is in effect building the foundations of BIMSTEC over the grave of SAARC is both illogical and contrary to the founding principles of these organisations.
  • SAARC, as an organisation, reflects the South Asian identity of the countries, historically and contemporarily.
  • This is a naturally made geographical identity. Equally, there is a cultural, linguistic, religious and culinary affinity that defines South Asia.
  • Therefore, just as rivers, climatic conditions flow naturally from one South Asian country to the other, so do the films, poetry, humour, entertainment and food.
  • Since 1985 when the SAARC charter was signed, the organisation has developed common cause in several fields: agriculture, education, health, climate change, science and technology, transport and environment.
  • Each area has seen modest but sustainable growth in cooperation.
  • SAARC’s biggest failure, however, comes from the political sphere, where mainly due to India-Pakistan tensions, heads of state have met only 18 times in 34 years; it has been five years since the last summit in Kathmandu.


  • BIMSTEC, on the other hand, is not moored in the identity of the nations that are members.
  • It is essentially a grouping of countries situated around the Bay of Bengal, and began in 1997 (Bhutan and Nepal joined in 2004), a decade after SAARC.
  • The organisation did not even have a secretariat until 2014.
  • While it has made some progress in technical areas, leaders of BIMSTEC nations have held summits just four times in 22 years.
  • With India’s growing frustration over cross-border terrorism emanating from Pakistan, it hopes to build more on BIMSTEC’s potential.
  • But the organisation is unlikely to supplant SAARC for a specific reason.

India’s SAARC aversion

  • This principled stand by India, however, doesn’t extend to other organisations such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), into which India and Pakistan were inducted in 2017.
  • Unlike SAARC, which has never presumed to resolve bilateral issues of its members, the SCO is a security-based regional organisation that is keen to work on conflict resolution in the region; it even organises military exercises between members.
  • It is difficult to reconcile the staunch opposition to attending a SAARC summit where India is at least the largest country, with the acquiescence to the SCO, where Russia and China take the lead.
  • Both Moscow and Beijing have made no secret of their desire to facilitate talks between India and Pakistan, and it remains to be seen how successful they will be when Mr. Modi and Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan attend the SCO summit in Bishkek (June 13-14).
  • The SCO summit is hosted by rotation, and is likely to be in either India or Pakistan next year, which would mean that Mr. Modi would either be required host Mr. Khan, or the other way around, something the government has refused to do at SAARC.

SAARC defunct Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA)

  • However, such agreements have not made progress in other groupings either: the Bangladesh-Bhutan-India-Nepal (BBIN) grouping has failed to implement the MVA due to opposition from Bhutan, and India has held up for years cross-border power-exchanges that would allow Bhutan and Nepal to freely sell electricity to third countries such as Bangladesh.
  • India has rightfully held Pakistan responsible for holding up the South Asia Free Trade Area agreement and refusing to reciprocate ‘Most Favoured Nation’ (MFN) status to India.
  • After the Pulwama attack this February, India also withdrew MFN status to Pakistan, but New Delhi must admit that in other regional groupings such as the ASEAN-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), it too is accused of stonewalling free trade regimes. In BIMSTEC, one can imagine similar logjams.
  • However, over time, India began to see the benefits of leading SAARC, where neighbours became force multipliers for India’s power projections.
  • Some such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka even outstripped India on growth and human development indicators, leading to more opportunities for engagement with them.


  • In a region increasingly targeted by Chinese investment and loans, SAARC could be a common platform to demand more sustainable alternatives for development, or to oppose trade tariffs together, or to demand better terms for South Asian labour around the world.
  • This potential has not yet been explored, nor will it be till SAARC is allowed to progress naturally and the people of South Asia, who make up a quarter of the world’s population, are enabled to fulfil their destiny together.

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Prelims Questions:

Q.1) Consider the following statements with reference to mass movements:
1. It involves transfer of rock debris down the slopes under the direct influence of gravity.
2. They are more active over unweathered slopes rather than over weathered materials.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: A
Mains Questions:

Q.1) What explains the deep resistance to SAARC in India?