Being a good neighbour
Mains Paper 1: International Relations
Prelims level: India’s neighbourhood policy
Mains level: India and its neighborhood- relations. Bilateral, regional and
global groupings and agreements
involving India and/or affecting India's interests
- India is one of the world’s least regionally-integrated major
powers. While there indeed are structural impediments (posed by both India
and its neighbours) in fostering regional integration.
- The most significant handicap is New Delhi’s ideational
disinclination towards its neighbourhood.
- Successive regimes have considered the neighbourhood as an
irritant and challenge, not an opportunity.
- Seldom have India’s policies displayed a sense of belonging to the
region or a desire to work with the neighbourhood for greater integration
- Today, we have become even more transactional, impatient and
small-minded towards our neighbourhood which has, as a result, restricted
our space for manoeuvre in the regional geopolitical scheme of things.
At a critical juncture
- India’s neighbourhood policy is at a critical juncture: while its
past policies have ensured a steady decline in its influence and goodwill in
- The persistent absence of a coherent and well-planned regional
policy will most definitely ensure that it eventually slips out of India’s
sphere of influence.
- India’s foreign policy planners therefore need to reimagine the
country’s neighbourhood policy before it is too late.
- The Narendra Modi government’s neighbourhood policy began
exceptionally well with Mr. Modi reaching out to the regional capitals and
making grand foreign policy commitments.
- It seemed to lose a sense of diplomatic balance, for instance,
when it tried to interfere with the Constitution-making process in Nepal and
was accused of trying to influence electoral outcomes in Sri Lanka.
- While India’s refugee policy went against its own traditional
practices, it was found severely wanting on the Rohingya question, and
seemed clueless on how to deal with the political crisis in the Maldives.
- Despite their characteristic bravado and grandstanding, the BJP
government’s foreign policy mandarins looked out of their depth.
Lessons from the past
- First, let’s briefly examine what should not be done in dealing
with a sensitive neighbourhood.
- India must shed its aggression and deal with tricky situations
with far more diplomatic subtlety and finesse.
- The manner in which it weighed down on Nepal in 2015 during the
Constitution-making process is an example of how not to influence outcomes.
- The ability of diplomacy lies in subtly persuading the smaller
neighbour to accept an argument rather than forcing it to, which is bound to
- Second, it must be kept in mind that meddling in the domestic
politics of neighbour countries is a recipe for disaster, even when invited
to do so by one political faction or another.
- Preferring one faction or regime over another is unwise in the
longer term. Take the example of incumbent Sri Lankan President Maithripala
- There was a great deal of cheer in New Delhi when he took office
in January 2015 (with some saying India helped him cobble together a
winnable coalition) after defeating Mahinda Rajapaksa, considered less well
disposed toward India.
- However, Mr. Sirisena’s political transformation was quick, as
were India’s fortunes in Colombo, at least temporarily.
- Third, New Delhi must not fail to follow up on its promises to its
neighbours. It has a terrible track record in this regard.
- Fourth, there is no point in competing with China where China is
at an advantage vis-à-vis India.
- This is especially true of regional infrastructure projects.
- India simply does not have the political, material or financial
wherewithal to outdo China in building infrastructure.
- Hence India must invest where China falls short, especially at the
level of institution-building and the use of soft power.
- Even in those areas China seems to be forging ahead. India must
therefore invest a great deal more in soft power promotion.
- India could expand the scope and work of the South Asian
University (SAU), including by providing a proper campus (instead of
allowing it to function out of a hotel building) and ensuring that its
students get research visas to India without much hassle.
- If properly utilised, the SAU can become a point for regional
Looking for convergence
- Finally, while reimagining its neighbourhood policy, New Delhi
must also look for convergence of interests with China in the Southern Asian
region spanning from Afghanistan to Nepal to Sri Lanka.
- There are several possible areas of convergence, including counter
terrorism, regional trade and infrastructure development.
- China and India’s engagement of the South Asian region needn’t be
based on zero-sum calculations.
- Any non-military infrastructure constructed by China in the region
can also be beneficial to India while it trades with those countries.
- A road or a rail line built by China in Bangladesh or Nepal can be
used by India in trading with those countries.
- India prefers bilateral engagements in the region rather than deal
with neighbours on multilateral forums.
- However, there is only so much that can be gained from bilateral
arrangements, and there should be more attempts at forging multilateral
arrangements, including by resurrecting the South Asian Association for
Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
- India must have a coherent and long-term vision for the
neighbourhood devoid of empty rhetoric and spectacular visits without follow
- We must ask ourselves, as the biggest country in the South Asian
neighbourhood, what kind of a region do we want to be situated in, and work
towards enabling that.
- New Delhi must invest in three major policy areas. There needs to
be better regional trading arrangements.
- The reason why South Asia is the least integrated region in the
world is because the economic linkages are shockingly weak among the
countries of the region.
- The lead to correct this must be taken by India even if this means
offering better terms of trade for the smaller neighbours.
- While it is true that long ‘sensitive lists’ maintained by South
Asian countries are a major impediment in the implementation of SAFTA, or
the South Asian Free Trade Area, India could do a lot more to persuade them
to reduce the items on such lists.
- Several of India’s border States have the capacity to engage in
trading arrangements with neighbouring counties.
- This should be made easier by the government by way of
constructing border infrastructure and easing restrictions on such border
Q.1) With reference to the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral
Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), consider the following statements:
1. It is a regional organization comprising of countries from both South
Asia and South East Asia.
2. It aims to ensure cooperation in trade and counter terrorism efforts only.
3. India is a member of BIMSTEC.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 1 and 3 only
(c) 2 and 3 only
(d) 1, 2 and 3
Q.1) India must shed its zero-sum style foreign policy-making, and work towards
South Asian integration. Critically evaluate the statement.