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18th MAY 2016 


(1 Question)


Answer questions in NOT MORE than 200 words each. Content of the answer is more important than its length.

Links are provided for reference. You can also use the Internet fruitfully to further enhance and strengthen your answers. 


1.     India’s neighbourhood policy coupled with the more pro-active Act East Policy, are aimed at making India a priority for its neighbours. How far has this been successful? What measures can ensure its success?    







National Democratic Alliance government’s neighbourhood policy began exceptionally well with Mr. Modi’s glamorous tour of the region soon after his equally glamorous swearing-in.


Save for Bhutan and perhaps Bangladesh, much of South Asia has major grievances against New Delhi today. 

One of the major reasons for India’s growing unpopularity in the regional capitals is its increasing tendency to interfere in the domestic affairs of its smaller neighbours, either citing security implications or to offset the target country’s unfriendly strategic choices.



·         New Delhi was deeply upset with the Constitution passed by the Nepalese Constituent Assembly in September 2015. Its unhappiness resulted from the legitimate feeling among the people of Terai, especially the Madhesis and Tharus, living close to Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, that they have been short-changed by the country’s new Constitution. But a substantive political argument was thwarted by poor diplomatic style.

·         The problematic part was twofold: the manner in which New Delhi publicly expressed its displeasure with Nepal’s sovereign act of Constitution-drafting; and the manner in which India allegedly abetted the Madhesi blockade of essential supplies to Nepal.

·         In response to the blockade, Kathmandu complained to the United Nations, prompting its Secretary-General to highlight “Nepal’s right of free transit, as a landlocked nation as well as for humanitarian reasons”.

·         While the current Nepalese Constitution is far from perfect, it is for the various political factions in Nepal to debate and resolve their differences: it’s none of New Delhi’s business to thrust good sense upon Kathmandu. Second, aiding the imposition of a blockade on Nepal, which had large-scale humanitarian impact, is unwarranted coercion against a friendly neighbour. Third, playing even a minor role to topple a democratically elected regime in Nepal is unmistakably reprehensible.

·         New Delhi is widely reported to have played a role in attempting to topple the K.P. Oli regime in Kathmandu.

·         The government of Nepal cancelled the visit of the country’s President Bidhya Devi Bhandari to India recently.

·         It also recalled its ambassador in New Delhi.

·         Around the same time, Prime Minister Narendra Modi cancelled his visit to Lumbini.


Sri Lanka

·         In Sri Lanka in the run-up to the island nation’s elections in 2015, New Delhi had proactively promoted the coalition led by Maithripala Sirisena to defeat the then Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa whose anti-Tamil record and pro-China tilt was resented by New Delhi.

·         Several reports at the time claimed that Colombo had asked New Delhi to withdraw the Research and Analysis Wing’s station chief in Sri Lanka for allegedly working to ensure the victory of the anti-Rajapaksa coalition.

·         Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, while visiting India last year, removed any such misgivings by saying, “Sri Lanka is neither pro-India nor pro-China.”

·         The new government in Colombo has been vigorously courting Beijing for economic and infrastructural assistance, something it knows fully well that New Delhi can only provide in small measure.

·         Another problem is New Delhi’s desire to push through a free trade agreement – which includes goods and services – is being opposed by a large majority of nervous citizens.

·         As a small island nation, people are afraid that the Economic and Technology Cooperation Agreement, which is now being negotiated, will harm local interests. Whether it finally will or not is open to question, but the growing perception among the general public is that India will swallow up small business and land all IT jobs in Sri Lanka.

·         The India-Sri Lanka free trade agreement, signed in 1999, met with similar resistance in both countries, but it turned out to be a win-win situation for both countries.



·         Maldives, yet another traditional ally of ours, has also been resenting the Indian reactions to its domestic political developments.

·         New Delhi, being highly critical of how the pro-India former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed was jailed by the current regime under terrorism charges, publicly stated that “we are concerned at recent developments in the Maldives, including the arrest and manhandling of former President Nasheed”.

·         The Maldivian government responded by saying it hoped that India would “adhere to the principle of Panchsheel and will not intervene in domestic politics of Maldives”.

·         Furthermore, Maldives also strengthened its engagement with China, which has gladly been offering economic and infrastructural assistance to Male.

·         India has now signed a number of bilateral agreements during Mr. Yameen’s visit to New Delhi in April 2016.



·         While dealing with Pakistan, India’s blow-hot blow-cold policy has so far achieved little.

·         The Indian leader's visit to Lahore in December 2015 was some out-of-the-box thinking. That this was followed by the Pathankot attack was unfortunate. But the India-Pakistan peace parleys seem to be going nowhere.



·         The deal with Afghanistan involving the transfer of four Mi-25 attack helicopters is South Asia's one of the most consequential deals. It not just marked India's first transfer of offensive weapons to the country, but also made a considerable addition to Afghanistan's air power.

·         But, close to the deal and even closer to PM Modi's visit to Afghanistan, the attack on India's consulate in Mazar-e-Sharif happened. Diplomatic concerns aside, the attack on Mazar-e-Sharif and on India's air base in Pathankot exposed vulnerabilities of India in securing its own strategic assets. To the region, today, India looks more like a victim than a leader with a robust counter-terror mechanism in place.



·         Despite challenges of growing Islamic radicalism, Dhaka has high economic hopes.

·         Recent agreements signed between India and Bangladesh complement Dhaka's quest to get integrated into the world economy, especially through better connectivity by land and sea.

·         Signing of the landmark Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA) for the Regulation of Passenger, Personnel and Cargo Vehicular Traffic is a significant step. Once implemented the agreement is said to have the potential to increase intra-regional trade within South Asia by almost 60% and with the rest of the world by over 30%.

·         A settled land and maritime boundary, the virtually seamless implementation of the land boundary agreement (LBA) on both sides, including movement of people, resettlement, rehabilitation, etc is an enormous confidence booster.

·         India in 2014 accepted the verdict of the international tribunal on the maritime boundary, giving Bangladesh a big chunk of the sea.

·         Sheikh Hasina has invested in India as well - rolling up many extremist networks that worked with Pakistan's ISI to target India, returning Ulfa leader Anup Chetia (Paresh Barua remains at large but for that we have to thank China), and driving many other groups out of Bangladesh to other countries. India will fence the border with electronics, lasers and keep a drone-eye open. This may keep illegal migration in check, but is a political vote of confidence.

·         India is now investing big in Bangladesh. For the first time, three Indian companies have bid for the new port in Payra near Chittagong, four companies are building power plants, LPG, CNG, diesel will be offloaded for Dhaka's needs as it flows through Bangladesh for India's northeast, two SEZs will be populated by Indian companies. Train lines are being opened, roads being built, a bridge will be built on Feni river.

·         It has helped immensely that Bangladesh cancelled Sonadia port project by China, despite China promising deep funding and producing an attractive project proposal.

·         The fact that Bangladesh has awarded Matarbari port, a mere 25 km away, to the Japanese points to the strategic calculations involved. In addition, Sri Lanka's disastrous Chinese debt woes on the Colombo port project may have been a cautionary note.

·         With a nuclear agreement in place, India will be Dhaka's consultant as they go for the first nuclear power plant from Russia. By 2020, Bangladesh has a good chance of being power ready.


Importance of subtle diplomacy

·         The argument here is not that India has absolutely no stake in what happens in Nepal, Sri Lanka or Maldives.

·         Indeed, the domestic politics and foreign relations of its neighbours do, and should, concern India. But does that mean we have the right to bully them to toe our line?

·         Moreover, by intervening in Sri Lanka’s domestic politics decades ago, first by propping up the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, and then by sending military forces to ‘keep peace’ there, we ended up creating bigger problems for ourselves. We should learn our lesson from this history and stay away from interfering in the messy domestic politics of our neighbours.

·         While it is true that India’s smaller neighbours do try, from time to time, to play the China card, the response to that is neither arrogance nor regime change, but creative, patient diplomacy. It is also important to recognise that India simply does not have the material capacity to engage in a zero-sum game with China in the region. That realisation alone should convince us to use sophisticated forms of diplomacy along with catering to the infrastructural needs of the region in whatever way we can.

·         India has also been reducing the already limited amount of aid and loans to the neighbouring states, recently. A recent Parliamentary Standing Committee report on External Affairs alarmingly noted: “There has been a sizeable reduction in aid and loans to countries in our immediate neighbourhood such as Maldives, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.”

·         If we are unable to maintain strategic ties with our neighbours by catering to their economic and infrastructural requirements, let’s at least not alienate them with our undiplomatic and bullying behaviour.



·         Modi's neighbourhood first policy shows economic promise, but it needs a proper mechanism in place to adequately respond to political and security situations in South Asia.


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