An International Webinar on, “Failure of India’s Neighborhood First Policy under BJP Government: Implications for Regional Cooperation.”, was organized by Nordic Institute of Stability Studies (NISS), a Denmark-based think tank of International Stability. Mr. Muhammad Athar Javed in his welcome address stated that due to its negative foreign policy towards smaller neighbors such as Nepal, Maldives, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, He said India’s Neighborhood first policies have failed to achieve any significant objectives under the BJP government, and this factor may further contribute to weakening of SAARC.
Dr. Scott Lucas, professor of Emeritus at department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham, UK, highlighted the nature of governance of India’s Prime Minister and said “PM Modi’s confrontational rather than collective approach in the region”. He said that “India has a regional policy but for Pakistan it is very specifically oriented due to the factors such as Kashmir or Afghanistan”. Prof. Lucas further emphasized “confrontational approach rather than collective approach by India, more focus on military rather than social elements, and the policies at home and in the region”. Concluding his argument, Prof. Lucas focused on “the ‘Us vs. Them’ debate, and suggested that the states need to participate by rules and norms to open the path for mutual interests by taking several measures”.
Dr. Samuel Ramani, Tutor of Politics and International Relations at University of Oxford, remarked that “Indian neighboring first policies are the priorities and their goal at first but it’s like the failure after Arab spring had faced improving the relationship with the neighboring countries same is the case with India. India is interfering in the domestic affairs of neighboring countries especially in Nepal and the violation of their sovereignty”. “India is also creating hurdles in free transit and free trade within and beyond Nepal and keeps suppressing its people and government. Since 2006, trade policies were very much favorable for India and its neighboring countries but Modi’s policies have changed many things”.
“India- Bangladesh relationship is a sign of promise, but things are different on grounds, people believe that Modi’s policies are against Islam. There are many areas of friction mainly dealing with border pass, the South Asian duration goal, and its neighbor first policy goal first rival in Nepal the in Sri Lanka and Maldives after that Bangladesh and Pakistan”. He remarked that “India Pakistan’s economic relationship will be damaged if both countries do not reach a mutual understanding on the issue of Afghanistan”.
Dr. Anil Sigdel, Founder of Nepal Matters for America, Washington DC, explained “Indo-Nepal border issues and commented that Nepal has repeatedly requested Indian government to jointly review and settle serious issues of the demarcation”. the Eminent Persons Group (EPG), comprising of high level politicians and experts from both sides sat for a joint comprehensive review of the bilateral ties, and finalized a list of recommendations, “Modi’s leadership showed flexibility but that g quickly evaporated. As per Modi’s NSA Ajit Doval, Nepal has benefited from the existing arrangements; therefore India does not want to move forward with the report recommendations. Another persistent problem is of water management along the border as many Nepali villages submerged every monsoon season. One does not see any serious efforts to address on New Delhi’s part of such incidents”.
“The road inauguration by defense minister, Raj Nath Singh, through the strategic region of Kalapani of Nepal towards Tibet caused an unprecedented defiance in Nepal thus the parliament unanimously passed an upgraded map that included the territory which Nepal claimed was encroached by India, giving a massive setback to Modi government”.
Mr. Shakthi De Silva, Assistant Lecturer, the Department of International Relations, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka, analyzed that the “West’s posture towards Sri Lanka, particularly since 2019, impairs its ability to build bridges with the Rajapakse government. The European Parliament’s recent proposal to temporarily withdraw the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP+) scheme which had hitherto strengthened Sri Lanka’s garment industry coupled with the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution which criticised “the accelerating militarization of civilian government functions” and “restrictions on media freedom, and shrinking democratic space”, intensifies Rajapakse’s desire to distance his administration from the West. As India draws closer to the West, particularly through the Quad and other multilateral and mini-lateral initiatives, the possibility that Indo-Sri Lankan ties subsequently deteriorate is conceivable”.
“Sri Lanka’s tilt towards the PRC was not an inevitable outcome. Rectifying the situation requires India and the West to adopt a more nuanced posture on the issue of human rights and accountability. Pursuing a hard-line approach will only serve to alienate the Rajapakse regime, pushing Sri Lanka closer to the PRC in form and, to the extent possible, in substance. Sri Lanka has, and will, continue to maintain warm ties with India, give deference to Indian security interests and welcome high level Indian visits but will, under the Gotabaya regime, be increasingly inclined towards China owing to the latter’s FDI inflows, investment volume and Beijing’s ability to grant Sri Lanka much needed loans as the island tries to extricate itself from its economic crisis”.
In an example he explained that the “decision to station the Sri Lankan navy at Hambantota port was seen as a decision made by the desire to acquire India’s security interests”. He said, “In 2017 a nuclear submarine was to come to Sri Lanka, but Sri Lanka refused access to the Chinese nuclear submarine because it would hurt relations with India.” He added that although Sri Lanka curtails its own behaviour to appease India’s security interest, yet it is increasingly relying on China and will continue to do so”.
Dr. Md. Nazmul Islam, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Political Science, Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University and Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Ankara University, Turkey, stated that “India’s neighborhood challenges could undermine its influence, especially India’s domestic policies that are creating problems in Bangladesh. He mentioned that the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Dhaka sparked deadly protests by Islamist hard-liners angry about Indian policies that they say discriminate Muslims”.
“India is having a powerful network and is using soft power and hard power according to the relations with its neighbors to promote its culture and its economy. In December 2020, India and Bangladesh held a virtual summit where they discussed topics like boosting trade, investment and transportation links, but avoided the water issue of the Teesta River. Indian Foreign policy changes with time just like her interests, he added. He stressed that “India has disagreements with China on several issues including investments in Bangladesh, but it’s wrong to assume that economic deals will make Bangladesh move away from India”. He added that “Bangladesh’s foreign policy sides with China and Pakistan over India in few cases, and that Dhaka should be careful regarding its foreign policy and strategic choices as Indian interference in the region and in Afghanistan to gain its power will affect its relationship with Bangladesh in future”.
Muhammad Athar Javed, DG Nordic Institute of Stability Studies
Professor Scott Lucas, BA, PhD, Department of Political Science and International Studies, Professor of American Studies, University of Birmingham, UK.
Dr. Anil Sigdel, Founder, Nepal Matters for America, Washington DC
Shakthi De Silva, Assistant Lecturer at the Department of International Relations, University of Colombo (Sri Lanka).
Md. Nazmul Islam Researcher, Doctor of Philosophy, Ankara Yildirim Beyazit University