India is one of the fastest growing economies in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by area, the second-most populous country (with over 1.2 billion people). It shares its land borders with Afghanistan, Myanmar Bhutan, Burma, Bangladesh, China, Nepal, and Pakistan and in Indian Ocean; it is in the vicinity of Sri Lanka and Maldives. India’s government nature toward the neighbour countries is always peaceful and positive. Government, for this, has been making the policies and efforts to make good relation with the neighbour countries.
The roots of the policy ‘Neighbour’s First’ began from Look East policy which was initiated by the former Indian Prime Minister P V Narsimha Rao. The purpose was simple and clear, to maintain friendly relations with neighbouring countries and to cultivate extensive economic and strategic relations with the nations of Southeast Asia in order to bolster its standing as a regional power and a counterweight to the strategic influence of the People’s Republic of China. The major dispute between India and china began when India gave asylum to Dalai Lama before indo-Sino war. In spite of signing the Panchsheel Agreement, in 1962, China attacked India in the North-East and occupied a part of Indian Territory. The war ended soon but relations between India and China remained strained for a long time to come. The visits of the former Indian Prime Ministers Rajiv Gandhi (in 1988) and Narsimha Rao (in 1993) to China have improved the situation to some extent. Several trade agreements have also been signed. But it is not an easy task to restore peace and mutual trust between the two countries.
South Asia comprises the countries lying to the south of the Himalayas and the Hindukush mountains. India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka are the countries belonging to the region. Most of these countries were previously ruled by the British. They have similar cultures, social habits and economic problems. All these countries face problems arising out of overpopulation, poverty, malnutrition, illiteracy etc. It is believed that these countries of South Asia could progress fast only through cooperation with each other and by devising common plans for development. This concept led to the formation of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) with the objective of mutual economic and social development. SAARC and ASEAN are two main pillars of Neighbour’s First Policy.
Even prior to being elected as the 14th Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi roundabout that his foreign policy will keenly focus on improving ties with India’s immediate neighbours and he initiated well by welcoming all heads of state/heads of government of South Asian countries in his inauguration and on the second day on office he held bilateral talks with all of them in person which was known as a mini SAARC summit. while several claimed ahead of his election that Modi would be a nationalist hardliner, a foreign affairs novice, or simply more of the same on external affairs, the Prime Minister in its place proved more active and more pragmatic than a lot of had expected. The main purpose of Indian Prime Minister to work on this policy is to strengthen the regional cooperation and developmental activities and role in building and nourishing institutions like SAARC because SAARC and BLOC has failed to serve its purpose and hold summits at regular interval as compared to ASEAN. Modi’s diplomatic activities offer a comprehensible picture of India’s priorities and planned objectives. The policy aims for willingness to give political and diplomatic priority to its immediate neighbours and the Indian Ocean island states, to provide neighbours with support, as needed, in the form of resources, equipment, and training, is greater connectivity and integration, so as to improve the free flow of goods, people, energy, capital, and information, to promote a model of India-led regionalism with which its neighbours are comfortable, to leverage international partnerships to advance India’s domestic development. The advantages are as follows:
- Prioritizing an integrated neighbourhood; “Neighbourhood First.”
- Leveraging international partnerships to promote India’s domestic development.
- Ensuring a stable and multipolar balance of power in the Indo-Pacific; “Act East.”
- Dissuading Pakistan from supporting terrorism.
- Advancing Indian representation and leadership on matters of global governance
- Strengthening economic cooperation so as to improve the quality of life of the people of South Asia;
- Increasing the pace of economic growth;
- Giving mutual assistance and cooperation in areas like agriculture, scientific development, etc.; and
- Promoting social progress and cultural development.
India is rising in a world system that has been mainly constructive to its rise, but one that India was not concerned in creating. The present international environment signifies a rare opportunity for India, which it must use to position itself in a leading role, rather than just a balancing force, globally. India is still not entirely in a position to lead, or set the rules of the international order, but it is taking steps to seek full membership of the most significant global governance platforms.
Bhutan and Nepal are advantageously important for India’s national security as they not only share borders with India, but also crucially with an overbearing China in the north. Nepal and Bhutan are ‘strategic buffer states’ which hinder China’s undeviating access to Indian boundaries along a large stretch of our Himalayan borders.
During a launch event at ISRO Mr. Narendra Modi has asked Indian scientists to take the effort to build up a dedicated SAARC satellite to distribute the fruits of the technology like tele-medicine, e-learning etc. with the people across South Asia to complement the currently operating indian technical and economic cooperation programme program in the region Asia being the major focus area of his foreign policy, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj and Modi chose several Asian countries for their initial bilateral visits.
In September 2014, Washington DC rolled out the red carpet for a leader it had once publicly shunned, and Modi reciprocated by welcoming Barack Obama to India’s Republic Day celebrations. Other than normalising and enhancing ties with the US, Modi’s international priorities were promptly made apparent.
But everything has pro and cons. There are several drawbacks and criticisms due to which Neighbours First Policy is not able to achieve complete success.
- PAKISTAN: Pakistan is the first and foremost country with which India has always desired a friendly and peaceful relations and therefore when Nawaz Sharif came to India after PM Modi’s invitation to his swearing in ceremony, it gave a hope for a better future between the two neighbours.
- CHINA: China of today is a ‘rising power’, both in terms of its military might as well as its economic power. One can’t truly understand the geo-politics of South Asia, if China is kept out of the picture. The Sino-Indian boundary dispute is a long standing one. Both India and China are fighting for the regional supremacy in South Asia today. Today, China holds an observer status in SAARC and it is pushing its agenda to become a permanent member of this regional grouping, backed by countries like Pakistan and Nepal. Surely, India doesn’t want this because then it would no longer be the biggest power among the SAARC countries and as a result it would prove very detrimental to India’s ‘stature’ in SAARC and its ‘core interests’ in the region.
- DEMONETISATION: demonetisation rattled countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar which encouraged the use of the Indian currency (rupee) as a parallel currency within their borders. The situation with Bangladesh worsened as a lot of businessmen and people travel to India for commercial, tourism and medical reasons. They were neither able to change the currency in their country, nor were they able to exchange it in India because they do not had bank accounts in India.
- INTERFERENCE: India’s 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. India interfered in Nepal’s personal matters when their constitution was amended which the citizens and government of Nepal didn’t liked.
- SRI LANKA: Sri Lanka is also drifting away towards China. Under the Modi government, India set a dangerous precedent through its ‘subtle interference’ in Sri Lanka in the run-up to the elections there. The new government in Sri Lanka wants China’s assistance in both its economic and infrastructural sector, which India can provide only in small measure. Sri Lanka’s drift from India is reflected by the fact that they have ignored India’s concerns over accepting China’s bidding to make Indian Ocean an economic hub around the port city of Colombo. India worries that this will help China to promote its military agenda in the region, especially in the Indian Ocean.
Hope you got some useful insights about ‘Neighbour’s First’ Policy
This post was submitted by Pooja Bhardwaj