India’s neighbourhood diplomacy

In face of China’s aggressive diplomacy to win over neighbours and isolate India from them, India seems at a loss. Leave out Pakistan, which has all along been hostile to India. Recent political changes in Nepal indicate a stronger influence on Beijing on Kathmandu. In Sri Lanka, former president Rajapaksha seems to have retrieved a good deal of lost political ground. Rajapaksha’s pro-Beijing tilt is well known. Maldives saw its India-friendly president, Mohamed Nasheed dethroned and forced to leave the country. The current president, Abdulla Yameen, recently declared emergency in the island nation and took over complete power in his hands with the help of the security forces. He closed Parliament, defied the Supreme Court, imprisoned its chief justice along with other opposition leaders. Former president Nasheed appealed to India to intercede, but Maldives warned India to keep off. Beijing also issued a stern warning to India.
Now Seychelles has also said ‘No’ to an Indian request to set up a naval base in the Assumption islet. The Government has been fully supported by the country’s leader of the opposition, Wavell Ramkalawan. What is noteworthy is that Ramkalawan visited India in January to take part in the PIO Parliamentary Conference. He met the Indian president, Ram Nath Kovind and the MoS for external Affairs Gen. (retd). V. K. Singh. Obviously, these meetings did not yield any result. Gen. Singh had then informed Parliament that the proposed naval base on Assumption islet would come up a joint project of Seychelles and India. Even Bhutan is now eager to establish direct diplomatic relation with Beijing, much to the chagrin of the South Block.
Narendra Modi has established himself as India’s most globe-trotting Prime Minister, almost relegating External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to the background. The External Affairs Ministry is virtually being run by the Prime Minister’s Office. Therefore the Prime Minister has to accept the responsibility for the success or failure of our foreign policy, especially with regard to our immediate neighbours. It is time he took stock of the situation in our neighbourhood, found out the reasons for China’s growing influence on our neighbours and India’s declining influence on them. China has unilaterally claimed Doklam where is is strengthening its defences. India has maintained that the disputed area is Bhutanese territory. If Beijing can persuade Bhutan to say that it has no claim over Doklam, it will be a big diplomatic defeat for India with grave implications for national security. It is time the Prime Minister had a re-look on our neighbourhood policy and took corrective measures to keep our neighbours friendly to us.

Friday, 6 April, 2018