The spectacular victory of the BJP under the leadership of Mr. Narendra Modi had a
matching euphoric swearingin ceremony. The occasion had all the glitter and glamour
with the presence of the leaders of the SAARC countries. Invitation to these neighbouring
countries has been variously viewed. It is perceived as a diplomatic master stroke, a
desire on the part of Mr Modi to bring peace and prosperity in an otherwise conflictual
region with onefourth of the world population. And of course; it has been billed as an
occasion to showcase Indian democracy and its strength.
However, it would amount to indulge in selfdeception to expect anything extraordinary
out of this. For the reason that even in cordial relations a summit meeting requires serious
prior preparations for better results. In this case this speed diplomacy cannot herald a
new era for obvious reasons. First and foremost, there is a deep distrust amongst India’s
neighbours and the vice versa. Given the power asymmetry in the region, the misgiving
against India among smaller neighbours, were heightened particularly after the liberation
of Bangladesh, merger of Sikkim and nuclearisation. They often objected to India’s self-
identification as the “dominant”, “paramount”, “preeminent”, “hegemonic” or just plain
major power in South Asia and the rights and privileges that accompany such a status.
Due to the existing power structure and nature of relationships, the countries in the region
are characterized in terms of hegemon, bargainer and peripheral states.
(India) possesses a strong selfconception as a regional leader and bargainer Pakistan
always attempts to retract material, military and motivating power projected from the
hegemon. Smaller states are less powerful and are left to pursue selfconceptions such
as regional collaborators. In such a situation, while the so called hegemon India has a
tendency to seek its acceptability from the region, bargainer Pakistan shows a perpetual
quest to catch up with India which explains its urge for equality. At the same time smaller
states fluctuate their relations between India, Pakistan and extraregional powers. Conflict
is embedded in this scenario also because “if the hegemon and a neighbour went to war
in the past, armed confrontation in the future by policy planners will be perceived as more
likely than if relations had always been peaceful.”
countries have often shunned cooperation and there is mutual distrust and suspicion.
Secondly, individuals play an important role in shaping the diplomatic behavior of a country
which is often guided by their sociopolitical and philosophical foundations. Leading historical
personalities have guided the course and destiny of mankind and hence they are
extraordinary. Individuals do matter in history, not in the sense of changing the course of
history, for history is not epitomized in an individual, it is not a mere game of personalities
but the interplay of social forces, economic relations and new or hegemonic ideas. In this
3 This explains why South Asian
context Mr. Modi carries some negative baggage. Walter Anderson, the celebrated author
of The Brotherhood of Saffron finds him individualist and charismatic. He is being
compared with Reagan, Nixon, Thatcher and Indira Gandhi. The simple commonality
between all of them is that they all sought absolute personal power having little patience
moorings. Unfortunately, the election campaign had little to discuss on foreign policy
issues but some remarks were made about our neighbours by Mr. Modi himself.
Moreover, the section on national security and foreign policy in the BJP manifesto
upholds the slogan—Nation First having a covert reference to political realism
championing its fundamentals, such as national interest based on powerpolitics. It
cautions that, “India has a sensitive neighbourhood. There have been intrusions inside
the LAC(Line of Actual Control)...increase in Pakistan backed terror groups in India,
illegal migration across the eastern border...in our neighbourhood we will pursue friendly relations.
However, where required we will not hesitate from taking strong stands and steps.”
Thus, the BJP manifesto and election speeches reek of a strong neighbouhood policy.
This becomes more obvious when Mr. Modi stood castigated for years due to the
blemishes of the Gujrat riots. Not only that, of 282 BJP MPs, there is none from the
Muslim community and the lone Muslim face in the cabinet is Ms. Najma Heptullah. Shiv
Sena, the second largest constituent of the BJP led NDA has relentlessly opposed any
relations with Pakistan. To get rid of this situation there is an urgent need to reach out to
the minority community to allay their fears and to bring them prominently in the national
mainstream which is imperative for the reason that there is an intimate and organic link
between our domestic situation and the neighbourhood environment. Mr Modi and his
government is bound to be scrutinized on this account and the success of
neighbourhood policy hinges heavily on this as in the South Asian region religious
majorities and sectarian politics continue to dominate the power structure influencing
their external behavior.
The major challenges of our foreign policy and diplomacy have their origins in Kashmir-
PakistanChina nexus. All our global concerns derive from these neighbourhood realities.
Chinese leaders might view Mr Modi a business friendly leader and may hope for better
bilateral economic ties, but there is more to it than trade and finance. Certainly, deep
rooted distrust failed Dr Manmohan singh’s initiative to make border irrelevant by
promoting commerce, communication, contacts and development of Kashmiris on both
sides. This calls for careful monitoring of our neighbours and cultivating the positive
elements there. For we face a troubled neighbourhood with varying degrees and
dimensions based on the ideology of nationalism. We need to move beyond this limited
vision which has marred India’s quest for achieving its rightful place in the comity of
nations. This may require some sacrifice in the shortrun to bring a paradigm shift in the
politics in this region— to approach every relation from the perspective of cooperation
instead of conflict.
The neighbourhood policy
India’s neighbourhood policy in classical terms can be traced back to Kautilya’s
Mandala theory; wherein the immediate neighbour is perceived as an enemy. Therefore,
for a glorious ruler, it is prescribed to be cautious of neighbours and either to use force to
control or to win over them. This has reference to the age of monarchy and a self-
sufficient society having little need to interact with the outside world. The British India
also had similar perception and pursued the policy of expanding its influence in the
4 Dominant and aggressive foreign policy is an extension of their personal
neighbourhood. However, the freedom movement in India was a moral act by peaceful
means to create a new society based on democratic principles to transform the lives of
the lowest. Social cohesion and cooperation was emphasized for the benefit of all the
suffering people in India and the world over. Since colonialism was a global menace; the
remedy was not to remain confined in narrow boundaries of India. This was the reason
that the Indian national leaders forged solidarity with AfroAsian countries with an aim to
build a better global society in future. In this direction the first major step was to win over
the trust of neighbours. This was imperative for freedom and to realize India’s vast
potential. All India Congress Committee in its historic Delhi Declaration (45Nov.1921)
affirmed its commitment to goodwill and friendliness towards neighbours; and urged them
to reciprocate the same.
neighbourhood amongst all likeminded countries with emphasis on Asia. In his opinion, “our
neighbours now are all the countries of the world...we have to think practically every
country and take into consideration all the possible areas of conflict, trade, economic
interest, etc....if there is a conflict on a big scale anywhere, it is apt to spread all over the
world. Nevertheless, the nearby countries always have a special interest in one another
and India must, inevitably, think in terms of her relations with countries bordering her by
land and sea...If our neighbouring countries have in a sense the first place in our minds,
then the second place goes to the other countries of Asia with whom we are fairly
Asian Relations Conference in New Delhi( 23 March2 April 1947) when he exhorted the
people of Asia in these words: “Asia has suddenly become important again in world
affairs. Ours is the great design of promoting peace and progress all over the world. We
propose to stand on our own legs and to cooperate with all others who are prepared to
cooperate with us.”
and therefore believed that they could have no significance if they acted separately. The
idea was being toyed as Asianism, or Nasser’s panArabism, or Nkrumah’s pan-
Africanism, or AfroAsianism for promoting goodwill and cooperation. Their collective
endeavour gave birth to novel ideas of Panchsheel and nonalignment. Deriving from
Panchsheel the principle of peaceful coexistence became popular in diplomatic parlance
while dealing with neighbours.
The leadership issue
Unfortunately, bickering began at the very Asian Relations Conference. The Arab
League protested the presence of the Jews. There was a shadowboxing with China over
Tibet. Burma and Malaysia were apprehensive that the two giants— India and China,
might dwarf their autonomy. Indonesia pleaded that India should withdraw its troops
deployed by colonial rulers. The Chinese were conscious that India might implicitly
acquire leadership in Asia. The flashpoint was the location of the secretariat for the proposed
AsianRelationsOrganisation.India assumed it to be in India. China objected to it. Finally, it was
decided to rotate every six months between Delhi and Beijing, starting with India. When it
was moved to China, it met a premature death.
premonition of future shape of things to come.
The regional rivalries
Rise of Asian communism (China),Pakistan’s close military collaboration with the USA, formation of
military blocs (SEATO,CENTO) further aggravated mutual suspicion and created divergent
perceptions and interests. The clash of personality added fuel to the fire. Nehru’s
international activism earned him the sobriquet of Light of Asia (Churchill,1955), the
greatest figure in Asia (Walter Lippman1949). In January 1949 Life wrote a long article on
6 The architect of India’s foreign policy, Nehru broadened the idea of
7 This Nehruvian vision had its first organized manifestation at the
8 He was well aware of weaknesses of newly independent countries
9 Perhaps these skirmishes were a
him, and his was, in the same week, the cover portrait of Time.
unpleasant manifestation despite tall proclamations of AfroAsian solidarity. Nehru roused considerable
hostility among the other delegations by what was suspected to be a calculated effort at personal
out of the conference were the Nehrutype neutralists.
resisted to hold other conferences till the beginning of 1961when India had to attend the
nonaligned preparatory meeting at Cairo. Foreign Secretary R.K. Nehru on his return
from Cairo said that India was not committed to attend the Belgrade conference and
would take a decision whether to attend it or not. However, a reluctant Nehru attended the
first nonaligned summit in September 1961.
The beginning of the decade proved ominous for India. At the Belgrade conference India
relinquished much of what remained of its leadership in the nonaligned bloc. Chinese aggression
revealed its military weaknesses and exposed the futility of Panchsheel. There was hardly any
condemnation of China by this bloc. India became disenchanted with such gatherings.
Nehru died as a sad man of Asia in 1964; and Shastri had to attend the second non-
aligned summit at Cairo. Here again, he failed to get support for his proposed nonaligned
mission to China to persuade it to desist from developing nuclear weapons. Only
President Makarios of Cyprus gave him public support. China exploded its first nuclear
weapon within a week of the summit.
aggression by Pakistan armed with American weapons. Yet, he opted for a negotiated
settlement of all outstanding problems at Tashkent in January 1966.
The New Approach
Rise of Indira Gandhi to power marked a major shift in India’s foreign policy. She
imparted an element of pragmatism of power politics besides carrying the baggage of
Nehru’s idealism and moralism. IndoSoviet Treaty, liberation of Bangladesh, Pokharan l,
annexation of Sikkim and engagement with China were major steps in this direction.
Simla Agreement with Pakistan emphasized bilateralism and thus disapproval of extra-
regional powers’ interference in the region. This was variously described as India’s
Monroe Doctrine or Indira Doctrine.
bilateralism at times which amounted to arms twisting and setting alarm bells in the
The Janata(197779) interregnum brought desired relief in the subcontinent with its
declared policy to instil confidence among India’s estranged neighbours. Foreign Minister
Atal Behari Vajpayee echoed this sentiment in these words: “In seeking and offering
cooperation to our neighbours, we have never imposed ourselves. We have gently tried to
explain the mutuality of advantage in bilateralism.”
major irritants. Ganga water agreement with Bangladesh, Salal dam with Pakistan, River
water projects, trade and transit etc. with Nepal were important achievements heralding
an age of beneficial bilateralism.
beginning, though it proved to be a fiasco as China chose the same time to attack a
friendly Vietnam. This new found confidence in the neighbourhood tempted South Asian
leaders to think in terms of regional cooperation. Thus began the SAARC process in
1985. The SAARC might not have achieved its declared goal of instilling among the
member countries a sense of collective concern either in economy or security but it has
been remarkably successful in bringing warring neighbours (particularly India and
Pakistan) to meet at different levels which otherwise would not have been possible. On
several occasions serious bilateral issues have been negotiated and also resolved.
10 Bandung (1955) was its
11 He was the main target of attack. Chou Enlai outshone Nehru. The only elements to fade
12 Nehru was so disappointed that he
In less than a year Shastri faced unprovoked
15 Thus, India practised aggressive unilateral
16 Attempts were made to resolve
17 Mr. Vajpayee also visited China to initiate a new
SAARC may have many limitations given the geopolitical nature of the region and
conflictual relations among its members; but it has a huge potential for peace and
prosperity if nurtured carefully.
This calls for India to shoulder a major responsibility. The smaller neighbours should
use India’s strength to their benefit and India should offer all possible help to them as it
was proposed by Gujral Doctrine for smaller countries. India under the foreign policy
leadership of I.K.Gujral rightly decided to take unilateral steps without expecting similar
response from its neighbours. As a token ofgoodwillgestureIndiadecidedtorelaxrulesandregulations
relating to visas, travels, communications, exchange of goods and services, radio/television programmes, newspapers,
books,otherprintedmaterialsetc.ThebasicpurposewastoreinforceIndiansincerityanddetermination towards a
friendly neighbourhood; even if some sacrifice was needed to begin with. In this direction
Gujral Doctrine enunciated following five core principles as neighbourhood policy:
(a) In our dealing with neighbours( Bhutan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka)we do not
insist on reciprocity on any concessions made;
(b) We will not allow our territory to be used against the interest of any country in the
(c) We will not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, and would expect others
to observe this principle as well;
(d) We respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all the states in the region;
(e) We are determined to settle all our disputes through peaceful bilateral negotiations.
India ought to extend a robust Gujral Doctrine to all its neighbours based on the policy
of nonreciprocity. Some extra care and caution must be taken while dealing with the
leaders of Pakistan due to overarching nature of power equations there which is largely
influenced by the mullahmilitary combine. In this regard it is instructive to mention the
bus diplomacy of Atal Behari Vajpayee (1921 Feb.1999) generating high hopes on both
sides of the border. Both the leaders— Atal Behari Vajpayee and Nawaz Sharif signed
the famous Lahore declaration and committed themselves to the principle of peaceful co-
existence and reiterated that an environment of peace and security is in the interest of
both the sides and that the resolution of all outstanding issues, including Jammu &
Kashmir is essential for this purpose.
Beneath this euphoria of cordiality, there prevailed a simmering discontent amongst
Islamic fundamentalists and the military establishment. These two elements in Pakistan
have always joined hands to queer the pitch of good relations with India. JamaatiIslami
called for Lahore bandh against Vajpayee’s visit. Service Chiefs of Pakistan had serious
difference with Nawaz Sharif over peace overtures to India. They refused to welcome
Vajpayee at Wagah border on the ground that it would be difficult for them to salute Mr
Vajpayee who is the leader of an enemy country and moreover a Hindu bigot.
the same period Kargil plans were being executed by these very forces, leading to Kargil
war in the summer of 1999. Domestic turmoil caused by Kargil misadventure culminated
in a bloodless coup in Pakistan on 12 October 1999 General Pervez Musharraf captured
power by arresting the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. India announced not to have any
business with the hawkish military ruler who often relished to rattle the nuclear swords of
Pakistan. However, the Vajpayee government faced several serious domestic challenges
and realized the need to engage Pakistan. Thus, Musharraf was invited to India which
again created enormous hope only to be dashed into yet another aborted summit in Agra
during 1416 July 2001.
It is instructive to note that Musharraf was invited without proper preparations and
planning that was necessary if the goal was to resolve the conundrum called Kashmir.
Hence, it was destined to be doomed by any count. This was followed by increase in
terrorism in India reaching its peak in an attack on the Parliament on 13 December 2001.
This paved the way for hardhitting rhetoric and war mongering between the two countries
derailing the SAARC process and the proposed 11th summit in Kathmandu in December 1999 was
postponed indefinitely. In the following years attempts were made for normalization but things failed to
improve due to rising tide of Indiaspecific terrorism in Pakistan. In this context also
fundamentalists (Hafiz Saeed of Lashkar) warned Nawaz Sharif against visiting India on
the invitation of Mr. Modi. Nawaz Sharif’s brother took the army chief Raheel Sharif into
“confidence” and “informed” him about the visit. It was said to be a “difficult decision” by
Mr Sharif to visit India.
a resolution by the opposition against Mr. Modi over his allegations of terrorism against
Pakistan in the Assembly of Punjab province ruled by Nawaz Sharif’s PMLN. The
situation was saved as the Speaker did not allow it.
vulnerability of peace initiatives in Pakistan; and India must empathise with the democratic
elements there. The Indian state and society, both must take caution while dealing with
crisis situations and resolve to continue dialogue for whatever be the provocation. After all,
every problem can only be solved by negotiation between two nuclearised neighbours. No doubt, it is
easier said than done, due to domestic compulsions and demands of realpolitik. Given these realities
India and its two important neighbours are involved in competitive arms race. China’s military budget
is more than three times India’s ($30 billion) at $100 billion plus. It is a matter of serious
concern for the strategic community that India is being encircled by China. This provides
for a strong support to increase military expenditures to catch up with China despite the
fact that India is the second largest arms buyer after Pakistan.
The foregoing appraisal earnestly demands to contemplate on these issues of conflicts,
weapons, wars and now the menace of terrorism. Has any country benefited from such a
conundrum? In this scenario India must pursue a policy of engagement in all possible
areas, with every eager element to increase the peace constituency around its borders. It
is expected from India, an emerging major power, to take bold initiatives. Its first
manifestation would be to shed the alarmist attitude in relations with China and arrogance
towards others including Pakistan. We must desist from hurting their sentiments by
creating unnecessary controversies arising out of otherwise pleasant game of cricket. A
terrorist attack should not prompt us to suspend talks. Don’t we realize that a civilian
government in Pakistan is a hostage to the powerful mullahmilitary combine as our own
politics, at times, also gets helpless in the face of rising tide of communalism which
becomes more sharpened during elections. References to Pakistan and Bangladesh are
made without any consideration for their impact on our relatios with them. No doubt,
similar antiIndian rhetoric is played in full swing in our neighbourhood by certain political
parties for petty political gains. Thus, political maturity must be maintained in the long-
term interest of India while referring to our neighbours. Moreover, we cannot change the internal
dynamics in the neighbouring countries at our will. It is a difficult task to be undertaken whether we
like it or not. Neighbours form the first circle in India’s interest and influence. So long as
India remains deeply involved in the mire of the neighbourhood conflicts; its dream to
become a global player would remain unfulfilled. This situation can be changed by a
prudent policy with probity and nuanced diplomacy. It is expected that Mr. Modi would
21 Not only that, an attempt was made on 28 May 2014 to propose
22 These things speak volumes of
remember the former Prime Minister Vajpayee’s famous formulation, “one can choose
ones friends, not neighbours” ; and act accordingly in the interest of South Asia in general
and India in particular.
1. Leo E Rose,” India’s regional Policy: Nonmilitary Dimensions”, in S.P. Cohen, ed., The
Security of South Asia (New Delhi: Vistar, 1987), p.3.
2. See David J Myers, “ Threat Perception and Strategic Response of the Regional
Hegemons: A Conceptual Overview ”, In David J Myers, ed., Regional Hegemons:
Threat Perceptions and Strategic Response(New York: Westview Press, 1991), pp. 4
3. Ibid, p.13
4. See, Times of India, 11 May 2014.
5. BJP Election Manifesto 2014. Emphasis added
6.Bimla Prasad, Origins of Indian Foreign Policy ( Calcutta:Bookland,1960),p.10.
7. Jawaharlal Nehru, “An Evolving Policy”, India’s Foreign Policy: Selected Speeches,
September 1946April 1961(New Delhi: The Pub. Div.),pp. 4243.
8. Ibid., 248&251.
9. L. C. Jain, “The Lost Heart of Asia”, Hindu Magazine(Delhi),7 February 2010. Mr jain
was a student volunteer at the conference.
10 S. Gopal, Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography,vol.2, (Delhi:Oxford, 1985), p.56.
12. Sisir Gupta, India and Regional Integration in Asia (Bombay: Asia,1964),pp. 6566.
13. Ibid., pp.7071.
14.Charles H. Heimsath& S. Mansingh, A Diplomatic History of Modern India (Bombay:
15. see S. Mansingh, India’s Search for Power: Indira Gandhi’s Foreign Policy 1966
1982 (New Delhi:Sage,1984)
16. Foreign Affairs Record (New Delhi: MEA),May 1978, p.209.
17. see S.D. Muni, “ India’s Beneficial Bilateralism in South Asia ”, India Quarterly(New
Delhi), OctDec 1979.
18. I.K. Gujral, “The PostCold War Era: An Indian Perspective ”, World Affairs(New
Delhi),vol.!, no.1, JanuaryMarch, 1997,p.51.
19. The Lahore Declaration, 21 Feb. 1999.
20. Times of India, 21 Feb. 1999.
21. Times of India, 25 May 2014
22. Hindu, 29 May 2014
23. C. Rajghatta, “ Uncle Sam’s WarMart”, Times of India, 7 February2010.