Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

[op-ed snap] The ‘new’ South Asiaop-ed snap


Mains Paper 2: IR | India and its neighborhood- relations.

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important:

Prelims level: Not much

Mains level: Problems faced by India in improving its relations with South Asian Nations.



  1. As China’s leverage increases, India has to reimagine its terms of engagement with neighbours

Priority to the immediate Indian neighbors

  1. Soon after coming to power, the Modi government had promised to give priority to the immediate neighbourhood
  2. Relations with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh saw a dramatic improvement while Nepal was given due attention
  3. With Afghanistan, ties were galvanised with security cooperation taking centre stage
  4. Except for the Maldives, Mr. Modi visited all of India’s neighbours and tried to reassure them of New Delhi’s commitment to deliver the goods

But situation is different now: Concern for India

  1. In Sri Lanka, domestic political developments are affecting India, while in the Maldives, India has found its diminishing clout being publicly taken apart
  2. A vocal critic of India has assumed power in Nepal, and with a massive political mandate
  3. In the Seychelles, India is struggling to operationalise a pact to build a military facility
  4. China’s influence is growing markedly around India’s periphery, further constraining India’s ability to push its regional agenda

According to some experts, there was never a golden age of Indian predominance in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region

  1. Smaller states in the region have always had enough agency to chart their own foreign policy pathways;
  2. sometimes they converged with those of India and at other times they varied significantly
  3. There have always been ‘extra regional’ powers which have come to the aid of India’s neighbours, often to New Delhi’s discomfiture

China’s entry is affecting the policies of South Asian Nations

  1. China’s entry into the South Asian region has opened up new avenues for smaller neighbours which can be leveraged in their dealings with India
  2. As a result, the very idea of what South Asian geography means is undergoing a change

Importance of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation(BIMSTEC )

  1. The idea of the BIMSTEC is gaining currency in Indian policy-making
  2. It can potentially allow India to break through the straitjacket of the traditional confines of South Asia and leverage its Bay of Bengal identity to link up with the wider Southeast Asian region
  3. In that sense, it is about reimagining India’s strategic geography altogether

Difficulties faced by India in South Indian Nations

  1. India’s structural dominance of South Asia makes it a natural target of resentment and suspicion which India has often found difficult to overcome
  2. India is also part of the domestic politics of most regional states where anti-India sentiment is often used to bolster the nationalist credentials of various political formations
  3. South Asian states remain politically fragile and the economic projects in the region have failed to take off as a result
  4. This means that the room available for India to manoeuvre in the region is severely limited despite what many in India and outside would like to believe

The way forward

  1. Successive Indian governments have struggled to get a grip on the neighbourhood
  2. India will not only have to more creatively reimagine its strategic geography but also evolve new terms of engagement with its neighbours

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