India has been pursuing policies based on “right of first refusal” in its neighbouring countries for decades, which has led to several crises and souring of bilateral ties. As China’s influence grows across the South Asian region, India needs to revisit its neighbourhood policies. Narendra Modi’s “Neighbourhood First Policy” was off to a great start but it soon tailed off as focus shifted to global issues. Following are five key pointers that India should consider when moving forward with its neighbourhood policy.
1. Transactional to Transformational Approach: India should strive to adopt a transformational approach across the region rather than a transactional one. Transactional approach for day-to-day dealings with its neighbours may bode well in the short-term, but does not necessarily support long-term relationships. Therefore, as economic co-operation and interdependence in the region gains higher importance, India will have to sacrifice its short-term goals for long-term sustenance.
2. Proposing Solutions Rather than Reiterating Problems: India has always been ambiguous when articulating what it wants, to its neighbours. In order for India to improve its bilateral ties, a clearer means of communication should be shaped. A chief cause of the 2015 border blockade was India’s dissatisfaction with Nepal’s newly formed constitution but it was always abstruse about what it wanted to achieve, or how it wanted Nepal to achieve it.
3. Delivery on Promises: India has been conducting a large number of developmental projects in neighbouring countries including Nepal. The major challenge of Indian aid however has been timely completion of promised projects. Examples such as the Bir Hospital Trauma Centre and the 25 km railway line that India proposed to build in the Terai region stand out in particular. If India aims to build and strengthen its relationship with its neighbours, a more effective method should be adopted when conducting development projects, as failure to do so debilitates the nations’ trust in India.
4. Formal Over Informal Communications: Communications between India and Nepal have so far mostly taken the informal route. However, these communication channels should be formalized if the two countries are to improve bilateral ties. More frequent meetings of the India-Nepal Joint Commission and the Eminent Persons Group (EPG) is one step towards making communication channels more diplomatic. Furthermore, it should also invest in increasing the number of administrative officers and diplomats; so that meddling through informal discussions are avoided.
5. Being Proactive Rather than Reactive: India is notorious for having a reactive attitude towards its neighbours’ domestic issues and problems, which has most often acted as a catalyst in worsening bilateral relationships. The 2015 border blockade was a result of this reactiveness on India’s part. India should therefore reconsider its actions to be more proactive and work towards facilitating and mitigating crises in its neighbourhood regions.
While the above mentioned points underline a few ways through which India can go about improving its Neighbourhood Policy, it should also consider other economic and social avenues. It is essential to understand that there has been a shift in the understanding of borders; which has evolved from boundaries separating regions to areas connecting people across regions. Under the current global climate neighbourhood ties are therefore imperative, and both India and its neighbours should work diligently towards achieving this goal.