Given India’s size and influence, India should have convinced the neighbouring countries to listen to its point of view and improve friendly relations in the region. However India has not been successful in making strategic inroads into other countries for various reasons. Recent incidents in Maldives and Sri Lanka are glaring examples. In contrast, American ‘cowboy’ style – of an assertive, abrasive and at times even arrogant and overpowering behavior have yielded results to suit their policies.
I am not advocating that India should replicate American style of abrasive and forceful behavior that won’t suit nor work in our region, but our foreign relations and policy should be more assertive and proactive rather than reactive. It is an accepted fact, the world respects power. India’s growth push in the 1980 and 1900s created the positive conditions for a greater role in global politics, but as all will agree, it was Pokhran II that put India on the world stage. To add to this the emergence of India as a leader in IT and growth in economy made the world notice of India for the first time. Leaders were keen to come and see the progress and development in India.
Military power and political acumen is generally a good recipe for astute diplomacy which helps in resolving key issues, fostering strategic economic relations with all neighbours. Hence military power and high economic growth backed with political skill will yield results and you are bound to be heard in international forums. For this you need a stable government which is not at the mercy of small, parochial regional parties, whose policies are based on regional, caste and other narrow considerations.
This dangerous trend has emerged in Indian politics, where due to this narrow considerations and short-term gains, the local state governments are dictating foreign policies to the central government. A case in point is, Mamta Banerjee of West Bengal creating hurdles in the Teestha waters accord with Bangladesh and, Jayalalitha and Karunanidi with the Sri Lankan Tamil issue. The state governments are playing petty politics to appease some section of their voters thereby ignoring the long term implications with a chance to other countries on inimical terms with India to step in and fish in troubled waters. Ultimately the nation suffers trying to please both of them. India’s image too takes a beating.
Rampant regionalism is dangerous it puts regional identity before national identity. India used to take pride in ‘unity in diversity.’ The compulsions of coalition politics, the centre is being held to ransom by political and economic diktats of the states. Despite their claims of being national parties with all-India presence, today it is a fact neither the Congress nor the BJP is in any position to from a central government on its own. They have to rely on support from regional parties.
Regionalism might seem constitutionally guaranteed principle of federalism. But it also has the potential to weaken the very foundations of the Indian state, if carried to the extreme. AIADMK-ruled Tamil Nadu passing a resolution in the state assembly for creation of a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka, a move which is in open defiance of India’s foreign policy could prove embarrassing to the central government and interference in Sri Lanka’s domestic affairs.
To preserve and enrich our nation and maintain traditional ties with all out neighbours, we will need a strong and stable government at the centre who can formulate skilful strategy, practical diplomacy with long term benefits in view. And for that a matured and stable central government, strong military and professional diplomat team is a must to face the new challenges in the coming years. And also make a positive impact on its immediate neighbours and other countries in the region.