Is South Asia rolling back to those volatile days of the 1970-80s when New Delhi, basking in the glory of a successful military adventure in 1971, used to exercise its privileged power in complete disregard to the interests of smaller regional neighbors?
Indeed, India has successfully dominated the strategic space in the Indian subcontinent, by forcefully dictating binding terms and conditions on comparatively weaker nations. Worse still, the Indian establishment did not even hesitate to use militancy and terrorism as lethal instruments of regional policy, notwithstanding the claimed abhorrence of violence as strategic foreign policy tool.
In fact, New Delhi never understood the hard fact that sometime, if not always, transcending petty interests is extremely essential to foster a brotherly relation between nation states in an economically impoverished zone, beset with confusion, confrontation and endless fratricidal conflict. This brazen aggressiveness and a peculiar psychology of subjugating neighbors to feel secure is so pervasive in an apparently passive India that even a sober intellectual like Prof. Bhabani Sengupta, blessed with a moderate mindset, once wrote in one of his illuminating articles “the Indian elephant cannot transform itself into a mouse. If South Asia is to get itself out of the crippling binds of conflicts and cleavages, the six will have to accept the bigness of the seventh. And the seventh, that is India, will have to prove to the six that big can indeed be beautiful.”
But unfortunately, such haughty attitude coupled with extreme self-aggrandizement and pride, which evoke a mythic belief of salvation lying at India’s feet, has only diminished the country’s stature and respect. Despite repeated declaration of her pacifist intent, India is seen as an untamed aggressor in the region, ever-ready to intrude into the domestic affairs of neighbors, especially the weaker ones, to realize her strategic goals. Sri Lanka, for example, will remain a glaring proof of how India can turn a land into hell, exploiting internal friction subtly, to fulfill her larger geo-economic ambitions.
In fact, India’s South Asian neighbors have been suspicious about her foreign policy objectives since the 1970s. The fact of the matter is there is a unanimous acknowledgement in the neighborhood, albeit in a muted manner, that New Delhi has been covertly fomenting violent destabilization within the domestic polity of smaller South Asian states. In fact, many experts are of the opinion that India’s surreptitious involvement is at the root of the radical shift in the nature of political movements in neighboring countries, causing democratic dissent to turn militant and violent all of a sudden.
The aggressive intervention to carve out Bangladesh from Pakistan, detonation of nuclear device in 1974 to attain strategic superiority, annexation of Sikkim in 1975 using the country’s external intelligence agency’s might, indoctrination and training of a dreaded extremist organization in Sri Lanka, feared world over for its ruthless assassination tactics, exploitation of Hindu and Buddhist tribesmen in Bangladesh’s eastern hilly region to keep Dhaka under New Delhi’s strategic ambit tactfully, nurturing the sentiments of Nepalese origin people settled in Bhutan for keeping the domestic pot boiling in the Himalayan kingdom with a deeper motive, manipulating the political process in Maldives through politico-military machinations to cultivating rebel assets in Myanmar and Afghanistan for expanding the sphere of strategic influence are viewed as India-controlled events aimed at consolidating the South Asian giant’s hegemonic grip in the region, which is subsequently used as a leverage to achieve global recognition as a major strategic power.
And the latent antipathy toward India lingers among smaller regional neighbors, as the ruling Hindu right-wing government flexes its muscles to micro-manage affairs in even friendly countries, ready to give New Delhi the long rope. Just like the alibi of former Sri Lankan President Junius Jayewardene’s “pro-America tilt” — put forth to incite a deadly civil war in the island nation, in order to crush the Lankan leaderships’ capability of steering an independent foreign policy — the China bogey and the artificially created disenchantment within the native Madhesi population of southern Nepal’s Terai plains is the new tool at the hands of India’s strategic establishment mandarins, which was used with great finesse to topple a popularly elected government of a sovereign nation.
The heart of the matter is New Delhi has been sulking ever since the Hindutva party-led Indian government’s surreptitious agenda of making Nepal a constitutional Hindu state has fallen flat. Sadly, New Delhi’s monopolistic attitude and approach — the reason why no effort was ever made to transport fuel to Nepal through pipelines or offer a better and cheaper port, road and rail connectivity facilities for third country imports — have led to a situation where very few people in Nepal and the larger neighborhood speak well of India.
In fact, a 2015 Reputation Institute study reveals, India has the largest gap between self-image and external perceptions. Most importantly, now, the people of Nepal have started viewing India as an aggressor, meddling into their internal affairs unnecessarily by using unfair tactics, which effectively means the incumbent premier has already lost popular confidence and will only be a king, bereft of people’s power. With such huge image crisis creating persistent hurdle in the country’s effort to bolster her soft power, one wonders why India never felt it necessary to mend her way accordingly.