CAA’s Articulate – A New trajectory for India’s foreign policy


Context:

  • In the backdrop of setbacks, especially in the neighbourhood, there are talks that there is the need for India to reconsider its diplomacy’s trajectory.

Background:

  • India was seen as a natural rising power in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region.
  • It was the real leader of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).
  • In the neighbourhood:
    • It has historical and cultural ties with Nepal.
    • It enjoyed traditional goodwill and influence in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
    • It had made investments worth billions of dollars in Afghanistan and cultivated vibrant ties with the post-Taliban stakeholders in Kabul.
    • It had committed itself to multilateralism and the Central Asian connectivity project, with Iran being its gateway.
    • It was competing and cooperating with China, while the long border between the two countries remained largely peaceful at the same time.

Changing calculations: Emerging national security crisis

  • China has changed the status quo along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the western sector in its favour.
  • SAARC is non-functional and Nepal has turned hostile having adopted a new map and revived border disputes with India.
  • Sri Lanka has tilted towards China, which is undertaking massive infrastructure projects in the Indian Ocean island.
  • Bangladesh has shown its displeasure towards the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.
  • While Afghanistan is undergoing a major transition, India is out of the multi-party talks.
  • Iran has inaugurated a railway link project connecting the Chabahar port, without India.

Reasons behind these setbacks:

  1. A relative decline in India’s smart power:
    1. In the case of India’s soft power, it is purely looked at as mutual respect and the enabling of an understanding of one another’s culture.
    2. But it is on decline especially in the neighbourhood and the extended neighbourhood.
  2. A visible shift from multilateralism:
    • India’s official policy is committed to multilateralism, with strategic autonomy as the bedrock of its policy thinking. But there has been a steady erosion in India’s strategic autonomy.
    • Signs of shift: Falling in US line
      • Case of Iran:
        • Under US pressure, India has been moving slowly on the agreement to develop the Chabahar port (signed in 2003), despite the importance of the project offering India an alternative route to Central Asia bypassing Pakistan.
        • India brought down its oil imports to zero, as a result of USA’s reimposed sanctions on Iran, after the U.S. decided to pull out of the Iran deal in 2018.
      • Deepening of military-to-military cooperation:
        • For instance, the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) etc.
      • Containment policy:
        • Washington wants India to play a bigger role in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific region to contain China’s rise.
    • Impact:
      • These developments probably altered Beijing’s assessment of India. The border aggression could not be a localised conflict, it is part of a larger strategic move, initiated by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
  3. Impact of Domestic politics:
    • The passing of the CAA:
      • The official position has been that India is offering citizenship to the persecuted minorities of select countries in its neighbourhood. But, there were two problems:
        • Regionalisation of the domestic problems of India’s neighbours.
        • Alleged exclusion of Muslims, persecuted in neighbouring countries, from the citizenship programme.
        • Impact:
          • Resulted in new wedges between India and the countries that had a Muslim majority and were friendly to India in the neighbourhood, for example Bangladesh and Afghanistan.
    • The abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir: This has resulted into the alleged suspension of fundamental rights in the Kashmir Valley for a prolonged period.
      • Impact:
        • Damaged India’s reputation as a responsible democratic power and gave propaganda weapons to Pakistan.
        • Also, bifurcation prompted the Chinese to move aggressively towards the border in Ladakh.
  4. Misplaced confidence:
    • Great powers wait to establish their standing. For example, the Soviet Union started acting like a superpower after it won the Second World War. Similarly, China waited for four decades before it started taking on the mighty U.S.
    • India should learn from these examples. This will help in avoiding situations like high-handedness in Nepal during the country’s constitutional crisis, that turned a traditional and civilisational ally hostile.

Conclusion:

  • Though India is a big power with one of the world’s biggest militaries, a natural naval force in the Indian Ocean and has resources to claim its position in global politics, it lacks strategic depth.
  • To address the current crises, India has to reconsider its foreign policy trajectory.