Tuesday, February 15, 2005

ANALYSIS: Bouquets, brickbats for India's neighbourhood policy

+ A diplomat of another country said only two South Asian nations seemed to have major problems with India - Pakistan and Bangladesh. According to him, even traditional ties between India and Nepal, which were under strain after King Gyanendra assumed absolute powers, would soon be restored. But a diplomat of a third country said Saran's speech at India International Centre (IIC) exposed India's aspirations to becoming a regional superpower" at the cost of its smaller neighbours". He warned: "These days such hegemonic attitudes have a back-firing effect." That was why Nepal "has gone out of India's orbit", he added. +

Bouquets, brickbats for India's neighbourhood policy

New Delhi, Feb 15 : South Asian diplomats based here Tuesday differed over the significance of a major policy statement by Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran regarding India's neighbours, with some supporting and others blasting it.

Understandably, none would go on record and spoke to IANS only on condition of anonymity.

However, the regional media, except Indian, hardly took note of Saran's speech that was seen by some Indian analysts as a "long overdue no-nonsense statement".

Describing Saran's speech as "quite sincere", one diplomat said: "Most of the things he said are stark realities."

"Some will not like it but I think there was enough provocation (for the speech)," the diplomat said.

He said the foreign secretary's statement that the countries who took advantage of India's growing market have done well is a "statement of fact".

"The reality, whether you like it or not, is that the countries that hitched on to the Indian bandwagon benefited economically. Others carry too much of baggage to get on to the wagon," the diplomat said.

A diplomat of another country said only two South Asian nations seemed to have major problems with India - Pakistan and Bangladesh.

According to him, even traditional ties between India and Nepal, which were under strain after King Gyanendra assumed absolute powers, would soon be restored.

But a diplomat of a third country said Saran's speech at India International Centre (IIC) exposed India's aspirations to becoming a regional superpower" at the cost of its smaller neighbours".

He warned: "These days such hegemonic attitudes have a back-firing effect." That was why Nepal "has gone out of India's orbit", he added.

"As far as India is concerned, all neighbours seem to be bad. Every body cannot be wrong and only India right," the diplomat said, accusing New Delhi of following a policy of creating problems in neighbouring countries to "keep them busy".

He said India is not in a position to criticise lawlessness and fundamentalism in its neighbourhood, adding that the situation in Bihar, Jharkhand and Gujarat was worse.

"You are like an elephant with small eyes and heart. You have to make your heart bigger," the diplomat said.

He referred to an article by leading Indian columnist Kuldip Nayar, who wrote: "When it comes to the feeling of neighbouring countries, our government is inclined to be insensitive.

"It behaves like any other big power that believes that equality in diplomatic jargon is all right as far as it goes but that when the chips are down, small countries must know their place."

The diplomat then added: "Unfortunately, your government does not learn any lessons."

Saran's speech had criticised some of India's neighbours for a "display of narrow nationalism based on hostility toward India". He said this often became a "cover for failure to deliver on promises made to their own peoples".

"This (display of narrow nationalism) inhibits the development of normal relations, including economic cooperation, and prevents us from emerging as a region of political stability and economic dynamism," he had said.

Saran said India was prepared to do more to throw open its markets to its neighbours and invest in rebuilding as well as upgrading cross-border infrastructure.

While India was "ready and willing to accept this regional economic partnership and open up our markets to all our neighbours, we do expect that they demonstrate sensitivity to our vital (security) concerns," Saran said.