India’s Perception Battle in South Asia
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India’s Perception Battle in South Asia

By Dr. Nanda Kishor
Assistant Professor (Senior Scale), Department of Geopolitics & International Relations
Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal

India’s Perception Battle in South Asia

India, in 2019, since the formation of the new government in May, has pitched in for numerous changes from government formation to laws of the land. Though there were certain bold decisions taken in the 2014-19 tenure, the 2019 mandate has given the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government a renewed confidence to go for taking greater risks. The first of such intrepid decision on the foreign policy front was to bring S. Jaishankar, a veteran in foreign policy with an excellent track record as the Minister for External Affairs (MEA). Though people in India were aware of the rapport Jaishankar shares with Modi, none anticipated it to be this out of the box thinking. Jaishankar’s tryst with the foreign policy front has been recognized and been awarded to a person well deserved. He seems to have taken up the challenge and has been the face of India’s foreign policy, unlike his predecessor Sushma Swaraj. In the previous regime, it was Modi who stole the show and almost appeared as if he was the MEA. Jaishankar has a clear mandate to put the foreign policy of India in the track and take the lead from the front. On the domestic front, the Modi government has gone for quite a few bold decisions including that of banning the triple talaq, abrogation of article 370 pertaining to the former state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), amendment of Unlawful Activities Prevention Act to have wider scope and now the latest being The National Register of Citizens (NRC) and Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). To an extent, these domestic decisions which have nothing to do with other nations directly have been factors that have reemerged in India’s perception battle in South Asia. This has direct ramifications on India’s foreign policy in South Asia and its ambitions to grow beyond the region. 

The abrogation of Article 370 was one of the earliest to rake up the issue with Pakistan. Pakistan took this to every possible forum in the world and tried its level best to work with nations across the spectrum to call India a regional hegemon and turning Kashmir into a battleground. Pakistan’s response was on expected lines, but even Sri Lanka condemning India’s action was shocking. Subsequently, the damage control occurred through a statement reissued by the Sri Lankan government saying, the president did not make any other comment on the issues of India and Pakistan. When the state of J&K was divided into two and made two Union Territories of J&K and that of Ladakh, India released a new political map. The map included the Kalapani region of Nepal as part of India’s Uttrakhand state. Nepal strongly objected to this move and officially opposed the move through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Nepal’s objection has been to the violation of the Suguali treaty between Nepal and the then East India Company in 1816. India seems to have ignored such apprehension put out by Nepal, and so far, there seems to be no official statement made on this by India. Nepal has viewed India with suspicion for a long time, and this is yet another chance for it to cement its resentment towards India. The 2015 economic blockade had gone entirely beyond the control of India, and to an extent, India’s strategy had boomeranged. The first visit of PM Modi was such a success, a lot of IR scholars across India and Nepal wrote about it as the heralding a new chapter in India-Nepal relations. Unfortunately, the relations have not been in line with India’s Neighbourhood First Policy as anticipated. Would India ever do this to China, which is great power is perhaps the question Nepal would probably want to ask India.

Pakistan’s opposition to India is deeply rooted in its historical baggage, and many times its deep hatred towards India controlling the state of Jammu and Kashmir as an integral territory. India ignoring Pakistan has fetched far more than what visits and meetings would have fetched. India’s tough stance after the Pulwama attack and the subsequent airstrikes on Pakistan conducted by India in the name of defending its sovereignty by destroying terror camps found quite a few takers in different parts of the world. The ignoring policy might have brought some immediate relief for India to concentrate on other pertinent issues, but, it has been observed in the past when Pakistan is ignored, it makes itself relevant in a very problematic manner. Pakistan will allow India to escalate any conflict to the level of conventional war, but, at the same time, would not refrain from engaging in asymmetric conflicts. The latest action of the Modi government on NRC and CAA is giving a chance for Pakistan to flare up sentiments among Muslims in India and more so in the union territory of J&K. India’s job in hand is to gain confidence among all its citizens and make sure it does not allow countries like Pakistan to rake up religious sentiments and subsequently sow the seeds of religious extremism in the ear of information and technology. India need not consult its neighbors in formulating domestic policy, but the timing and plan to approach some of the problems that have stemmed from its independence need strategy. The state needs to prioritize the need of the hour and future, along with being sensitive to the past. Has India been able to do it so far? Only time will decide that.

The change of guard in Sri Lanka with the Rajapaksa combo is yet at a nascent stage, and yet we do not know how it would turn out to be. The previous stint of Mahinda was a tilt towards China to counterbalance the West and India from a strategic and economic perspective. So far, the new regime has shown much interest in India and seems to have learned a lesson from China’s debt-trap diplomacy. Nevertheless, history is a cruel spectator for the future. Even a single irritant can flare up, and it proportionately hurts India’s ambition to be a great power. To be a great power, one needs acceptance from the neighbors, and second, the region should feel the inevitability of the nation. This perhaps is not being achieved by India so far. Bangladesh so far has been appreciative of India in many aspects except a few irritants such as the river water sharing issue. Now, if the illegal Bangladeshi emigrants have to be sent back by India, then it would create a rupture. So far, Bangladesh has made a statement to accept its people but, when the issue reaches the peak with millions of them returning, it may probably strain the relations.

India’s priority in South Asia should not be to keep everyone happy that would tantamount to appeasement at the same time it should not also create venues that can strain the so far existing relationship. The perception battle is not easy to fight, but at the same time, it is also not impossible in diplomacy.

About the Author:  

Dr. Nanda Kishor (ORCID ID: 0000-0002-2024-100X) teaches Geopolitics and International Relations at Manipal Academy of Higher Education.

The views expressed are personal and do not reflect that of the organization.

Cite this Article:

Kishor, N., "India’s Perception Battle in South Asia", IndraStra Global Vol. 05, Issue No: 12 (2019), 0063;, ISSN 2381-3652

Kishor, N., "India’s Perception Battle in South Asia", IndraStra Global Vol. 05, Issue No: 12 (2019), 0063;, ISSN 2381-3652

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