Making the region stumble | Pakistan Today

Making the region stumble

  • India is showing itself  a bad neighbour
  • The combination of the RSS, the BJP and Narendra Modi

By: Nadir Khilji

The ideology of a political party gives direction to its policies. The BJP, originating in the RSS, has nurtured policies based on Hindutva, giving direction to the current Indian Government and its supporters. As the BJP extracts ever more strength from it domestically, it finds itself getting aloof regionally. That this is dragging down the region, the BJP does not fathom.

With the Hindu population 80 percent, the BJP took Hindutva as its election theme. All minorities started feeling alienated. The BJP attempted to rationalize its strategy by saying Hindutva represented Hindu culture and society. Apparently plausible, when disseminated among the masses, it evolves down to callous conduct.Wherever the masses find space, they show no mercy. Results are beatings, killings and lynchings.

This extended from intra-country to intra-region. Waves of caution are thus felt across South Asia. The selective aroach nurtured resistance among the smaller neighbours. Attempts of subjugation and coercion became seeds of discomfort, dissension and suspicion. Hindutva has put India into a catch-22 situation.

Nepal, a small, landlocked country, is India’s only neighbor with a Hindu majority. For decades Nepal had cordial relations. Being landlocked, almost all of its trade was through its borders with India. The souring of relations started with India letting Nepalese opposition parties use Indian soil to launch agitations against their governments. In 1989, the Congress Government put Nepal under total economic blockade. Nepal was punished for continuing the dispute on trade and transit treaties.

Distrust of India aggravated in September 2015. Nepal adapted a new constitution.Some groups that felt left out of the new constitution, mainly Madheshis, resisted. With the backing of Indians, Madheshis started agitations at the border. This ended in the second blockade, this time by the Modi Government.

Insult was added to injury in 2019. India reprinted her official map. It showed Kalapani, Lipulekh and Limpiyadhura, all disuted areas, in India. Further, on May 9, Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh inaugurated the newly built 80-kilometer-long road connecting India’s Dharchula to Tibet through the disputed Lipulekh Pass. India was building a road through a disputed area, without any consultation with Nepal.

All India’s neighbours are losing confidence in it. Indian policymakers somehow seem prone to shallowness. The Government’s approach seems regime-centric, rather than state-centric. A long term policy of mutual benefit is lacking.

Nepal’s Foreign Ministry condemned India’s “unilateral act”, and called it against the understanding between the two to solve boundary issues through negotiations. On June 18 th Nepalese Parliament reacted by passing their own map showing the disputed areas in Nepal.

A snowball effect started. On June 13, Nepalese Armed Police Force fired on a crowd of Bihar villagers, killing one, one of those rare moments when a shot was fired at the border. On June 20, Nepal laid claim over Bihar land, preventing Indian officials from fortifying an embankment on Lal Bakey River in east Chamaparn district in Bihar.

Lately, the Communist Party of Nepal urged the Prime Minister to stop allowing Gurkha citizens from being part of the Indian military. The Indian Army has more than 80,000 Nepali Gurkhas. The Communist Party believes they will be posted in Ladakh, against China.

The vacuum created by such disputes is getting filled by China. President Xi Jinping visited Nepal last year. The landlocked country is getting an outlet through railroads connecting Nepal and Tibet.

Nepal has realized, with Chinese backing, it can no longer be bullied. On July 12, Nepal unilaterally blocked transmission of all Indian news channels except Doordarshan.

Bhutan, another small, landlocked Indian neighbour, is getting increasingly wary. The country has a small army of 8000. It depended on India for territorial sovereignty. In 2017, China intruded into its Doklam valley. This intrusion was met with Indian resistance. Surprisingly, it was retaken by China. There was a mutually agreed disengagement after a 73-day standoff. China re-entered, building permanent military structures. This India opted to overlook. A stunned Bhutan felt vulnerable.

Many in India already believe that Bhutan is in some undeclared understanding with China. A recent incident showed its changed behavior, like stopping irrigation water to Assam farmers. The Bhutanese government denied any such deliberate act.

As for Bangladesh, in the 1983 Assam massacre 2191 Muslims died. (Unofficial figures of the dead run to as high as 10,000). These were immigrants from Bangladesh. The dispute was on the voting rights given to Muslim immigrants by the Congress Government. Hindus retaliated by the massacre.

In 2003, the Vajpayee Government introduced the National Register of Citizens. Home Minister and BJP President Amit Shah said the NRC was part of the BJP’s manifesto. The purpose was to document all the legal citizens of India so that illegal (Muslim) migrants could be identified and deported. It has been implemented for Assam starting 2013–2014. It was a major blow for Bangladeshi immigrants as it means their eviction from Assam. One third of Assam’s population is still Muslim, mostly immigrants.

Amit Shah called Bangladeshi migrants “illegal infiltrators”. He said they had entered the country like “termites” and should be “uprooted”. A Human Rights Watch sokesman called this “disturbing”. He stated that the path to genocide is paved by powerful politicians using dehumanizing language: “termites”, “cockroaches” or “vermin”.

In Haseena Wajid’s Government, India had a close friend. That is now doubtful.

Afghanistan, where India invested more than $2.5 billion on various development projects, has no place for India any more. Their ignoring the Pushtoon majority meant that, with the increasing role of the Taliban, ethnically Pushtoons, India’s future in Afghanistan has almost ended. India has been barred from the intra-Afghan dialogue.

With Sri Lanka, India has been at odds ever since the rise of LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam). In 1987 India sent the Indian Peace Keeping Force to fight LTTE. It failed, and the operation stopped in 1990. In 2005, Mahinda Rajapaksa became President. He got the help of Pakistan Army, and in 2009 LTTE was eliminated.

President Rajapaksa was seen by India as pro-Pakistan and pro-China. His efforts for Chinese investment were seen with suspicion. A scuffle arose, resulting in the expulsion of the Colombo station chief of India’s spy agency in the run-up to his presidential election, for allegedly helping the opposition. The new President, Maithripala Sirisena, also could not get along well with India. In October 2018, he alleged RAW was plotting his assassination.

The current President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, under financial squeeze looked towards India. Sri Lanka’s request to India for a postponement of its debt repayment amidst the economic crisis consistently got ignored. This was despite personal involvement of Sri Lanka’s PM. Sri Lanka finally moved towards China, which immediately lent $500 million. Sri Lanka is now reportedly reviewing the MOUs for transferring minority shares to India of the Colombo Port and the Rajapaksa Airport.

Iran historically had good relations with India. More than $2.5 billion dollars were committed by India to Iran’s Chahbahar Port, and the adjacent roads and railroads. Due to passive Indian movement Iran started feeling uneasy.

China moved in fast. Iran has made a 25-year strategic trade deal with China. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, put his full support behind the deal, which may also include control of Chahbahar Port going into Chinese hands. An end of the Iran-India strategic relationship is now visible.

All India’s neighbours are losing confidence in it. Indian policymakers somehow seem prone to shallowness. The Government’s approach seems regime-centric, rather than state-centric. A long term policy of mutual benefit is lacking.

Why is India losing one neighbor after the other? The origins lie deep in the BJ’s ideology. RSS, the parent Party of BJP, was founded by Dr Hedgewar, in 1925. He was influenced by the writings of Savarkar. His doctrine was of Hindu racial supremacy. He hated Muslims. There was no place for them in Hindu society. Savarkar’s dream was of rebuilding a great Hindu empire from the Himalayas to Cape Comorin. BJP MP Dr Subraminian Swamy, in a recent interview, insisted that wherever the Muslim population was over 30 percent they become a problem.

Politics of Supremacism is being religiously adorned. A display of imperialistic imprints is visible in regional affairs. There is an eminence of arrogance and coercion. In a democratic world this mindset is more of a fantasy.

Vajpayee wanted to move along with the minorities. After the Gujarat massacre of 2002, he wanted Narendra Modi to resign. He shared his thoughts with BJP resident and Home Minister L K Advani. Yashwant Sinha, senior BJP leader and the then External Affairs Minister, claimed Vajpayee was set to dismiss Modi, but Advani had threatened to resign if Modi had to resign. That was an opportunity lost. That was the turning point. BJP office bearers witnessed that killing Muslims was not punishable.

This Hindutva mindset needs to change. With vibrant social media, bullying is fatal. Governments are more exposed to immediate criticism, irrespective of being aggressor or victim. No entity can afford to drift under the shadow of a powerful neighbour. India needs to come up and face the new realities, that China, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Maldives, all have major trust deficits with it. The BJP leadership needs to do some soul searching. They need to get out of the current ethos. The sooner they realize this, the better.

The writer can be contacted at [email protected]

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