The India way in an uncertain worldThere is hardly any space for a third party in the unique ties between India and Nepal.
The year 2020 proved to be highly forgettable with the China-originated Covid-19, lockdown and immense losses of lives and livelihoods across the world. This year, China also found allies to encircle India on different fronts. Altogether, such adventurous acts forced India to re-prioritise its choices in the new world order filled with uncertainties. In India’s official establishment, now there is a feeling that ‘realism’ should drive India’s strategies and foreign policies, especially in its neighbourhood.
India’s External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar’s newly-released book The India Way: Strategies for an Uncertain World is a sort of manifesto to set out the new priorities for India in its international affairs. The reckoning is clear about India’s rising position in the world order, and the need to visualise its interests with effective communication. Dr Jaishankar, who earlier served as India’s foreign secretary and ambassador to the United States and China, is someone uniquely positioned to contribute to that endeavour.
In his individual capacity as India’s top diplomat, Dr Jaishankar is known to be a firm believer in keeping India’s ‘optimal relationship’ with all the major powers to best advance its goals. Under the same framework, he advocates for a bolder and non-reciprocal approach to the immediate and extended neighbourhood. In recent times, India has followed that approach in engaging with its immediate neighbours, including Nepal. This is not something of an enigma for policymakers in Kathmandu.
At the highest decision-making level in India, it is believed that the existing era of global upheaval entails greater expectations from India, putting it on the path to becoming a leading power. Dr Jaishankar should be hailed for making a clear distinction between ‘national interest’ and ‘international responsibilities’, and provisioning much needed balancing acts. It is vital to note that India is on the way to reclaiming its prominent place on the world stage and being a civilisational power.
No longer is consistency the sole driving force of India’s foreign policy and strategies. Choices have to be exercised in the changing circumstances, hence both constants and changes are supposed to get space in new policy manoeuvrings. China’s rise, disproportionate aggression and interventionism in South Asia have been quite instructive for India. Since 2014, India’s new regime found a new way to deal with the changing global scenario. Now it was more flexible in recognising the greater multi-polarity and unpredictability trends that had increased influence over international affairs. Dr Jaishankar makes a point here, ‘Nations were combining on narrower issues rather than broad approaches. To a large extent, world affairs now looked like a global marketplace with less pre-conceptions and more transactions’.
In a new world more receptive to ‘transactional terms’, there is a litmus test for age-old cross-boundary friendship. Here, if India-Nepal relations are taken into perspective too, the changing norms offer a ‘new normal’. In recent times, Nepal’s inability to keep the spirit of trilateralism in check while making choices for its bilateral relations with India could be termed a lapse. If India continues with ‘certain constants’ beside the inevitable changes, it is for safeguarding the valued terms it has with Nepal. With deep care for its inalienable relations with Nepal and respect for its sovereign status, India remains its most trustworthy neighbour and ally.
India’s rise in the world is something that makes Nepal strongly placed in the global order as well. As an integrated market, trade and services are surely going to benefit. It is noteworthy how the process of economic reforms in India that started way back in the early 1990s had a positive impact on Nepal. The economic integration was never so stout and heady for achieving extraordinary outcomes. Now when India is moving in a direction of giving extra traction to ‘self-reliance’, though without being protectionist, it is again opening the door with bright possibilities for Nepal’s businesses to deepen their engagement in India, and further enhance regional and sub-regional economic cooperation. Sooner than later, India’s trade-balancing exercise will have some meaning for China too.
In the South Asian region, India’s engagement drives will continue irrespective of strategic challenges curated by China through Pakistan or on its own. India’s capabilities are overshadowing the challenges in the region, and it is unlikely that China will get much in the long term from its over-pricey and directionless projects like the Belt and Road Initiative and cross-border incursions. However, its expansionism is surely getting an edge with the vulnerabilities of its allies, especially Pakistan.
Nepal, with its bright spot in the new world order, should do everything possible to negate China’s ploy to use it as ‘strategic hotspot’ against India. China is not known to be an altruist power, its ambivalence in the international arena has been seriously puzzling over the decades. In today’s time, Nepal needs more strategic minds than the Mandarin experts to know about China’s plan in its totality. Over a long period of time, China has enjoyed its insulation despite showing disregard for ‘international responsibilities’. Of late, China stands exposed on the world stage, and it is not possible that its hegemonic advances will not get a counter-response.
In a world badly ravaged by Covid-19, Nepal should do everything possible to revive its industrial prospects and occupy its workforce to attain self-sustainability and control the very high rate of outbound migration. To get greater space in the world order, Nepal has to work extra hard on the domestic front. A balancing approach is wishful thinking, and it is also imperative to avoid acrimonious stances. A progressive developmental narrative in Nepal will enthuse India to give extra focus to the vision of shared prosperity. Working and growing together should drive our bilateral mechanism. India and Nepal will be big beneficiaries if both countries give their due to the trust-based relationship. In their unique ties, there is hardly any space for a third party. The ‘India Way’ is and will be clearly friendly for Nepal.