Neighborhood First: An Overview

At a time when the entire world is going through a global epidemic called COVID-19, an opportunity for India to redefine relations with its neighbors and restore the relevance of the country’s ‘Neighborhood First Policy’. Is a challenge. This is a better opportunity for New Delhi to demonstrate its generosity and capability to its neighboring countries, which are relatively small in terms of area and economically weak.

There is no doubt that India is as much plagued by the epidemic as other countries in South Asia. If there is something different in this situation, it is that India is doing better in dealing with this epidemic than in the West. If India maintains its current status in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, there is every possibility that New Delhi will emerge as a strong international figure.

This article will discuss the Neighborhood First policy, its necessity, the reasons for not getting the potential benefits of the policy, and India’s changing priority.

The background

  • India adopted an independent foreign policy since independence and prioritized harmonious and friendly relations with neighboring countries and other countries of the world while advancing global peace. This is why India, instead of being a part of a particular faction during the Cold War, pushed the Non-Aligned Movement forward.
  • In the changing global order, India adopted the policy of ‘Look East’ in order to promote economic activities with South-East Asian countries.
  • Apart from this, India also acted on the policy of unilateral waiver of its smaller neighbors under the ‘Gujral Doctrine’ which can be understood in terms of ‘Farakka Agreement’.
  • The present government has given priority to the ‘Neighborhood First Policy’, while maintaining the elements of continuity in foreign policy as well as making it more dynamic according to the current circumstances.


Neighborhood First Policy

  • The ‘Neighborhood First Policy’ also upholds the elements of continuity existing in Indian foreign policy, recognizing the priority of Gujral doctrine while emphasizing global peace, friendship and amicable relations.
  • Under this, giving priority to neighboring countries, their commitment to become partners in economic development and growth has been emphasized. Taking this forward, an effort has been made to make relations with all parties sweet and deep by not giving priority to any particular party. This can be seen in the context of the change in the Indian outlook under the establishment of peace and stability in Afghanistan.
  • Capacity building programs and investments are being carried forward by giving priority to neighboring countries and not interfering in their internal politics.


Need for Neighborhood First Policy

  • Most of India’s neighbors are small, due to which they are always apprehensive about India and are affected by ‘Big Brother’ syndrome in the context of India somewhere. In such a situation, peace, stability and trusting relations in neighboring countries are important from the point of view of Indian security.
  • India has friendly relations with most of its neighbors but at times it is affected by global conditions and regional events.
  • Talking of relations with neighboring countries, India currently has good relations with Afghanistan and India is playing a major role in capacity building there but Taliban activism remains a matter of concern here. India also has good social-cultural relations with Nepal, but Nepal’s internal situation and China’s presence here negatively affects it.
  • India has always had friendly and cordial relations with Bhutan and even today, these relations are progressive. Relations with Bangladesh and Myanmar are advancing at a rapid pace, but China’s presence is also affecting relations here.
  • China wants to establish its influence on the trade routes of the Indian Ocean. In such a situation, China is working on a strategy to encircle India under the String of Perls policy with the intention of providing economic assistance to India’s neighboring countries. Therefore, in order to counterbalance China in South Asia, the role of neighboring countries increases greatly.
  • The important role of these countries in establishing peaceful co-existence in South Asia, economic development, trade advancement, establishment of trade relations with ASEAN countries and development and border management of North-East regions along with their strategic needs cannot be denied. is. Therefore, it becomes necessary that India should give priority and priority to neighboring countries in its policy.

Due to non-potential benefits of Neighborhood First Policy

Neighborhood First

  • Problems such as political instability, ethnic conflict, lack of connectivity in South Asia cause stalemate and mistrust in relations with neighboring countries. In addition, China’s intervention in these countries makes it more complicated.
  • Another psychological reason behind this can also be seen. Psychological fear arises in neighboring countries regarding India’s large size and economy, which they appear to be trying to balance through China. Therefore, India should also find a solution to psychological problem on ideological and psychological basis.

BIMSTEC preferred over SAARC

It is noteworthy that the ‘South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation-SAARC’ to increase the quality of life of the people of South Asia and promote social, economic, political development and mutual coordination and cooperation among citizens. Was established. But even after almost 33 years of its establishment, SAARC has not been successful in achieving its objectives, mainly due to differences and mistrust in India-Pakistan relations, lack of connectivity and communication etc.
For this reason many scholars were of the opinion that it is no longer practical to expect more from SAARC. India also boycotted the 19th SAARC meeting held in Pakistan after the Uri terrorist attack in which other member nations also supported India.
Therefore, Indian policy-makers were looking for a platform that would cater to Indian interests as well as promote peace and security in South Asia and the Indian Ocean and play a role in the successful implementation of the ‘Act East’ policy. Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation can be helpful in fulfilling these objectives.
BIMSTEC acts as a bridge between South Asia and South-East Asian countries as the regional organization has five member countries, viz. Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and India are also member countries of SAARC, while the Myanmar and Thailand ASEAN organizations Is a member nation of.
BIMSTEC is an organization of countries near the Bay of Bengal, which aims to promote economic and technical cooperation between nations. It represents about 22 percent of the world’s population and the organization’s member countries have a combined GDP of about $ 2.7 million. India also has no political differences with BIMSTEC member countries.
Along with this, the respective aspirations of the member nations also increase the chances of success of this platform. For example, Nepal and Bhutan can move out of their landlocked position from this platform and expand their reach to the Bay of Bengal.


Road ahead

  • India needs to promote ‘Three C’ (culture, commerce, connectivity) to maintain diplomatic balance with neighboring countries.
  • India should resort to its ‘soft power’ and cultural diplomacy to establish good relations with neighboring countries, which China is seen to be lacking. Apart from this, efforts should be made to complete their projects on time so that there is no ‘trust deficit’ towards India.
  • We need to indicate in the context of our projects that it is in their socio-economic interests and not to trap them in the debt trap. By doing this, India will intensify relations with their neighbors and their psychological confusion will be overcome.
  • In times of this crisis, India can provide medicines and other medical equipment to its neighbors, which will not only counterbalance China’s influence in these countries, but will also increase India’s ‘soft power’ policy.

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