[Editorial Analysis] Engaging the Neighbour

Mains Paper 2: International Relations
Prelims level: Gujral doctrine
Mains level: India and its neighborhood relations


• External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar travelled to Sri Lanka last week.

• This week, Nepal’s foreign minister- Pradeep Gyawali, will visit India to deal with the issues between both the nations.

• Both the visits brought India’s neighbourhood diplomacy back into focus.

• The two visits also highlight the continuing questions on India’s role in the domestic politics of other South Asian nations.

Recent change:

• India’s reluctance to be drawn into the latest round of political disturbance in Kathmandu has drawn much attention.

• Delhi’s refusal is in contrast to Beijing’s active effort to preserve the unity of the ruling communist party in Kathmandu.

The new reality:

• Has India finally recognised the virtue of non-intervention in the internal affairs of its neighbouring countries?

• Is Beijing breaking from its proclaimed principle of non-interference in other societies?

Gujral doctrine:

• The Gujral Doctrine is a set of five principles to guide the conduct of foreign relations with India’s immediate neighbours, notably Pakistan, as spelt out by Gujral.

• The doctrine was later termed as- “India in the Twenty First Century in International Affairs”

Misleading assumption:

• Neither Delhi nor Beijing is departing from the basic traditions of their foreign policy towards the neighbours.

• Interventions on their periphery have been a lasting feature of Indian and Chinese foreign policy.

• The problem is less with their diplomatic practice than the misleading public discourse on the principles of “sovereignty and non-intervention”.

• India can’t simply stand apart from the domestic politics of its neighbours was quite evident during Jaishankar’s remarks in Colombo.

• Jaishankar underlined the importance of Colombo addressing the expectations of the Sri Lankan Tamil minority for “equality, justice, peace and dignity” within a united Sri Lanka.

• China’s oratory on non-intervention never corresponded with the reality of its foreign policy. In the 1960s and 1970s, it fanned communist revolutions all across Asia.

• China’s current behaviour in Nepal is not an exception to the rule; it is very much part of China’s current interventionist strategy across Asia and beyond.

Big nations always intervene:

• To make matters a little more complicated, India and China always insist that other countries should stop interfering in their respective internal affairs.

• It is tempting to call out this hypocrisy; but big nations always intervene in other nations but defend oneself from any potential threats to their own sovereignty.

• However, that does not, of course, prevent others from messing with Delhi and Beijing.

• Most recently, India reacted strongly to the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s comments on the farmers’ agitation.

• The US and its allies regularly criticise China’s domestic policies, most recently Beijing’s actions in Hong Kong.

• Delhi and Beijing have a long record of accusing the other of interference in their domestic politics.

Intervention-Part of International life:

• Rhetoric on sovereignty in the international discourse tends to be “organised hypocrisy”.

• All powers — big and small — frequently violate the principle of sovereignty. The concept of national sovereignty was never absolute.

• The ability to secure one’s sovereignty depends on a state’s comprehensive national power.

• Big nations tend to intervene more, and the smaller ones find ways to manage this through the politics of balancing against their large neighbours.

• Ironically, preventing intervention by one power invites intervention by another.

• The pressure for external intervention often comes from major domestic constituencies within.

Managing domestic dynamics:

• For India, the question is not about choosing between intervention and non-intervention. It is about carefully managing the unavoidable and dynamic interaction between the domestic political processes of India and its neighbours.

• Given the nature of South Asia’s political geography, very few problems can be isolated within the territories of nations.

• There is also the tension between the shared cultural identity in the subcontinent and the determination of the smaller nations to define a contemporary identity independent of India.

• The bitter legacies of Partition leave the domestic political dynamics of Bangladesh, India and Pakistan tied together and complicate their interaction as separate sovereign entities.

• India’s relations with its smaller neighbours are also burdened by the legacy of India’s past hegemony and the emerging challenges to it.

• India can neither stand apart nor jump into every domestic conflict within the neighbourhood.

• The real question, then is, when to intervene and when to avoid it. There is no single formula to guide policy on this score. It is always about political judgement about specific situations.

Coming out of the organic evolution of society:

• If the concept of national sovereignty is limited by circumstance, so is the effectiveness of third-party intervention.

• External interventions in the domestic politics of neighbors are rarely successful and produce unintended consequences that acquire a life of their own.

• Big powers tend to underestimate the costs of intervention in their neighborhood and overestimate the prospects for success.

• Active and direct intervention in the domestic politics of neighbours must be a careful exception rather than the rule in India’s regional diplomacy.

• Even the most powerful nations find it hard to compel the smallest states to do what is right on such issues as democratic governance, minority rights and federalism.

• They must come out of the organic evolution of each society. Democracy and good governance can never be an outsider’s gifts to a nation.

• India can encourage, but can’t really force Colombo and Kathmandu to respect the rights of Tamils and Madhesis.


• The subcontinent has historically been an integrated geopolitical space with a shared civilizational heritage.

• Equally true is the reality of multiple contemporary sovereignties within South Asia.

• In dealing with these twin realities, the principles guiding India’s engagement are not too difficult to discern.

• Jaishankar promised Sri Lankan leaders in Colombo, “India will always be a dependable partner and reliable friend” and is committed to strengthening bilateral ties “on the basis of mutual trust, mutual interest, mutual respect and mutual sensitivity”.

• These are not easy principles to follow. But the new vocabulary on “mutual respect and mutual sensitivity” is certainly welcome.

• India’s consistent pursuit of this framework could help India better manage the complex dynamic with its neighbours.


Prelims Questions:

Q.1) With reference to the Chang’e 5 lunar mission, consider the following statements:

1. It returned to Earth carrying around 2 kilograms of the first fresh rock samples from the moon in 44 years.

2. It is an initiative of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2
Answer: A

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