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Delhi trying to isolate neighbours from world: Indian experts

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi

The Indian authorities have created a mess in its foreign affairs in South Asia by trying to isolate the neighbouring countries from the global system in order to create an enclave to use for domestic political purposes, several Indian foreign policy experts said.   

 ‘India attempted to isolate the sub-continent from the larger politics of global system in order to create an enclave where its [India] development and democracy projects proceed unhindered,’ Ashley J. Tellis, an Indian-origin senior fellow at the US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in a virtual discussion on Indian foreign policy on Saturday.

Indo-American Friendship Association organised the discussion moderated by retired Indian diplomat Surendra Kumar.

Shashi Tharoor, an Indian opposition lawmaker, said that the government of Narendra Modi jeopardised national interests by creating hostility in the neighbourhood with the combination of arrogance and ineptitude.

Citing India’s discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act aimed against the Muslim community, he said that there was a serious lack of a cohesive foreign policy as the government was using foreign policy tools for domestic divisive purposes deviating from core national values of pluralism, democracy, social justice and secularism.

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It has seriously undermined India’s stature internationally, which has never been lower before, Shashi, also a former state minister, said, adding, ‘The world increasingly sees us like an intolerant narrow-minded nation.’

Pratap Bhanu Mehta, an Indian academic who was vice-chancellor of Ashoka University, said, ‘The single biggest test for India’s foreign policy is how it manages its neighbourhood.’

Mentioning dealings of the incumbent Indian authorities with Bangladesh and Nepal, he said, ‘The government hasn’t realised a simple truth that if India is not a zone for freedom and human rights, this sub-continent has no future.’

‘We legitimise every irredentist fundamentalist tendency in the sub-continent as a whole. There cannot be a bigger foreign policy disaster than that,’ Pratap said.  

The Indian government has used foreign policy apparatus to achieve only domestic political objectives which are largely achieved through propaganda and lies, he said. ‘It is very dangerous for a country.’

It has cut people’s freedom for criticising the government at home, he added. 

Indicating Bangladesh’s unease about the adoption of the controversial CAA by the BJP-led government, former foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon stressed the need to stop using foreign policy apparatus for internal partisan purposes.

He stressed the need for the Indian authorities to work for ‘reintegration of the sub-continent’ with making India ‘the economic hub’ and ‘the provider of security in the region’ to become a ‘source of stability’ for India’s neighbours.

The Indian diplomats should earn credibility, Menon said, adding, ‘Credibility is the key for a diplomat, most precious weapon in hand.’