‘Neighbourhood-first policy does not mean being Dhritarashtra’

New Delhi, Oct 13 (IANS) The Narendra Modi government’s “neighbourhood first” foreign policy means working with neighbours in a way so that both sides feel their interests are being advanced, but at the same time India cannot have a “Dhritarashtra-like policy” of shutting the eyes to factors that can irritate ties, said official sources here.

At a time when the opposition has criticized the government over what is perceived as deteriorating ties with the neighbourhood, especially Nepal and Pakistan, sources said that the neighbourhood first policy does not mean that India will “pander” to the neighbor or “close its eyes” to happenings running contrary to India’s interests, beliefs and affinities.

The neighborhood policy is also not about big country and small country but about working with neighbours in a way in which they feel their interests are being advanced and vice versa.

Ties cannot be built on India sacrificing its interests or having a “Dhritarashtra-like policy of you don’t see what you don’t want to see”, the sources pointed out, in allusion to the king from the Mahabharata epic who was blind to the wrongful acts around him.

India, the sources added, cannot run other people’s domestic politics, pointing to the upheaval in Nepal which while it is an internal problem of the neighbor, also impinges on India.

With regard to ties with Pakistan too, relations did not work out the way it was agreed at the Ufa talks between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Nawaz Sharif.

Pakistan’s domestic politics and compulsions finally led the cancellation of the National Security Advisor level talks in August, the source added.

While India does not want to “micromanage” the internal politics of a neighbor, it cannot remain unaffected by or ignore what is happening there either, like in the case of the Madhes uprising in Nepal on the border, which can spill over into India.

In seeking to balance ties, whenever there is a sense that India has perhaps veered too sharply in one direction, then a course correction would be in order, the source added.

Congress MP and former union minister Shashi Tharoor, in an article critical of the Modi government’s Nepal policy, says: ‘A combination of arrogance and ineptitude is all-too-often visible where subtlety and pro-active diplomacy could have delivered the desired results.

“Relations with three of our neighbours – Pakistan, the Maldives and now Nepal – are worse than they have ever been. If we don’t soon embark on a serious course correction, the only question will be who we are going to alienate next.”

The Modi government, when it came to power in May 2014, promised to strengthen ties with the neighbours which it said had got strained under the previous Congress-led government. It embarked on a proactive outreach to neighbours, beginning with Modi’s invite to South Asian neighbours for his swearing-in, and visits to most neighbours.

The official source said that India’s relations with its neighbours was much better now than it was under the previous regime.

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