By Ratish Mehta
The current global crisis has posed an indefinite threat to the international community and has derailed some policy agendas of many if not all nations. Most have had to shift crucial resources to cater to the needs of tackling the pandemic and the rest have been under lockdowns for over months now. The onus of the blame however has invariably been upon China for not being able to take timely precautions. Although very sensitive to these criticisms, the attack for accountability is being led by the Trump administration who is pressing hard to divert attention from their own mishandling of the crisis. Though the portrayal of the naming on the virus might still be debatable, many countries don’t share the privilege of attacking the Chinese regime for the mayhem caused by the virus (especially China’s south-western neighbours).
The South Asian region which amounts for almost one-fourth of the global population, has in the past two decades, found itself on the maps of the rest of the world given the rise of two economic power hubs; China and India. If combined, the economic feasibility of any region around the world would remain volatile if it were to not include these two nations. India’s response to helping neighbouring countries in the region has been handy enough to maintain their ‘big brotherly’ image, also catering to the fact that most nations in this region are critically vulnerable to the crisis, given their fragile population densities. The Modi government clearly exercised their influence in the neighbourhood by organising a virtual conference with the SAARC nations in the initial days of the lockdown. This initiative posed significant meaning given the fact that SAARC had been virtually in shackles due to the dispute between India and Pakistan, a relationship which has been at its worst in the past two decades.
Seen as a balancer in the west and south east Asia in regards to China, India shares a complex relationship with her border sharing neighbour. The border dispute which led to a full-fledged war in 1962 still remains unresolved, perils of which causes skirmishes even today at the unidentified borders. The recent spats at the borderlines has caused some serious concerns in New Delhi given the timing and intensity of these non-fatal clashes. Relations with friendly Nepal too have taken a sink due to a pending border dispute, though it is likely that these concerns are being raised at China’s behest as suggested by the Indian Army General. The Indian government has not been very vocal in its criticism towards China, even though domestic stakeholders are fuming over the crisis, the government has been very choosy while not wanting to pick up unnecessary trouble with the neighbour. This however has raised serious doubts in the US, who consider India as a leading strategic partner in curtailing China’s influence not only in the subcontinent but at the global level as well.
Another American tactic has been to constantly prop up the Taiwanese question, something that is considered a red flag within the Chinese Communist Party. The growing voices for inducting Taiwan as an observer in the WHO has irritated China due to it considering Taiwan as its own province and not a sovereign nation. The Taiwanese question is something that India wants to avoid at all costs given the fact that they recognize the One-China Policy. But pressures from the West are going to bring forth some serious policy fractures that might need plastering up sooner than later.
The dilemmas however don’t seem to end here, India’s influence in their backyard is evidently diminishing. The US-Afghan peace deal however shallow it may look, is seeming to promulgate towards an end soon. In the given circumstances, India cannot be seen as laying low away from the Afghan affair considering the heavy investments made there over the years. The Taliban in and around the deal was seen flying to Moscow, Beijing and Islamabad in order to secure legitimacy, New Delhi was invariably snubbed. It is surely about time New Delhi considers not being caught up on the wrong side of play again.
With the pandemic looming large around the world, jolts of ultra-nationalistic approach are bound to erupt within domestic politics, previews of which are starting to emerge in India itself. These approaches however pose serious questions upon India’s intentions to rise up as a super-power. Questions to which answers may not be found through policies, but through actions that don’t seem to align with domestic and foreign agendas of the Modi government. Obstacles in achieving foreign policy goal may seem plenty at the moment, but the foremost barrier that remains is the lack of vision to seize an opportunity in the time of this crisis.
Ratish Mehta is a Graduate in Political Science Honours from Delhi University and he is currently associated with The Pranab Mukherjee Foundation as a Researcher.