Subcontinent is not ‘India’s own backyard’. Neighbours will continue to pursue foreign policies independently

The Print’s daily roundtable TalkPoint posed a question connected to the new Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s India visit: With strong leaders like Rajapaksa, Hasina, Oli, is India losing dominance in South Asia?

My response:

Strong leaders or not, these sovereign South Asian states will continue to pursue their independent foreign policies based on their strategic priorities. The subcontinent is not ‘India’s own backyard’. There’s no need to judge every political change in these countries based on how it will affect India’s ‘dominance’ in South Asia.

Structurally, it is natural for these states to play India off against the other powerful economy, China. In fact, smaller states across the world tend to balance their relationships with bigger powers.

As long as these states are mindful of India’s security concerns and economic well-being, India shouldn’t be overly concerned with China’s presence. Given China’s overbearing foreign policy approach, it is likely to establish itself as a primary object of hate among India’s South Asian neighbours soon. India must instead do enough to be the second-best option for every smaller nation.

From the perspective of these states, both India and China have their comparative advantages. China has more economic wherewithal whereas geographical proximity makes India irreplaceable for them.

Therefore, the emergence of strong leaders in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal should not be seen as a zero-sum game in India.

Read the entire discussion on website here.