Foreign Affairs

India’s ‘changing attitude’ towards region?

It has been three months since Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh, during the former’s visit to New Delhi, renewed the need of convening and revitalising meetings of the existing bilateral mechanisms on a regular basis.

More than six bilateral meetings, many of which had been stalled for over two years, were held during this period. These talks have, to some extent, been successful in yielding fruitful results in favour of Nepal.

Some high-level talks are in the pipeline. Preparations are under way to convene a meeting of the Joint Commission at the foreign minister level after two decades. Energy ministers of the two countries are meeting in the first week of February. The meeting will be the first of its kind after Kathmandu and New Delhi agreed to form a three-tier mechanism to deal with the bilateral matters related to water resources. During former Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s India visit in 2008, the two countries had agreed to form joint committees at the minister (JMCWR), secretary (JCWR) and technical (JSTC) levels.

Interestingly, with the bilateral talks becoming more frequent, senior Nepali officials, who have been part of these meetings, have spoken of India’s ‘unprecedented flexibility’.

“I have been participating in dozens of bilateral talks over a few years but had never before observed such flexibility and accommodating attitude of Indian officials,” said a high-level Nepali official, seeking anonymity.

No two opinions—it is definitely a positive sign. But what has brought about this ‘change in attitude’ as shared by Nepali officials? Many opined that it is the Baburam Bhattarai-led government, which is perceived in New Delhi as a ‘favourable one’ for India.

“Obviously, it is easier to work with the government in a neighbouring country that holds views akin to that of ours,” said a senior former Indian diplomat, hinting at Nepal’s incumbent government.

“But we have always been attaching high importance to relations with Nepal. Intensification of bilateral talks might be a coincidence with Baburam Bhattarai being at the helm of the government (of Nepal),” he added. He, however, hinted at India’s’ flexibility’ as a sign of continuous support for the Bhattarai-led government as well as New Delhi’s renewed efforts to improve its ties with countries in the region.

New Delhi has recently announced that it is focusing on  constructive cooperation in the neighbourhood, which is many a time voiced by Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai. The flurry of high-level visits from India to Bangladesh and its seemingly whole-hearted willingness to sort out bilateral problems with Dhaka are undoubtedly concrete instances of India’s ‘positive attitude’ towards its own ‘backyard’.

India’s efforts to strengthen ties with Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Myanmar and Afghanistan clearly signal its attempt to bring in a positive change in the region.

India’s ‘obsession’ to mend relations at its own ‘backyard’ is often linked with its aspiration to be a global power. “How can India be a superpower if it cannot handle properly the region to which it belongs?,” asked former Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh in his article published in a leading Indian daily a few months ago where he had quoted US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s message to New Delhi during her trip to India—first have good relations in your region before aspiring to be a global power.

This piece originally appeared in Jan 27,2012 issue of The Kathmandu Post.Here is the link:

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