New Delhi: Three small neighbouring countries are hitting headlines these days for different reasons. But the South Asian ‘giant’ India wants to give a clear message that it does not interfere in internal matters of neighbouring countries. The three countries are Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Nepal. In the past the Government of India since the 1970s and 1980s has faced the charge of ‘interfering’ in internal matters in these countries.
But it has taken “a step back” and essentially wants all the three countries to focus on their issues themselves. In Myanmar, it is a military coup and an estimated 16,000 people from Myanmar including security personnel and lawmakers are now taking shelter in Mizoram. In Nepal, the President and the Prime Minister duo have dissolved Parliament. Officially, MEA spokesman Arindam Bagchi said, “We view these as internal matters of Nepal to be dealt by them under their own domestic framework and democratic processes”.
One person in the know confided in this journalist that, “Last few months, we have consciously emphasised let’s step back and let the system and people of Nepal figure out what they want to do”.
This implies the fresh argument is that ultimately it is “Nepal’s constitution” and thus India should stay away and see how things unfold. And the onus is on the people and system in Nepal to “own up” and firm up the entire process.
This is unlike the past; – say even during the Manmohan Singh regime. Upendra Yadav, a former foreign minister of Nepal, had told this scribe in 2010 (at Kathmandu) that the issue of ‘India’s interference’ in Nepal was at least “Ardha Satya” if not the entire truth. In this context, remarks of a source make sense; and that says – the moment New Delhi mandarins open up and take a stand either way – one side or the other would say there is “interference”.
On Myanmar, India’s usual stance for decades used to be that democracy should return to that small nation bordering four sensitive and insurgency-hit Indian states of Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.
In the process, for years, India has pushed the ruling military regime in Myanmar towards China. But now there is a a policy of deliberate restraint. In fact, the Home Ministry has gone a step further by ordering the Chief Secretaries in these four northeastern states not to allow entry of ‘Myanmar refugees’. The centre has also clarified that no state government has the power to declare any group of incoming people as ‘refugees’.
Due to diplomatic and strategic issues, the Indian government has not recognized the incoming people from Myanmar as refugees. In April, India condemned “any use of violence” in Myanmar. “We believe that the rule of law should prevail. We stand for the restoration of democracy in Myanmar,” MEA spokesman Arindam Bagchi has said. Similarly, there is another issue in Sri Lanka.
In terms of a raging debate over the China-backed Colombo Port City project in Sri Lanka, a source in the government maintains that – “at this point we think there are discussions within Sri Lanka….., queries and questions, what are the implications of this for Sri Lanka itself”.
The source also says, “the concerns that the Sri Lankans have themselves raised are addressed within the framework of the Sri Lankan democracy and that if there are other issues to it, it should follow the principles of transparency”.
New Delhi has not yet formally raised this issue with Sri Lanka. But it goes without stating that Indian Ocean is definitely a matter of concern for India.
Therefore, the concerns on this matter are evident. This project is at a distance of about 300 kilometres from India.
The project has been in the works for a while. The Sri Lankan parliament lately approved the Colombo Port City Economic Commission Bill but the Opposition parties are against it and say the project would lead to the creation of a Chinese colony in Sri Lanka.
The theme being – enough people had alleged India of ‘interfering’ in the past; but India is not doing so now.