India’s Global Ambition and Regional Responsibilities
Sarwar J. Minar, Senior Officer, International Programs and Relations, IUB : Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made an official visit to India in May. Although there is a lot to be optimistic about the present Dhaka-Delhi ties, illustrated as the ‘Golden Era’, we are yet to receive substantial solutions to the long-pending problems. Many have been skeptical about the willingness from India’s part to solve the problems. In such a backdrop, this article overviews some of the regional responsibilities towards South Asia that India should address as it plans to rise as a great power in the in the 21st century and beyond.
While ‘the rise of India’ has become a buzzword, India’s declaration to be one of world’s great powers in the 21st century is relatively new. In order to achieve global status, all the states have to possess regional status first. So while India aspires to achieve great power status, it still has some regional responsibilities conducive to its global ambition.
India is a civilized state having a 3,000-year history. With vast geography along with mighty economic, military, political, and cultural power, the country has been the center of South Asia for a long time. India needs to devise a timely strategy marked by extraordinary achievements in technology, efficient use of resources, low consumption of natural resources, less environmental damage, optimal use of human resources and skills, create a better South Asia etc. rather than outdated strategy marked by victory in sanguinary great wars, violent rivalry for resources, use of brutal force to rob others’ compliance etc.
As India ascends to great power status, one of the first responsibilities is to create a better South Asia economically, politically, and socially. Former Prime Minister of India Inder Kumar Gujral realized this and proffered a groundbreaking doctrine widely known as ‘Gujral Doctrine’. The principles of Gujral Doctrine guide the conduct of India’s foreign relations with immediate neighbors like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan placing supreme importance on friendly and cordial relations and urged India not to ask for reciprocity, but to give and to accommodate what it can in good faith. So, India, being and having mighty power in South Asia, should take the great responsibility to make a better South Asia by supporting other South Asian states’ economic and infrastructural development, consolidation of democracy, efficient governance, ensuring respect for human rights etc.
Similarly, as a movie adage goes on that ‘with great power comes great responsibility,’ India with great power in South Asia should play the key role to the making of a better South Asia by contributing to preserve regional peace and stability. India should come up with unilateral initiatives to resolve ongoing intra-state and inter-state problems in South Asia in meaningful ways; India should come up with concrete solution to long awaited water problem with its neighboring countries, a swift solution to Rohingya crisis by putting pressure on Myanmar to comply what they agreed to, a solution to counter trans-border problems like terrorism and drug smuggling etc. National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon rightly observed and pointed out that “[U]unless we have a peaceful and prosperous periphery, we will not be able to focus on our primary tasks of socio-economic development”. The achievement of regional peace and stability in South Asia will also be a necessary precondition for India to reach its great power status.
In summary, India has to demonstrate that it cares not only about its relative interests but also about the common interests of the other countries in South Asia and ultimately about the interest of the people of South Asia in meaningful ways. In addition to its capabilities, India occupies the center-stage in the foreign policy of all of the South Asian states; India can solve these problems at ease. Thus India will win support from the regional states as South Asian states will feel safer and secured while India ascends toward great power status. A saying goes that when a great power walks, its associates walk with it. So while India ascends to great power status, hopefully under such conditions, South Asian states will accompany India.