It’s time for South Asia: Putting neighbours first

modi-saarcThe new Indian government’s South Asia diplomacy is poised for an upswing, with New Delhi summoning all heads of missions in the country’s immediate neighbourhood June 23 to map the way ahead for intensified engagement with the region.

In a first-of-its kind initiative, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh has summoned all Indian Heads of Mission (HOMs) in the neighbourhood for a day-long conclave in New Delhi on June 23, said official sources.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj will chair all the sessions to review the current state of play in India’s relations with each of its neighbours and spell out  the new  government’s priorities and  approach. The conclave seeks to chart out concrete follow-up plans with each South Asian neighbour within specified  timelines, said official sources.

The latest initiative is part of a multi-pronged strategy to ramp up ties with South Asia and place the region at the heart of India’s foreign policy, a core strategic objective of the new government that was visible on the day 1 when the leaders of South Asian countries were invited for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony. The historic initiative, followed by Prime Minister Modi’s choice of Bhutan as his foreign visit abroad, has reinforced the government’s resolve to bolster ties with neighbours in quest of an economically integrated region that dovetails with India’s developmental aspirations.  The forthcoming visit of Ms Swaraj to Dhaka, her first stand-along foreign trip, has further reinforced the primacy of neighbourhood in India’s foreign policy calculus.

In his maiden meeting with the leaders of South Asian countries May 27, Prime Minister Modi had spoken eloquently about bolstering the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and promoting regional connectivity.

“In each of his meetings he talked about the idea of SAARC and how we should use SAARC to improve regional cooperation and connectivity, and how each country in SAARC has its own specific strengths and opportunities,” Sujatha Singh had told journalists on May 27. Singh also spoke about the prime minister’s vision of “the SAARC working closely together and focusing on larger issues of regional importance” and learning from each other’s best practices like microfinance in Bangladesh.

Chasing South Asia Dream

modi-bhutan-visit1Against this backdrop, one can safely expect the new Modi government to impart a fresh momentum to India’s relations with the region and each of the country’s neighbours. The renewed focus on South Asian diplomacy is underpinned by the broader premise of presenting India as a narrative of opportunity to its neighbours and pursues proactively an economically integrated South Asia that is welded by win-win opportunities.

South Asia, home to nearly a fourth of the world’s humanity, is a cradle of ancient civilisations and the birthplace of major religions, with people of the region bound together in a web of shared culture and history. The potential of the region, however, remains underleveraged due to off-and-on mutual suspicion between some of the countries in the region and see-sawing relations between India and Pakistan.

The new Modi government, which has made economic diplomacy its core foreign policy thrust, seeks to dismantle walls of distrust that have mired the people-rich region in underperformance and to chart a new course for robust all-round regional integration. The meeting of Indian heads of missions in New Delhi should hopefully come out with some out-of-box ideas to revitalise India’s ties with its neighbours and fructify the immense potential of the South Asian dream.

(manish-chandManish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network, an e-journal and magazine focused on international affairs and the India Story. Follow him on twitter@scepticcryptic)


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Manish Chand
Manish Chand
Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network ( and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.