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From Gujral doctrine to Modi doctrine

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Modi

Authors: Punsara Amarasinghe and Eshan Jayawardene*

The predictions made by larger number of academics based in Delhi, Mumbai and Calcutta about Indian General elections vouching that Narendra Modi would not get his second term as prime minister were shattered in reality as Modi could uphold his strong position better than the previous time resulting a steeping success of his Bharatiya Janatha Party which won 302 seats in Indian Lok Saba. The election result has palpably shown a shocking decline of India’s largest political party National Congress led by Rahul Gandhi as Congress could solely win only 52 seats in the legislature. The gob smacking results of the election seems to have given a clear picture of voters pulsation as the ground reality in the sub-continent albeit many pundits made pro congress predictions while accusing Modi’s poor economic policy and demonetization as two major factors behind the economic crisis India has been facing now.

However, the Himalayan image Indian premier has built up on himself among countries majority Hindu population has been mainly attributed to his stanch belief in Hindu ideology and his image seems to have depicted as a Hindu messiah who has come to regain the deserving place for nationalist forces. It is an important question to focus whether such ideological attitudes possessed by Modi and his Bharatiya Janatha Party would make impacts upon carving India’s foreign policy for next five years. Before reaching the position of Indian premier’s approach towards foreign affairs, particularly regarding South Asia, it becomes an interesting factor to trace how Indian foreign policy on South Asian states were shaped under Gujral Doctrine which happened to be a milestone in Indian foreign policy when it was rendered by minister of external affairs in Dev Gowda’s government in 1996. Basic mantra of Gujral doctrine affirmed India being the larger power in South Asia should not ask for reciprocity, but gives all that it could in good faith to the neighboring countries like Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal, Maldives and Bangladesh. Notably Pakistan was excluded from this benefited category and it further elucidated that no country would allow to be used against the interest of another country in the region. One of another pivotal principle of Gujral doctrine was the noninterference of the internal affairs of the neighboring countries and resolving disputes through amicable bilateral negotiations.

This doctrine has been regarded as a strategy initiated by Mr. Gujral in reducing the influence of both Pakistan and China in a hostile manner while upholding a stable peace with other neighbors. In fact, this doctrine has played an indispensible role as a major principle for many prime ministers since 1996 though none of them had officially admitted the influence of Gujral doctrine over their foreign policy mechanism. Yet the changing winds of Indian foreign policy seems to be evident after the astonishing victory of Narendra  Modi and it would be an interesting task to assess how would Gujral doctrine prevail before the galactic persona of Modi as a leader who seeks much dominating authority in his foreign relations in South Asia. Since Modi became premier in India, its foreign policy was heavily affected by his personal aura and besides his troublesome past of his alleged involvement in the communal violence of Gujarat in 2002 during his tenure as its chief minister, many countries have received him with awe and Russia honored Modi by awarding him the highest state decoration called “Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle “in 2019.

In understanding his foreign policy for his second term, it becomes salient that his famous slogan “neighborhood first” is likely to continue, at least nominally. But the truth in reality is Narendra Modi’s sole personal image driven by his Hindutva ideology would make some lasting impacts in foreign relations with India’s immediate neighbors and beyond it. The next notable factor appears to be stunning in Modi’s foreign policy is that contrary to India’s fervent position of defending secularism, the space for religious diplomacy has rapidly increased for past few years in India’s foreign policy. In the contest between China and India as rivals for decades, it is a question beyond doubt that Chinese political, militarily and economic powers are far ahead of India, yet in terms of soft power mechanism India has successfully forged ahead and Modi’s approach to his foreign relations too has taken a special interest in portraying India’s spiritual legacy to the world extensively as propaganda tool. For example during most of his foreign tours as premier, Modi paid frequent visits to major Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh sacred sites, also his active role in introducing June  21st as International Yoga Day shows his effort in propagating India’s ancient practice of meditation yoga as a soft power tool beyond the sub-continent.  The utmost veneration towards Indic religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism and Sikhismas an important feature in foreign policy had not been a principle practiced by previous Indian prime ministers since Nehru who was a doyen of secularism. On the other hand the notion of Hindutva stemming from Modi’s political party BJP and his personal ideology may confront with carving the foreign policy of India generally. The notion that Hindutva involves an obsession with national power needs to be placed in its historical context. V. D. Savarkar, M. S. Golwalkar, H. V. Sheshadri, and other stalwarts who developed its ideational foundations believed that the golden age of ancient Hindu civilization had been lost owing to material and moral weakness, which had brought it under the prolonged subjugation of Muslim and Christian/ British power. The great iconic personality he has been creating abroad as leader coming from a greater civilization and his ardor of using Hindi as the language of communication in his foreign state visits even though he is well versed in Hindi are the most notable examples showing the way of his foreign policy driven by Hidututva ideology.

Modi’s beginning of his first term was quite optimistic in terms of his attitude to India’s immediate neighbors in South Asia and this was visible as all South Asian leaders were invited to his inaugural ceremony in Delhi in 2014,but throughout his first term it was evident that Modi could not keep his grip over India’s neighbours like Sri Lanka, Nepal, Maldives and Bangladesh where Chinese influence have appeared to be a predominant factor. For instance New Delhi was alleged to have some involvement in toppling former president Mahinda Rajapakse from power yet his successor Maithripala Sirisena and government of Sri Lankan premier Ranil Wickramasinghe have not been able to completely get rid of Chinese presence in Sri Lanka despite both personalities are known for their pro Indian policies. Modi” s last few months may have brought him a sudden success from the jingoistic voters from Hindu mainstream in India as last February India’s jet fighters crossed into Pakistan territory and engaged in aerial combat in first time in nearly 50 years. In India’s history since independence several prime ministers had confronted Pakistan militarily, yet the propaganda used by Modi convinced the people only he is able to keep India secure from Pakistan.

Cardinal approach likely to be adopted during Modi’s second term on Indian foreign policy has much idealistic feature to uphold Indian hegemony in South Asia and moreover Modi’s foreign policy would pay a much attention in using soft power as a greater strategy in India’s path to global governance. Rise of Xi Jinping as China’s powerful assertive president and his astute actions on expanding Belt and Road initiative across South Asia seems to have created a sneaking agitation in India for past few years. In such a situation Modi’s foreign policy for next four years five years would be decisive in terms of uplifting India’s image a key player.

*Eshan Jawardane is a Sri Lankan researcher currently lives in New Zealand. He holds BA in Sociology from Delhi University and completed MA in International Relations at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. He served as a guest lecturer at Sri Lanka Open University for a short period. Eshan can be reached at eshan.jayawardane[at]gmail.com

Punsara Amarasinghe is a PhD candidate at Institute of Law and Politics at Scuola Superiore Sant Anna, Pisa Italy. He held a research fellowship at Faculty of Law, Higher School of Economics in Moscow and obtained his Masters from International Law at South Asian University, New Delhi. He served as a visiting lecturer at Faculty of Arts, University of Colombo Sri Lanka and author can be reached at punsaraprint10[at]gmail.com

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South Asia

Communal Unrest in Manipur: A Test for Unity or Separate state

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People from Manipur raise slogans during their protest against the ongoing violence in Manipur, at Manipuri Rajbari in Guwahati. (PTI Photo)

In the recent past, the Indian state of Manipur, located in the northeastern part of the country, has been grappling with rising communal tension that escalated into deadly violence, shaking the foundations of unity and harmony in this region.

The unrest began sometime around the first week of May 2023, leading to at least 30 individuals losing their lives by May 6th, with the death toll escalating to a reported 58 just a couple of days later. The exact genesis of this widespread violence remains shrouded in a complex tapestry of ethnic rivalries and socio-political dynamics, but the devastation left in its wake is undeniable and heart-rending.

At the heart of Manipur’s violence was the destruction of buildings and vehicles, leaving many parts of the region looking like a war zone. In towns and villages across Manipur, houses were reduced to ashes, whereas neighboring properties remained untouched, a stark and horrifying testament to the selective, targeted nature of the violence.

While the immediate causes of this ethnic violence are likely diverse and intertwined with the region’s complex history, it is clear that the situation reached a point of widespread crisis following a rally by indigenous groups. Yet, the specifics of what transpired at the rally that sparked the violence remain vague, an opaque point that begs further investigation.

In the aftermath of this violence, a significant part of the narrative has revolved around the region’s future, with some calling for the creation of a separate state as a solution to these recurring clashes. However, this idea could fundamentally change the geopolitical and social landscape of the region.

While the idea of separation may seem like an attractive solution to some, it is vital to consider the underlying issues that lead to such violent conflicts. Socio-economic disparities, cultural misunderstandings, political marginalization, and historic grievances are all factors that can fuel ethnic tensions. Addressing these issues is paramount to the long-term safety of minority communities.

While the immediate damage from the violence is stark, the long-term impacts on the region are profound and multifaceted. The riots have torn apart communities, disrupted normal life, and created a climate of fear and uncertainty. As the violence forced many people, like Mamang Vaiphei, to flee their homes and hide. This mass displacement of people adds another layer to the crisis, as individuals and families are left homeless, with their lives uprooted.

Socially, the riots have caused a significant strain on inter-ethnic relations. The recent violence threatens to deepen divisions among these groups and foster an environment of hostility and mistrust. The collective trauma experienced by the people of Manipur is bound to have lasting effects on the social dynamics of the region.

Economically, the riots have led to immediate and potentially long-term disruption. Local businesses have likely been affected, leading to lost livelihoods and economic instability for many families. The need to rebuild physically damaged areas will require substantial resources, placing an additional financial burden on the state.

Politically, the unrest could lead to changes in local and perhaps even national politics. The response of the local government to the riots, as well as the perceived effectiveness of their efforts to maintain peace and protect citizens, will undoubtedly influence public opinion and potentially sway future elections. Furthermore, the riots have triggered calls for the creation of a separate state, a political move that could fundamentally reshape the region’s geopolitical landscape.

Culturally, the violence disrupts the vibrant tapestry of Manipur’s diverse communities. Each ethnic group in Manipur contributes to the region’s cultural richness, and the riots threaten to overshadow this diversity with a narrative of division and conflict.

In this time of crisis, the people of Manipur, the Indian government, and the international community must work collaboratively to address the root causes of these tensions. The current situation should serve as a catalyst for serious discussions on ethnic relations, power sharing, and socio-economic disparities, as well as the region’s political future.

The recent events in Manipur underscore the delicate balance of maintaining peace and coexistence in a diverse society. It is a poignant reminder of how quickly tensions can escalate to violence and how deeply that violence can impact communities. These incidents should serve not only as a sobering wake-up call but also as a rallying point for peace-building efforts that prioritize dialogue, understanding, and unity over division and conflict.

As the dust settles and the process of rebuilding begins, one can only hope that the events in Manipur serve as a catalyst for lasting change. It’s a testament to the resilience of the human spirit that, even in the face of such adversity, there remains hope for a peaceful future.

The road to healing the wounds of communal violence is undoubtedly long and arduous, but it is a journey that the people of Manipur must undertake to secure a harmonious and stable future. The story of Manipur’s unrest should be a lesson for us all about the importance of understanding, respect, and cooperation in a world growing increasingly diverse every day.

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Pakistan: How Khanism is Fighting Monkeyism

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PTI Chairman Imran Khan gestures at the march participants as his convoy arrives in Gujranwala on November 1, 2022. — Instagram

Nations must demonstrate some level of global age competency; the regime change problems of Pakistan simply didn’t start by overthrowing Imran Khan a year ago; it all started many decades ago and continuously kept chipping away the visible wealth and crushing untapped and hidden wealth of talents while so many other nations went straight up in productivity, performances, and profitability, creating far greater opportunities over simple looting and stealing.

Socio-politically, Pakistan is more like a graveyard, haunted by ghosts of corruption; the most noticeable is the silence and lack of bold and straightforward narrative; the solo warrior Imran Khan has already failed as his 1001 narratives laced with justice, integrity, and corrupt free dialogues have only fallen flat on the establishment and majority of muted populace. So narrow in vision and mental reach, unable to decipher 1000 times greater opportunities, supporting the broken systems further destroyed the nation’s future.

Pakistani Diaspora is a tragic scene; the largest, most highly qualified, most productive, well-rewarded single, most educated, globally exposed, and well-trained professional group was always treated like garbage. No government was ever capable of adequately communicating and creating bridges of prosperity between Pakistan of the day with global input from this talented group.

The stupidity of the corresponding ministries and the national leadership only proves the broken and corrupt shortsightedness, hurting the long-term vision of Pakistan. Their investment is never safe in Pakistan, and their efforts on any long-term development are continuously thrown out of the window as lingering bureaucracies need to be qualified more to appreciate the global age of competitiveness matters. No further proof is required. Incompetency is widely visible, office-by-office, floor-by-floor, and institution-by-institution; the top Cabinet can only scratch its head as the pillars of corruption have already built tax-free crime-proof lush paradises.

There is no recovery system right now; neither was it there decades ago nor even since the starting gates of independence. Today, in the hands of broken leadership, massively incompetent, and citizenry into slavery is a textbook case of how prolonged diseases of lawlessness finally kill the host. Atlas may help when searching for long-gone nation over previous centuries.

Khanism is now a well-defined nationalism; it has all the qualities and ingredients to lead, advance, and form a legit law-abiding, just society with a fair election. Breaking PTI by tyranny is just on the physical side of things, but not on the national mindshare of the populace and not on the state of mind on the election pulse. This aspect is the hidden feature, an invisible factor, like the nation’s bloodstream. This aspect is also the nightmarish reason why the establishment is still so frightened to call elections and still has no single leader to stand up to a solo warrior in national elections. The borderline and for-sale media has already declared PTI as a lost party. They still need to remember the new rise of the power of transformation of the national citizenry toward better awareness of having a just society. They have also missed the fall of the establishment where they chose barbaric tyrannical procedures, torture, and killings and buried themselves in self-created dust storms. No one can comprehend the powers of real and honest elections.

Monkeyism is a visible layer in a deep state of panic. It is a mixture of fake politicians, undecided swinging tribes, and for-sale institutions in their sing-songs labeled as traditional guardians of the nations. Deep uncertainty and constant chaos, although represented as the most extensive populous, protected by cultural divides, economic inequalities, where wealthy elites with multiple passports, and grossly incompetent institutions all combined, sucking the nation in their Draculian fashion in a frenzy without any consideration when and how the host will die. Who will win or loses, so long their beliefs of self-success, no matter how short-sighted and stupid, are not disturbed? Many other nations would have solved such chaos within 100 days. The apparent failure of multiple groups and regional tribes unable to form one message, one blood, one country often fails nations. After 70 years, tribalism must become a single nation. This is the message of the Captain.

Monkeys, once again, need some more pea-nuts to scratch their heads and sell more of their consciousness; corruption steals all remaining talents except lying, deception, and thievery; fears surmount as confidence disappears, greed becomes the only hope, stealing the singular art, and tyranny the only doctrine. Pakistan is not alone, as other significant nations are in the same soups but at different catwalks of economic performance.

Monkeys have no narratives, political wisdom, or economic solution, just simple thievery and open-day freedom from big or small crimes. A grave tragedy exists for the masses, still unable to correctly decipher and throw out the wrong leadership. The fakery is being enforced. Therefore, a sign of enormous failure is lingering and imploding the nation. 

Khanism is in a series of sacrifices, Imran Khan with his life in constant danger, his party crushed, and his team in trouble. Khanism, with its traditional and logical support, is already strong enough to win. Still, the lawless and broken but super organized on the corruption fronts, the elite may never allow such transformation. It will deploy all its illegal powers to destroy Khan and Khanism. Killing is the final objective of opposition and the possible risk of all-out anarchy. 

Fact: Only Imran Khan decided to fix the cancer of corruption and started eliminating the already sold-out national leadership; he, like all others, had the option to go along and accept the old game but preferred death over corruption. Every century such people are born to change the destiny of a nation, and he is one of them.

No matter what happens and who in power gets the mandate. No parties are competent enough to save the nation, the economic crisis, global affairs, and the general management of a progressive country. Pakistan is already a lost country in financial performance, education, and global age expertise.

Historically nations die and rise to new transformation, typically after massive destruction, civil wars, and intense occupation, the blood and tears under accepted narratives and strange justice systems.

Pakistan may be entering the first phase of collapse where under Khanism, it may rise again as a livable, just society under law and order. Without law and order, a nation can have a downward meltdown and chip away into disorganized tribes. After such do-or-die processes, a country can select a North Korean-style model of extreme power and regiment, reforming a nation but never becoming a Scandinavian-style society.

Pakistan is a colorful nation of multiple cultures and groups all bonded within their religious belief of various degrees pursuing their lives. Still, Imran Khan and his Khanism are completely unmatched by the narratives of dozens of other leaders and their sing-songs. Will Pashtun influence a different kind of stamina and fight the resistance, will Imran Khan, as a Pashtun, set a worldwide example against the fake economy and fascist tyranny in the name of Islamic civil democracy? Will other cultural groups within the nation follow or remain on the sidelines?

If Imran Khan survives and wins the election; only a meritocratic bureaucracy will save the just future, PTI needs a new birth and new talent, with special skills, as there is no political power without economic power, furthermore, without entrepreneurial power there is no economic power. Let the economic intelligentsia of the nation be able to pass exam. Henceforth,  failing to understand the ‘mindset hypothesis’ the difference between the job seeker and job creator mindsets is the first step to getting eliminated from any serious dialogue on the subject of SME economic recovery. Failing to articulate the ‘national mobilization of entrepreneurialism’ is the second step to getting eliminated from any economic development activity as a whole.  Long live Imran Khan, Long live Pakistan…The rest is easy.

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The Relevance of Religion in India’s Act East Policy

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A key pillar of India’s Act East Policy, India’s latest foreign policy doctrine is culture. It is in this sector, that India is able to build upon the legacy of the Indus Valley Civilisation in tangible terms. Added to this, India’s core characteristic of being a secular nation which guarantees every individual the right to preserve his/her cultural heritage, has allowed the country a renowned reputation of secular rising power with a multicultural historical legacy. Indian soil is considered holy ground from where Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism originated and spread. The country also boasts of a number of sacred Christian, Islamic and Zoroastrian sacred sites. Thus, India’s rich and diverse cultural heritage safeguarded by the Indian Constitution became the foundation for its soft power and diplomatic initiatives.

Geopolitical circumstances made India orient its foreign policy to pay attention to the west and Russia during the Cold War era. With the Look East Policy’s introduction to India’s foreign policy, India began reviving its obstructed ties with East Asia. This became increasingly important to deal with the challenges that came with its economic growth. The increasing population of India desperately needed foreign investment to boost the employment rate, this was facilitated post the 1991 liberalisation reforms. India also provided foreign firms and investors with a large customer base, with only ever grew with India’s growing numbers. Thus, now, a number of foreign firms seek to establish business in India, and India too, looks for opportunities to diversify and grow its economy. As a result of the policy advocating to look to the east to cater to India’s  developmental needs,  East Asian firms such as Panasonic, Hyundai, LG, Toyota etc, made a huge impact on the Indian economy, providing not only goods and services but also employment. The decision to deepen ties with East Asia has also been motivated by a desire to counter China’s rising influence especially in the Indo-Pacific. While the Look East and subsequent Act East Policy focus on deepening ties with the East, it does not ignore its relations with the West. Thus, rather than a complete reinvention of India’s foreign policy, India’s Act East Policy merely expands on India’s foreign policy, giving it a truly global approach while looking after its self interests. What sets India apart from China in its diplomatic endeavours, is that initiatives and projects involving are not in the sole interest of the country, both parties have something to gain from these deals, making it mutually beneficial.

Speeches by government representatives on international platforms in Asia  from 2014 onwards, when the Act East Policy was first flagged off, have a pattern of commencing with highlighting shared cultural links between the partner country and India, to build a sense of solidarity, influencing foreign investment into India. Through the medium of this paper I argue that India’s Look East Policy which later evolved into the Look East policy rests heavily on its cultural pillar of which religion and its associated culture is a part. These are an indispensible part of India’s soft power as they are not only instruments of coercion, but also bring in tangible monetary returns and create foreign investment in the country.

Similarities

East Asia has been greatly influenced by Buddhism and Sanatana Dharma, which have profound roots in the region’s history. India’s earliest civilisational network with Southeast Asia, facilitated maritime trade between the eastern Roman Empire, the Han dynasty in China with stopovers on the sea routes in Thai peninsula, Mekong Delta and Indonesian islands thus, allowing for some common elements of culture, religion and society to emerge. In early South East Asia, states and societies were shaped by the fusion of the two religions. Buddhism remains widely practiced in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam, while countries such as Indonesia, Cambodia, and Malaysia have a well established Hindu legacy.

Integration of Hindu and Buddhist traditions into East Asian cultures are not isolated additions to replace traditions or fill in cultural voids, instead these new cultures assimilate into local society. Such an effect is often described as “Hinduization,” “Indianization,” or “Greater India” in reference to India’s cultural impact. Vladimir Braginsky describes India’s influence as so widely pervasive in these regions, that it left a mark not only in the cultural but also in the political and social realms. This is reflected in the legacy of the Mons of modern Burma and Thailand, the Malays, the Khmers of Cambodia,  and Javanese of Malaysia and Indonesia. Early forms of written script in East Asia are owed to India. In the early centuries CE, written inscriptions were brought from India to adorn the Grand Temples of Borobudur and Prambanan in Java, Angkor-Wat in Cambodia, among others. The official emblems of India and Thailand represent two thriving and tolerant cultures with a majority-Hindu population. Ashoka the Great established the “Lion Capital” in India, and the Buddhist majority in Thailand adopted the bird-like creature  “Garuda,” which is associated with Hinduism. The association between India and Vietnam extends back over 2,000 years, and the 60,000 Balamon Cham Hindu population in the Southeast Asian country retains their customs of their elders. The 9th-century Prambanan Compound, a 240-temple compound devoted to Lord Shiva and host to images depicting the Ramayana, dominates the panorama of the Yogyakarta-Central Java boundary region in Indonesia.

The line separating Buddhism and Hinduism is unambiguous from Angkor Wat in Cambodia to Taipei in Taiwan, and from Ayutthaya in Thailand to Quang Nam in Vietnam. There exists a popular perception of Lord Buddha and Lord Rama as being incarnations of Lord Vishnu. Similarly, a pantheon of Hindu deities are revered, and epics are recited in Buddhist dominant  mainland Southeast Asia, as well as in Shinto-majority Japan and Muslim-majority Indonesia.

The earliest tangible evidence of the presence of Hinduism in South East Asia was discovered in Borneo ,dated to the 4th century was written in Sanskrit, which describes Brahmans performing Vedic sacrifices at the command of local chiefs. Ayodhya, Lavapuri, Kanchanaburi, Chandrapuri, and Vishnulok, named in line with Hindu tradition are names of South East Asian cities. Other examples include Bandar Seri Bagawan “Bandar Shri Bhagwan”, the capital of Brunei, Singapore, the city of lions, “Jayakarta” or Jakarta, the city of victory, and Laos, which is named after Lav, the son of Ram.

The earliest ambassadors of Buddhism were dispatched to Myanmar and further eastwards by King Ashoka of the Magadh empire in the India subcontinent , which led to the rapid diffusion of Buddhist culture into local traditions . The viability of using Buddhism as a tool for diplomacy today can be accredited to its reach across the globe. Today there are three types of countries who can be beneficiaries and target countries of “Buddhist Diplomacy”- traditionally Buddhist majority countries (Vietnam, Sri Lanka, etc), countries which do not majorly practice Buddhism but share Buddhist heritage (Afghanistan, Pakistan, etc) and states where Buddhism is gaining traction (such as USA, Italy, Austria and Russia).

Religion in foreign policy

Cultural diplomacy as an instrument of foreign policy  entails the mobilisation of physical or abstract cultural assets between two or more countries, which act as the foundation for any country’s foreign policy objectives, including political, economic, and strategic goals. It aims at promoting national goals via collaboration by facilitating cultural activities such as cultural festivals, art exhibitions, and other international cultural exchanges. The cultural pillar of the Act East policy prioritises Buddhism, as a locus of India-Southeast Asian ties. Bodh Gaya, the birthplace of Gautam Buddha, is a hallowed site for Southeast Asian Buddhist pilgrims. In 2014,  Nalanda University, the ancient seat of Buddhist learning where Buddha himself visited several times, was revived as a result of collaborative efforts between India and Southeast Asian countries, including Brunei, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, New Zealand, and Singapore. However, there remain a few impediments blocking India from effectively using Buddhism to exert influence to a greater extent. Though Buddhism originated in India,  97 percent of the  those who practise Buddhism are in East and Southeast Asia.  Countries such as Indonesia and Thailand attract more Buddhist pilgrims than India. As a result, under the Look East and Act East Policy, efforts have been undertaken to connect to people from East and Southeast Asia. This is where the importance of the Northeast region as a pivot to India’s Act East Policy comes into play, as it is the interface between Northeastern India and the South East Asia.

Northeast India offers a lot of avenues for religious tourism, especially for attracting Buddhist pilgrims from East and South East Asia. The Tawang Monastery , the world’s second-largest monastery after the Lhasa Monastery in Tibet and  the birthplace of the Sixth Dalai Lama, Sangyang Gyatso, is located in Arunachal Pradesh. Increased footfall at the monastery would also be beneficial to India’s security interests.  Tawang was the first region in Arunachal Pradesh to be attacked by China in 1962, and subsequently remained under Chinese control temporarily. Ever since, China has also been staking claim on the territory , declaring Arunachal Pradesh to belong to South Tibet and not a part of India. Thus, in this case, culture not only ensures economic returns and people to people connectivity through religious tourism, but it is also a way to secure India’s security interests and bolster the country’s territorial sovereignty.

The Archaeological Survey of India has been actively operating in Vietnam, excavating a  monolithic Shiva Linga on the grounds of the My So’n temple complex in 2020. It has taken up similar excavation and preservation projects across Southeast Asia, as it has manpower with the specialised technical knowhow which the host countries lack. Thus, in this way, India’s use of its religion has also resulted in strengthening bonds of technical knowledge overseas.

Recent endeavours to boost foreign interest in India’s religions and spirituality include the tourism ministry of India’s ‘Swadesh Darshan Scheme’. In 2019, the Indian Railways ran its first train covering the Buddhist Circuit over a span of eight days of the city of Lord Buddha’s birth (Lumbini in Nepal), to over a dozen sites of importance including the place where he achieved enlightenment (Bodh Gaya), gave his first sermon (Sarnath, near Varanasi), and attained Nirvana (Kushinagar). The Indian government has incurred an expenditure of roughly USD 1.5 billion in infrastructure building. This also provides increasing opportunities to local hospitality  firms as well as titans such as the Oberoi Group. The project has also seen investment from Japan and the World Bank.  

 The Ramayana circuit begins in Ayodhya, the birthplace of Lord Rama and traverses through 15 significant sites spread over nine states, and concluding  at Rameshwaram, from from where the Ramsetu Bridge  extends to Sri Lanka. Infrastructural projects that enhance connectivity have been central to this idea taking off.

Conclusion                      

India should leverage its shared cultural links, emerging out of religion, on a larger scale in its foreign policy. This would aid foreign investment, which would help the country move towards a robust economy with more participation and better infrastructure. In some cases, religious tourism also helps to strengthen territorial sovereignty by portraying strength in numbers, against the aggressor. The subsequent infrastructural development and connectivity helps to strengthen border security measures. However, much needs to be done to fully realise its potential.

Regional social and income inequality reflects itself in development efforts. While some states such as Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat are the most visible beneficiaries of infrastructure development efforts, the North East states of India lag behind, due to a number of reasons- red tape-ism, challenging terrain, geographical disconnect from the rest of the country, etc. Additionally, India’s strained relations with its immediate neighbours also dampen the effectiveness of endeavours for enhanced connectivity and trade based on religious foundations. Not all hope is lost though, with the Kaladan Multimodal Transit Transport Project finally being operationalized from May 9th 2023, more than two decades after it was first approved by the Government of India.

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