China's influence on Nepal, Bangladesh: New Delhi must match Beijing's insidious games in South Asia

Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is finally undertaking a state to visit to India from 7 April, 2017. Her visit follows an important visit last week by the Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat to Bangladesh and Nepal – two countries with direct impact on India’s security but also the countries being aggressively courted by China and its money bags.

Nepal, which for a long time has been considered as within its ‘sphere of influence’ no longer remains a natural partner for India, though it is to the credit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he chose to visit Kathmandu in August 2014 - the first by an Indian prime minister in 17 years, offering India’s developmental assistance in an effort to cultivate good relations. But it will be naïve to assume that Modi’s proactive policies of two years will be an antidote for decades of reluctance on India’s part to engage Kathmandu.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping. PTI

Moreover, Nepal’s own political struggles to set its own house in order, complicated the game for India often pitching it on the wrong side of the ruling elites. But if Modi is to be credited for winning ‘hearts and minds’ of common Nepalese by a historic speech in the Nepali Parliament, he is also to be blamed for ruining India’s standing when his envoys aggressively pushed for the return of Nepal to its erstwhile status as the 'Hindu Rashtra' when hectic efforts were on for drafting Nepal’s Constitution and repeating former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s mistake of imposing a blockade on the country.

These two things left bad impression in Kathmandu. The appointment of Yogi Adityanath, who is also the head priest of Gorakhnath temple revered by the Indians and Nepalese alike, as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, has been seen with anxiety by the ruling elite of Kathmandu. A mild nudge to the erstwhile Nepal Naresh, King Gyanendra to adopt a higher profile has not been missed by those based in Kathmandu.

While India attempts to revive the ‘Hindu Rashtra’ which is making Kathmandu’s ruling elite anxious, China has moved in to satisfy Nepal’s security needs. Beijing is helping the Nepali Army construct a training academy which has been kitted out by ‘Made in China’ hardware for every soldier being trained. Compare that with India’s donation of one Dhruva helicopter given during Modi’s visit to Kathmandu. If nothing else, what should convince Indians about China’s malafide intentions is the fact that Pakistan, for all these years despite being the closest friend of China, had never ever given a definite push for China to become member of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc), though they always thought about it. It was Nepal, which first put in an official request for considering China's application for full membership, thereby setting in place a process for deliberating the issue. Clearly, India is being beaten at its own game by China.

If the situation looks grim in the Himalayan mountains, Bay of Bengal looks choppier.

General Rawat’s visit to Dhaka took place at a time when there is a great enthusiasm among the Bangladeshis about the Chinese investment in excess of $20 billion promised by no less than President Xi Jinping. Plus Dhaka commissioned last month the Ming-class diesel electric submarines which it has ‘bought’ from Beijing. While Indians may question the rationale for Dhaka’s acquisition of submarines, that questioning is being perceived as a direct affront to Bangladesh’s sovereignty. Those perceptions have now clouded the defence pact that India is keen to sign with Bangladesh, for which General Rawat was in Dhaka. Insidiously, China is also fuelling the anti-India commentaries and analyses focusing on the bilateral defence pact with India.

The irony cannot be starker. Dhaka which has been hailed by New Delhi as on e of the closest partner in fighting the terrorist groups is now opposing signing of a defence pact with India on account of concerns over its sovereignty. Amidst all this what everyone in Dhaka forgets that India gave up more territory to Bangladesh in the exchange of enclaves and exclaves when they implemented the historic Land Boundary Agreement two years back.

Clearly, years of hesitation and vacillation from India, has now come back to haunt it in the form of encirclement from China around the neighbourhood. The task seems to be cut out for India in South Asia. But will we muster enough courage to call spade a spade and move proactively on the geo-strategic chessboard? That remains to be seen.

Published Date: Apr 06, 2017 08:40 am | Updated Date: Apr 06, 2017 08:40 am

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