Be it voting against Sri Lanka at the United Nation’s Human Rights Commission in Geneva, or rapidly stepping in to recognise Maldives’ new regime – India seems to be emerging as the best country in losing friends. And the fact that China does not waste much time in catching the friends India fails to keep in its net is not surprising.
India’s vote against Sri Lanka could prove to be a major strategic miscalculation, which could push Colombo closer to Beijing. Notably, China and Pakistan had voted in favour of Sri Lanka and against the US-backed resolution. And how can one forget the world’s largest democracy’s quick recognition of the new Maldivian regime, which ousted the country’s first democratically-elected president Mohamed Nasheed in a `coup` on February 07. I will rather term it as India’s shocking strategic blunder in the Indian Ocean region.
There is no doubt that Nasheed, the self-proclaimed great lover of India, not only helped New Delhi track down
extremists but also keep an edge over China in the India Ocean. Nasheed, 44, even questioned after receiving cold shoulder from New Delhi: "My question to Indian establishment is that if they think we did not perform, do they think this is a better option?" referring to the opposition Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) of former dictator Abdul Gayoom. "Unlike PPM, we are a group of people who strongly believe in India, their role and functions in Indian Ocean and the relationship that we want with India," he said.
The former Maldivian president went on to predict that India will lose to China under the new regime. India’s image also got tarnished in Maldives, which relies heavily on New Delhi for everything ranging from employment and education to health services and entertainment. A Maldivian friend, who declined to be named, told me that the swift recognition of the new regime has dented New Delhi’s image so much that ordinary Maldivians do not trust India anymore. What is India’s plan to regain that trust is yet to be found out.
Reports indicate that the new Maldivian regime is closer to inking a defence agreement with China. If that happens, what is India’s plan to gain an edge apropos China in the Indian Ocean region?
Moving to Sri Lanka, twenty-four countries recently voted at the UNHRC against Colombo, fifteen in favour, with eight abstentions. In that sense, India’s vote was quite decisive. And this time, India succumbed to the pressure of the United States and Tamil Nadu parties, including coalition partner Dravida Munnettra Kazhagam (DMK). For this ‘betrayal’, the Sri Lankan media brutally portrayed India as a ‘loser’ in Geneva.
China will leave no stone unturned in gaining leverage in Sri Lanka after India’s vote. Will India proactively engage Sri Lanka to water down its own mis-step is yet to be seen. Notably, China has invested heavily in Sri Lankan airport, roads and power plants. Remember, China pitched in to build Port in Hambantota when India refused to do it.
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa once famously said: "Our neighbours are Indians. I always say, Indians are our relations...From the time of Asoka, we have had that culture, but that doesn't mean we won't get commercial benefits from others; from China, or Japan, or whoever. They will come here, they will build and they will go back. India comes here, they will build and they will stay. This is the difference."
India hardly takes decisions as far as global issues are concerned. Keeping in mind the position it wants to hold at the United Nations’ prestigious Security Council, India is expected to take good decisions and give appropriate statements. However, it seems that New Delhi is tilting towards Washington in decision-making, probably to gain advantage in terms of securing a seat at the UNSC. But it is forgetting that it can’t afford to be a spineless country or a US’ puppet on the global forum.
Letting down friends is not a good habit. And the sooner India gets rid of this habit, the better for it.
(The views expressed by the author are personal)