Analysis & opinion World

Expanding Contours of Indian Soft Power and Dark Shadows of Poverty


India has been using an amalgamation of two distinct philosophies proposed by Hindu strategist Chanakya, in pursuit of her strategic interests. These include Mandalay, which consists of the exploitation of the soil of a neighbour’s neighbour and Kutayhudha, or concealed/proxy wars, which constitute fifth generation warfare and foreign aid. Prime Minister Modi has been using the Mandalay philosophy specifically in an attempt for India to attain an imperious position in national and regional politics.

The 2019 Lok Sabha elections witnessed an unusually sharp and drastic increase in the BJP seat tally whereas Modi’s government is now becoming an expanding policy not only under foreign aid but a cultural invasion of countries within the region as well, especially in regards to allocating a higher budget in foreign aid projects. The Indian government’s key instrument of diplomacy, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), has obtained a 14.7% increase in the allocation for 2019-20 when compared to a revised estimate for 2018-19. This means an even greater and respectable 19% rise when evaluated against the ministry’s actual expenditure in 2017-18.

The first budget of the Modi government’s second term has registered a sharp hike in money allotted for foreign aid projects within the region including countries such as Mauritius, the Maldives, Bhutan and Nepal. According to the announced budget, India plans to spend Rs 9,069.34 crores on various other projects. This figure is a sharp increase of 25% from the last financial year’s revised estimate. Incidentally, this is also the biggest jump in foreign aid since the Modi governments first entry within New Delhi on May 2014.

Amongst all the countries in the region, Bhutan continues to be allotted the largest share for a single country in India’s foreign aid budget. Aid for Mauritius has been tripled from Rs 350.39 crores in 2017-18 to Rs 1,100 crores for 2019-20. According to sources, the increasing funding was essential as building and infrastructure at Agalega’s island is leased to the Indian military for the development of strategic assets. Moreover, the head of the Mauritius navy and the Mauritian National Security Advisor are Indian officers. The Maldives will also get a fresh infusion of funds. In 2017-18, India disbursed Rs 109.24 crores to the Maldives. This quadrupled to Rs 440 crores in 2018-19 and has risen even further to Rs 576 crores in 2019-20. While relations with Kathmandu remain strained, India has increased the allocation for Nepal from an actual disbursement of Rs. 376.61 crores in 2017-18 to an estimated Rs. 1050 crores in 2019-20 which is a boost of 178%.

There has also been a dramatic increase in allocation for African countries to Rs 450 crores in 2019-20, and 18 new Indian diplomatic missions in Africa were approved in March 2018. Five new embassies have also been opened in Rwanda, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Republic of Guinea and Burkina Faso, with another four scheduled to be launched in 2019-20.

Moving towards the Middle East, allocations for the development of Iran’s Chabahar port are conspicuously missing for the last two years. India did spend Rs 100 crores on Chabahar in

2016-17, but the allocation of Rs 150 crores in the next years 2017-18 was never used. Similarly, the 2018-19 budget estimate of Rs 150 crores for Chabahar were whittled down to zero in the revised allocation. For 2019-20, MEA has been allocated an optimistic Rs 45 crores.

However, Indian designs of establishing hegemony in the region are not hidden from anyone. In pursuance of this malicious agenda, India has been at daggers drawn with all her neighbours physically as well as diplomatically. Overprotection by the British Crown prevented grabbing Nepal and Bhutan, yet these states were compelled to accept various agreements tilting in India’s favour, thus giving India a dominant and “Big Brother” role. The Maldives has been witnessing intense diplomatic/proxy interference and the recent election resulted in the installation of a pro-Indian government. India had also proactively promoted the coalition led by Maithripala Sirisena to defeat ex Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Moreover, Colombo had disliked Research and Analysis Wing’s station chief in Sri Lanka for allegedly working to ensure the victory of the anti-Rajapaksa coalition. After disturbing Sri Lanka through the Tamil Tigers, India again created a disturbing sit for the country in shape of training/supporting elms responsible for the Easter day bombing, which was also pointed out by the Sri Lankan Army chief in a press briefing. The annexation of Junagarh and Munwadar in 1947, parts of Jammu and Kashmir and Hyderabad Deccan in 1948, Goa in 1961 and Sikkim in 1975 are just a few examples of India’s hegemonic insanity in the past.

Some might claim that Modi is in no position to be following such a hegemonic or interventionist policy himself, particularly by lavishly spending foreign aid, when he should be acknowledging the rapid growth of poverty within his own country.

According to Indian surveys, more than 400 million (one-third of the country’s population of more than 1.2 billion) continue to live below the poverty line. According to the World Food Programme (WFP), about 35% of India’s population are malnourished and nearly 50% of the world’s hungry reside in India; a low income, food-deficit country with extremely low nutritional and health indicators. Poverty statistics reveal that 50% of Indians have no proper shelter, 35% have no access to decent toilets, 70% of households have no nearby water source, 35% of villages have no secondary schools, over 40% of these villages have no roads connectivity.

With such severe issues to address within one’s own country, diplomatic analysts feel that New Delhi should not behave like a modern-day Raj, and Indian diplomats appointed to the countries mentioned should stop believing they are modern-day viceroys. This increase in foreign aid will most likely be utilized for augmenting nefarious strategic and hegemonic control within the region, however, Modi should first address the plight of the situation within India before brazenly following interventionist policies.

Written by: Muhammad Taimur Fahad Khan