In the first post on the National Identity, I spoke about statecraft and a touched upon a brand of ethnic nationalism. A lot has transpired since. India has its first single part majority in 30 years and it's a right wing party, the BJP, which is in power.
Mr. Narendra Modi's tenure as Prime Minister didn't start with big bang meetings with the leaders of the Western world or the business leaders that he is so keen to woo. It started by inviting our immediate neighbors, the Bhutans, Nepals and Sri Lankas to his swearing in. This simple gesture conveyed a lot. In an increasingly polarized world, India still needs to worry about it's immediate neighbors much before we worry about breaking our Non-Alignment stance on the major global issues. It also helps that we share a 2000 mile border with an increasingly imperialist China -we don't need an excuse to focus on our immediate neighbors.
Despite the pressing need to have a strong military presence on our borders and to have our smaller neighbors on friendly terms with us, the government of the previous ten years looked increasingly Westward. This folly wasn't reversed even when China poured billions into development projects in Nepal and Sri Lanka. India could admittedly do little to counter Chinese investments in Pakistani ports. Sri Lanka and Nepal have been historical Indian allies. Granted, every once in a while they act like a mistress who needs to be reassured of her place in the scheme of things with a solitaire or a foreign holiday, yet she knows that she slept with us long before she knew her place in the world and India will always be the hand holding her. That we have enabled them to tilt towards China, in a seemingly irrevocable move, is gross negligence on our government's part. There is place for only one daddy in these countries and it has to be India.
Nepal is a case in point. Not only does it have large hydroelectric potential (by some estimates the second highest in the world), it also serves as a buffer against China. To come to India, any hostile invader (read terrorist in today's world) must pass through another erstwhile Hindu kingdom. It serves as a buffer against an aggressive neighbor much in the same way as Kashmir does and even though we are prescient enough to see exactly why we can't let control of Kashmir slip away, we have quietly been frittering away our advantage in the Nepalese Himalayas for over a decade now. Nepal provides us with few of the separatist problems which beseech is in Kashmir as it is already another country (though a Hindu kingdom for centuries), while actually providing an economic benefit in that it can ease the power crisis in the Northern Indian Plains.
While India allows Kashmir higher autonomy than it allows other Indian states, India still retains control of law & order, and more importantly, border security. We have the worst of both worlds with Nepal, whereas we can have the best of them both as the previous paragraph pointed out. We allow Nepalese to enter and work and live in India without visas, yet we have no assurances or control over Nepal's own external border (an almost 1000 mile border with China). This leaves India open to gross danger. The enemy hasn't been slow to recognize this. One of India's most wanted men, Yasim Bhatkal, escaped India through the Nepal border. It has also been his entry and exit point on multiple occasions - clearly pointing out both the lax external and internal border controls. Nepalese "infiltrations" now match up to the Kashmiri ones - all without the Army being in charge of the border or covering fire provided by the enemy for infiltrators.
A single Army Command - The Eastern, which also engages in counter terrorism operations in the North East (where too the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is in place - as a corollary we have a high Army presence and a "need" there) is also supposed to ensure security along the Nepalese border. The Command however has only the third highest manpower - after the Northern and Western commands, which continue to indulge in their Pakistan fixation. Before you tell me the Border Security Force is in charge of this border, think again. Nepal is, for all practical purposes an Indian state. The BSF patrols international borders, not "Lines Of Control" (in Kashmir) and state borders.
The need to look outwards, but still close by, has never been higher and it has to be a top national priority along with the catchphrases that roll off the Indian Premier's tongue. Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Bangladesh hold the key to our future as much as FDI does. Maybe we need to go about increasing our influence in this sphere more subtly than working on India's positioning in an Indian's mind, which the previous post in this series spoke about. But we need to look outwards, and a naked eye is enough to spot the danger and potential - as they are close by.