It is widely believed that the political crisis in Maldives has been precipitated by India’s interference in its neighbor’s internal affairs. As political upheaval broke out in the Indian Ocean archipelago nation, New Delhi was quick to respond. “It is imperative for all organs of the government of Maldives to respect and abide by the order of the apex court,” the Indian Ministry of External Affairs said.
India deems South Asia as its sphere of influence and becomes concerned when neighboring countries draw closer to other states. Last month, Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat said to deal with China’s influence, countries such as Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka or Afghanistan “have to be kept on board, and I think we have to put in wholehearted effort to ensure we continue to support them.”
India maintains its grip over Bhutan’s foreign policy and defense affairs. Bhutan’s foreign policy still needs “advice” from India and an Indian military training team is permanently based in western Bhutan.
India intervenes in its neighbors diplomatically and militarily. In 1971, it initiated the third Indo-Pakistani war as a result of which East Pakistan disintegrated and became an independent country, Bangladesh. In 1975, India turned the Kingdom of Sikkim into its province through a referendum on abolishing the monarchy. India sent troops to Sri Lanka in 1987 to suppress the ethnic militant group – the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) – and helped end an armed riot in Maldives in 1988.
New Delhi creates a brouhaha when smaller countries in South Asia get increasingly aware of their sovereignty and push back against India. To protect their interests, these countries try to get rid of India’s control and develop strong relations with China and other countries outside the region.
Lately, India has come to believe that its hegemony in South Asia has been immensely challenged. First, the Maldives government signed a free trade agreement with China and announced it will join the Belt and Road initiative. Second, Nepal started to use internet service provided by China, ending India’s decades-long monopoly. What’s more, Nepal has shown strong support for the development of a passage connecting China to South Asia.
Despite India’s generous aids to small South Asian countries, its interference in their internal affairs has caused aversion from these countries. For instance, India’s intervention in Sri Lanka’s civil war in 1987 invited revenge from the LTTE and resulted in the assassination of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.
When I worked in Nepal, I always saw a number of Nepalese demonstrating outside the Indian embassy in Kathmandu against India’s intervention in Nepal politics. Although the Indian Ambassador to Nepal is heavily protected when he leaves the embassy, he still encounters angry protesters.
Radically different from India is China’s approach. Beijing advocates all countries, big and small, are equal. Beijing hopes South Asian countries can maintain their stability and independence and hopes to help them develop their economy and improve people’s livelihood jointly with New Delhi. This has been widely welcomed in the region.
India is confronted with a series of tricky domestic problems and is in the cross hairs of many terror groups. I suggest that the country concentrate first on its internal affairs and seriously consider giving up the mind-set to forge a “Greater India.”