APAgents of progress: India should support civil society groups that stand for positive change.
India must draw inspiration from its own founding principles to actively support friendly, peaceful and secular forces in the region
Various developments in our region challenge us to think about a regional doctrine to replace the abandoned “Indira doctrine” and “Gujral doctrine.” We can take a cue from the strengths and weakness of these doctrines and apply them to the changing strategic environment.
What should the geographical reach of such a regional doctrine be? That depends on the degree to which developments in the country/region can either benefit or harm us. There is general agreement that developments in South Asia (Afghanistan to Myanmar, Nepal to Sri Lanka) have this potential. Whether the Maldives in the Arabian Sea has this potential is less clear. What about other more distant island nations in the Indian Ocean? This depends partly on the amount of resources we are able to commit to the overall task and our strategic reach and also on the presence of larger, stronger potentially hostile external powers operating in the Indian Ocean (a circumscribed version of the “Indira doctrine”). By these criteria, the Maldives could be included within the region of operation of the doctrine, while other islands may be added over time as capabilities and potential threats grow.
Our own culture, secular traditions and democratic principles must form the bedrock of any external doctrine. The basic thrust of the doctrine must be to actively support friendly, peaceful, secular, democratic forces in the region. This would include civil society organisations, political forces and parties that believe in a peaceful democratic future for their own country and for peaceful, friendly and cooperative relations with neighbouring countries (including India). One operational consequence would be for Indian elites, the media, and public to clearly and openly back genuinely pro-peace, political parties in these countries.
On the other hand government per se should not “unabashedly back pro-India political parties” in these countries, as this could be counterproductive in promoting friendly, peace-loving forces in these countries. If and when such friendly parties are in power, the Indian government should however, provide asymmetric inter-governmental benefits to assure them and their supporters of the benefits of their positive approach (a selective version of the Gujral doctrine).