Sinha M. A. Sayeed
On April 17, 2015, Prashant Jha, Associate Editor, Hindustan Times, and CASI Spring 2015 Visiting Fellow, presented a paper “Big Brother or Elder Brother?: India’s Role in the Nepali Transition” at the Center for the Advanced Study of India(CASI), University of Pennsylvania, USA. In the paper he touched so many areas that may be summarised as follows:
‘Nepal is a partly sovereign country – and this partial sovereignty stems from its deep, historic, complex, intimate, and multi-layered relationship with India. Delhi has had a role in shaping political outcomes in Kathmandu at key moments in the past six decades; most recently, it played a direct role in facilitating the peace agreement between mainstream political parties and Maoist rebels in 2005. Thus began Nepal’s transformation from a monarchy to a republic, war to peace, Hindu kingdom to secularism, and a unitary to a potentially federal system.The Nepali peace process can be counted as a rare instance of Indian-driven peace-making in the region – the peace has held, with not a single shot fired since the end of the war a decade ago, but the political transition continues with an unfulfilled quest for a constitution. The Indian role however has triggered contradictory responses, both within New Delhi and across the Nepali political spectrum. Has it been a “big brother,” excessively interventionist, seeking to “micro-manage” Nepali affairs? Or has it been an “elder brother,” as External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj put it, stepping in to assist when Nepal’s own parties have sought help? Can India possibly be a facilitator and guarantor of the peace accord without a degree of micromanagement, or it is more appropriate to have a hands-off policy?
This lecture will document the precise nature of the Indian role at key moments of the peace process, the divergent impulses that drive policy in Delhi, the principal players, and what it has meant for Nepal. Through the case study, Mr. Jha seeks to understand the challenges inherent in India’s regional diplomacy as it expands its footprint in a neighborhood dominated by complex, fragmented, and democratic political systems’ (https://vimeo.com/126503180). What a wonder it is that Elder bother concept replaced big brother concept without taking note of the due standing of the states in question!
Then we find the repetition in case of Bangladesh and India. In the words of Sushma Swaraj, currently Indian External Affairs minister, ‘To the neighbors in the sub-continent, India is an elder brother, not a big brother’. This she made during her speech in the Lok Sabha, lower house of Indian Parliament, at some stage in the passage of the Bangladesh-India Land Boundary Accord of 1974, also known as the Constitution (119th Amendment) Bill 2013, on 7th May 2015, which now after the assent of the President will enter into the statue book [as Constitution 100th Amendment Act 2015, wherein virtually she reasserts in a different mood and mode that ‘India is standing above, not at all on equal standing while dealing with the neighboring states’. This elder bother concept otherwise also signifies and denotes a sort of ‘Vertical-Horizontal Relationships’ between India and other neighbor states in South Asia. Important it is because this is the first time in the history of independent India that such concept is being forwarded with authorisation from the seat of power in India (big brother concept, unlike elder brother concept, was leveled against India by others in the neighbor states). Let us recall the former Indian Premier I.K. Guzral (Inder Kumar Gujral was an Indian politician who served as the thirteenth Prime Minister of India from April 1997 to March 1998. Gujral was the third PM to be from the Rajya Sabha, the first being Indira Gandhi and the second H. D. Deve Gowda) who has placed himself as one of the leading thoughtful statesmen in India for his famous approach to inter-states relations with India in the subcontinent, which later came to be known as ‘Guzral’s doctrine’ (a big state should be more pro-active, initiative, visionary, sincere, considerate, sacrificing and magnanimous while with its small neighbors in particular and such approach of Guzral stands opposed to India doctrine (supremacy of India over the states in South Asia), a kind of oft-quoted allegation being made by the small neighbors in the sub-continent of South Asia).
Well, Indian Prime Minister Norendra Modi’s recent two-day visit to Bangladesh from June 6-7 2015 is definitely a sort of overhauling of what India at present feels and realises about her small neighbors pointedly having Bangladesh in mind. Modi’s foreign policy started with a theme ‘Neighborhood based on peaceful co-existence and onward development is first’. Here, to suite the very purposes, cooperation and sincerity to overcome the issues and problems, old and/new, between or among the neighboring states have to be addressed with due acumen and statesmanship. Since this is an era of getting closer, also called ‘global village’, the message of the civilisation is one and unambiguous ‘Let national, bi-lateral, regional and global approaches and initiatives mingle at points of understanding ensuring mutually rewarding position. Do all his avowed intentions and commitments– weighing also his first ever blistering speech at the Bangabandhu International Convention Centre at Dhaka on 7 June, 2015 before a gathering comprising members of the Indian community, eminent Bangladeshis including political personalities, cultural personalities, business persons, academicians and Dhaka University students–synchronise with the newly forwarded concept of ‘Elder brother”? His quotation from an Indian Daily editorial that said that ‘the Land Boundary Agreement was equivalent to the fall of the Berlin Wall’ is very much confusingly meaningful in this regard. Inking 22 protocols, MOUs and agreements with Bangladesh, Modi in the end won a lot and then the asking arises ‘How much is Bangladesh benefited? Time is not apt to come with replies readily. Let the replies get unfolded in course of time, space and dimension.
Therefore, it’s a real challenge for Sheikh Hasina since she has to play now more cagily applying required altitude of diplomacy and politics essentially keeping in mind, inter alia, the Bangladesh-China Relations, Bangladesh-US Relations and Bangladesh-Japan Relations. Analysis needs to be honored that Bangladesh-Pakistan Relations are not based on Bangladesh-India Relations. It’s the lesson of history that arrogance of today may be transformed into sacrifice of tomorrow. Here the moot point is realisation that should never be set aside for ever. Sheikh Hasina being the eldest daughter of the Bangabandu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman shall have to be cautious all the time as a befitting statesman going beyond mere emotions, whims, caprices and indifferences. All the great men in the world knowingly, recklessly or inadvertently have chance to fall prey to appeasement and sycophancies. Those who were careful enough in the past advanced heroically and those who were fond of such fancies suffered a lot in the end. Yes, state and national interests are above all. If something is lost today that can hardly be revived and returned tomorrow. Even if it’s returned, remember that the way is not a bed of roses under the circumstances, compelling or not. Let Sheikh Hasina be in the best position to handle her foreign policy advisers, think-tanks and diplomats in the execution processes inside and outside the ministry of foreign affairs.
[Dr. Sinha M. A. Sayeed, Chairman of Leadership Studies Foundation, member of International Political Science Association, writer and columnist at email@example.com, Bangladesh]
Sinha M. A. Sayeed