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India's dwindling circle of friends

June 23, 2020 08:18 IST
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India is now surrounded on its north, west and east by unfriendly neighbours --Pakistan, China, Nepal and Bangladesh -- some of whom are openly inimical, notes Amulya Ganguli.

Photograph: Reuters

About a year ago, External Affairs minister S Jaishankar said 'we are getting to know who our friends really are.'

He was speaking in the context of the criticism which the government was facing because of the crackdown in Kashmir, agitations against the enacted and proposed citizenship initiatives and the Delhi riots.

Since then, the number of India's friends has become less.

China and Pakistan were never known as pals, but Nepal and Bangladesh were.

But, now, Nepal and Bangladesh have joined China and Pakistan in their dislike of India.

While Nepal has undertaken what has been called cartographic assertion by India by claiming parts of Uttarakhand as its own territory, Bangladesh has been unhappy over the identification of illegal Muslim immigrants in India as Bangladeshis.

They have also been called 'termites' by none other than India's redoubtable Home Minister Amit Anilchandra Shah, while a BJP leader wants them to be quashed iike kida-makaura (insects).

Under the proposed National Register of Citizens, they are sought to be ferreted out from among the Indian Muslims and deported -- if Bangladesh accepts them, which it has refused to do -- or interned in what has been dubbed concentration camps by the BJP's critics.

Because of these charges, several Bangladeshi dignitaries called off their trips to India.

They included both Foreign Minister A K Abdul Momin, and Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan.

Little wonder that the maverick BJP MP, Subramanian Swamy, favours a 'reset' of India's foreign policy.

India is now surrounded on its north, west and east by unfriendly neighbours -- Pakistan, China, Nepal and Bangladesh -- some of whom are openly inimical.

Unlike these countries, the US is a friend.

But the American state department has spoken of violence and discrimination against minorities in India.

It has referred to 'significant human rights issues including unlawful and arbitrary killings; torture by prison officials... and harsh and life-threatening prison conditions.'

It has also expressed concern over 'political prisoners in certain states; restrictions of freedom of expression and the press, including violence, threats of violence, or unjustified arrests or prosecutions against journalists, use of criminal libel laws to prosecute social media speech, censorship or site blocking.'

These are not the words of a friend.

It isn't only the neighbouring countries and a government department across the seas which are either ill-disposed towards India or have serious reservations about its functioning.

There are also others who harbour an unfavourable view of the Indian legal system.

As many as 100 such eminent personalities have written to President Ram Nath Kovind and Chief Justice of India Sharad Arvind Bobde about the incarceration of G N Saibaba and Varavara Rao in 'fabricated cases'.

They have also referred to the "infamous Bhima Koregaon case" in which, too, 'public intellectuals' have been jailed.

Another activist who has been put behind bars is Safoora Zargar, whose arrest has been described by the Center for Human Rights of the American Bar Association as not being in consonance with the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.

There is apparently a need for a 'reset' in a number of fields in India.

Amulya Ganguli is a writer on current affairs

Production: Aslam Hunani/

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