ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Reading ‘India Way’ in the Neighbourhood First Policy

Moral Exceptionalism or Strategic Pragmatism?

India’s Neighbourhood First Policy is guided by ideas of moral exceptionalism rooted in particular ci­vilisational framings, but is not without strategic pragma­tism, and the case of Sri Lanka is a case in point.


Against the backdrop of the visit of the President of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe, on 21 July 2023, India laid a renewed emphasis on “India–Sri Lanka economic partnership for maritime, energy and financial connectivity” within the contours of India’s Neighbourhood First Policy. It is important to underline that in the recent past, India was the first responder to Sri Lanka in the wake of the economic crisis, and did not wait for other bilateral creditors to act. It was quick to send humanitarian aid (wheat and medicines) after the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan. In the wake of covid-19, Bhutan, Maldives, Bangladesh, Nepal, Seychel­les, Myanmar, and Mauritius were part of India’s initial roll-out of vaccines as grant assistance.

A narrative that cuts across each of the moves was “India cares,” and has the moral responsibility to lift up its neighbours—an idea that is the cornerstone of India’s Neighbourhood First Policy. The Ministry of External Affairs (Economic Diplomacy Division) brief states, “India’s Neighbourhood First Policy rests on India’s prime responsibility to lift up its neighbours to establish a rules-based order to preserve multilateralism and to establish peace and security in the Indian ocean.”1 It is interesting to note that the idea of neighbourhood first is not tied to the geographical template of South Asia, but is extended in normative and strategic conceptualisation to include Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) and even countries in central Asia.

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Updated On : 10th Oct, 2023
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