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  • Context (IE | NDTV): The presence of leaders from South Asia & Indian Ocean at the swearing-in ceremony of India’s PM underlines Delhi’s continuing commitment to the “neighbourhood first” policy.

What is India’s Neighbourhood First Policy?

  • India’s Neighbourhood First Policy is unique in that it guides its approach towards the management of relations with countries in its immediate neighbourhood, namely Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
  • Objective: Enhancing physical, digital and people-to-people connectivity across the region, as well as augmenting trade and commerce.


  • Overcome low integration: Making unilateral concessions can help build trust and ‘dependency bonds’ to promote regional cooperation on emerging issues such as climate change, economic development, terrorism, etc.
  • Internal Security imperatives: Ensure a Coordinated Security approach to prevent internal and external non-state actors from destabilising the country and rapid resolution of boundary and water disputes. E.g., the Teesta water sharing agreement, Indus water treaty, etc.
  • Containment of increasing Chinese footprint in India’s neighbourhood: Improving relations with neighbours will counterbalance Chinese influence in the Indian Ocean region and help India fulfil its goal of being a Net Security Provider in the region.
  • Leveraging soft power diplomacy: India’s deep cultural and historical connections with its neighbours strengthen people-to-people ties, solidifying India’s influence in the region through soft power diplomacy. For e.g. Buddhism as a tool to strengthen people-to-people ties in Southeast Asia.
  • Bridging development deficits: Actively engaging with neighbouring countries helps in the development of India’s northeastern states, thus narrowing development disparities in the region.
  • Support in multilateral forums: Working with neighbouring partners strengthens India’s leadership role in representing the interests of the Global South at international forums. This fosters better understanding and cooperation on global issues.


  • Power asymmetry between India and its neighbouring nations: India’s engagement within the domestic political affairs of its neighbouring nations to safeguard its national interests portrays India as the hegemonic power in the region.
  • Identity crisis: India’s neighbours suffer from identity crisis vis-à-vis India as everything that they identify themselves with, for e.g. language, religion, customs, etc, traces its origin from Indian subcontinent and they find themselves under India’s looming shadow.
  • Delayed implementation of developmental projects due to logistical and bureaucratic challenges. For e.g. Kaladan multimodal project.
  • Geopolitical tensions: Issues like border disputes and political disagreements can complicate relationships.

Way forward

  • Proactive, fast-track diplomacy with neighbours & evolving a comprehensive Neighbourhood policy.
  • Following the doctrine of non-reciprocity as outlined in the Gujral Doctrine.
  • Desist from ‘big brotherly’ approach and remain detached from internal dynamics.
  • Expediting implementation of key projects, particularly development projects in hydropower and connectivity (Physical, Digital & People to people).
  • Development Diplomacy to project its ‘Soft Power’ in the region through Lines of Credit, grant assistance, humanitarian aid, educational scholarships and capacity-building programmes.
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