In this two-part series, this brief focuses on how the history and identity formation of India and its internal and external interests promotes anti-Indian sentiments in South Asia
In Bangladesh, the memories of Hindu Zamindars and the partitions of 1905 and 1947 continue to sow seeds of scepticism against India.These diverse regions and ethnicities have had different interactions with their neighbouring kingdoms and states in the past. This has continued to shape the smaller states’ perception of an independent India. The past interactions have not always been hostile but some negative interactions and events have been reinforced as collective memories. This is largely practised by the elites and populace of these countries to preserve their uniqueness and identity ever since India emerged as an independent state. Thus, both Sri Lanka and the Maldives still remember India from its days of the Chola invasion. In Bangladesh, the memories of Hindu Zamindars and the partitions of 1905 and 1947 continue to sow seeds of scepticism against India. Similarly, being a non-colonised kingdom and having jurisdiction over Lumbini determines Nepal’s identity vis-à-vis India. Religion has also played a vital role in this differentiation. Sections of the Maldives and Bangladesh view independent India as a Hindu state, where Muslims are looked down on as secondary citizens. In Sri Lanka, too, India is perceived as a Hindu state pushing back against Buddhism. This has been substantiated with India's ancient history and Tamil policy vis-à-vis Sri Lanka. These factors of history and identity formation have thus sown the initial seeds of scepticism against the Indian state. And this phenomenon has prevailed since India’s independence.
Throughout its historic and civilisational interactions, India has had its ethnic and religious spillover with its modern-day neighbours, such as the Madhesis in Nepal, Tamils in Sri Lanka, and Hindus in Bangladesh.But, these ethnic or religious spillovers have not always been perceived positively by others. The Tamils, the Madhesis, and the Hindus are seen as others and outsiders by sections of elites and extremist elements in Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bangladesh. Evidently, India has protested, raised concerns, or even intervened in these countries when its fellow-ethnics and religious groups are threatened. For instance, in the 1980s, India used its coercive tactics against Sri Lanka and also deployed its forces to end the Tamil-Sinhala conflict. It also continues to raise the issues of the 13th amendment and reconciliation of the Tamils with Sri Lanka. In Nepal, India insisted on promoting an inclusive democratic framework for the Madhesis and was involved in an alleged blockade when its elites failed to do so. In Bangladesh too, India has continued to raise concerns over majoritarian attacks against Hindu minorities. These actions have fostered a few negative perceptions too. India's actions and complaints against its neighbours are looked down on as a big brother that intervenes in other countries sovereign affairs. Similarly, it is also perceived that India prioritises some over the rest of its neighbours and supports political parties or elites that favour its interests. These perceptions have intensified the small states' scepticism for the Indian state.
While India has attempted to maintain its status quo by countering these projects, it has also persuaded its neighbours to respect its sensitivities and security.In addition, Pakistan and China have also used some segments from the smaller countries to further anti-Indian protests and sentiments. And this is often carried forward by these segments with the hopes of ideological benefits or financial and political gains. For instance, there are strong ideological linkages between Pakistan and the Bangladesh’s Islamist parties and organisations, such as Hefazat-e-Islam and Jamaat-e-Islami. It is even alleged that these organisations were funded by Pakistan to conduct the anti-Modi protests in Bangladesh. Similarly, China’s support for some leaders like Yameen in the Maldives and KP Oli in Nepal has emboldened their anti-Indian electoral base, rhetoric, and policies. Financial incentives have also likely played a role, as both Oli and Yameen are accused of mass corruption when dealing with Chinese firms and investments. China had even used President Yameen in the Maldives to problematise India’s role as a net security provider. As the tensions intensified in Doklam in 2017, Yameen re-energised his anti-Indian rhetoric and narratives by politicising the deployment of Indian patrol vessels, aircraft, and staff in the Maldives. This also explains the recent momentum surge with the ‘India Out’ protests as soon as Yameen was acquitted. Thus, India’s attempts to maintain the status-quo and China’s increasing role and influence in the neighbourhood will further these anti-Indian sentiments.
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Aditya Gowdara Shivamurthy is an Associate Fellow with ORFs Strategic Studies Programme. He focuses on broader strategic and security related-developments throughout the South Asian region ...Read More +