(i) Building soft power:
India’s most potent tool is its soft power. For e.g., Its successes in Bhutan and Afghanistan have much more to do with its development assistance than its defence assistance.
After sharp drops in 2016 (of 36%) and 2017 (of 19%) year on year, the budget allocations for South Asia have seen an increase (of 6%) in 2018.
After the Doklam crisis was defused in 2017, India also moved swiftly to resolve differences with Bhutan on hydropower pricing.
The government has announced a tariff hike for energy from Bhutan’s Chukha project, the first in several years.
(ii) Tackling China:
Instead of opposing every project by China in the region, the government must attempt a three-pronged approach-
- Where possible, India should collaborate with China in the manner it has over the Bangladesh-China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic corridor.
- When India feels a project is a threat to its interests, India should make a counter-offer to the project, if necessary in collaboration with its Quadrilateral partners, Japan, the U.S. and Australia.
- India should coexist with projects that do not necessitate intervention, while formulating a set of South Asian principles for sustainable development assistance that can be used across the region.
- This will all only be possible if India and China reset bilateral ties.
(iii) Learnings from ASEAN:
There must be more interaction at every level of government.
Just as Indonesia, the biggest economy in the ASEAN, allowed smaller countries such as Singapore to take the lead, India too must take a back seat in decision-making, enabling others to build a more harmonious SAARC process.