Home States Delhi Parliament panel criticizes Centre’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy

Parliament panel criticizes Centre’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy

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(G.N.S.) Dt. 26
New Delhi
Despite the recent Maldives-China Free Trade Agreement and moves by the Yameen government favouring Chinese investment, the Modi government says it remains firmly committed to its “Neighbours First” policy and has bolstered defence cooperation with Male in the past year.
Sources familiar with the proceedings of the Consultative Committee of the Parliament on External Affairs which met on December 21 said that several members of Parliament from the Congress, NCP, the Left parties pointed out that India’s ties with several South Asian neighbours faced challenges, with particular mentions of Maldives and Nepal.
Seeking an explanation from the government on the situation in the Maldives, a senior member of Parliament supposedly asked, “Why is India unable to address concerns of an island nation whose size is equal to that of [the Delhi neighbourhood of] Maharani Bagh?”
The question created ripples in the meeting of the Consultative Committee which examined ties with Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Myanmar and Afghanistan. The meeting was attended by D. Raja of the Communist Party of India (CPI), Dr. Karan Singh, Anand Sharma and Shashi Tharoor of the Congress and Dr. Subramanian Swamy of the BJP, among others.
In its response, the Ministry of External Affairs, represented by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Minister of State M.J. Akbar, and all secretaries including Foreign Secretary Dr. S. Jaishankar, said that India’s commitment to Maldives is “serious” and relations were “close, cordial and multi-dimensional.”
“India has always been there for Maldives and will continue our commitment to be the “first” friend,” said the MEA, which also acknowledged that the 2015 visit to Maldives by Prime Minister Narendra Modi “was cancelled at the last minute due to political developments in Maldives.”
India’s ties with Maldives has turned cold since the first week of December when Male signed a Free Trade Agreement with China after rushing it through parliament. However, President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom during the weekend tried to address India’s concerns and said that India is Male’s “closest friend and ally” and both sides are also working on an FTA.
People familiar with the meeting said that a Rajya Sabha MP also raised the issues before India-Nepal ties following the return of K.P. Sharma Oli as the newly elected leader of Nepal as Mr Oli is known to be a critic of India’s policies towards Nepal. “For the first time, a party campaigned on clearly anti-India platform and people have voted that party to power. Developments in Nepal remain of serious concern to us,” the MP said.
The Committee also raised the issue of visas for Pakistani civil society activists who wish to travel to India. “Pakistan’s civil society and intellectuals have been staunchly democratic and a great supporter for normalisation of India-Pakistan ties and therefore there is no ground to delay visas for them,” an MP stated at the meeting, citing the delay in issuing visas to Salima Hashmi, daughter of legendary Urdu poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Salima Hashmi, who is to travel for a civil society initiative in February, has not been issued an Indian visa so far, said a source familiar with the proceedings of the committee.
The meeting also discussed recent developments over the Doklam crisis with China and the ongoing negotiations over the Kulbhushan Jadhav issue with Pakistan. The Ministry of External Affairs in its statement kept before the committee said that India has demonstrated that it wishes to engage Pakistan on established principles but “there will be no compromise on matters pertaining to India’s national security and incidents of cross-border terrorism and infiltration will be dealt with firmly.”

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