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‘Agartala Doctrine’ answer to policy paralysis?

 NEW DELHI, Feb 28 - The Agartala Doctrine that focuses on pro-active but positive engagement with neighbours has fitted in well with India’s Bangladesh policy since Indira Gandhi to Manmohan Singh and may be a useful complement to Narendra Modi’s neighbourhood policy, says a new book.

The proposed national doctrine draws on Tripura’s long proactive history of handling its neighbourhood. Differing from both the Monroe doctrine of dominance and the Gujral doctrine of unilateral magnanimity, it is rather based on the idea of “appropriate response” and has grown out of the line of action chosen by Tripura’s Chief Ministers from Sachin Singh to Manik Sarkar.

Journalist Subir Bhaumik, who has edited “The Agartala Doctrine: A Proactive Northeast in Indian Foreign Policy,” published by Oxford, makes a strong pitch for this doctrine as a possible line of action for States in Indian foreign policy.

“By his visits across the SAARC countries, Modi has stressed the need to strengthen India’s relations with its neighbours. In a way, Modi unwittingly has practised the ‘Agartala Doctrine’ of appropriate response with Pakistan so far. He invited Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony but did not hesitate to ask Indian security forces to respond in full measure to provocations on the border,” he writes.

In the book’s foreword, former Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni writes, “We want Northeast India to connect and reach out to the Bay of Bengal, the High Seas and the Deep Sea Bed. The India-Bangladesh maritime boundaries issue has been resolved and both nations can join hands to create a ‘blue economy’ that will benefit our peoples. Northeast India, so long nearly land-locked, will be a major beneficiary when that happens.”

“We could also usher in regional cooperation with sovereign States lying respectively to our east and north. We could create an extraordinary amalgam of sovereign States – Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, China, India, and Myanmar– in which the Northeast India Region would play a deeply significant part. We could extend that even further; we could extend that to BIMSTEC including Sri Lanka and Thailand as well,” she suggests.

In his introductory essay “Agartala Doctrine: The ‘Tripura Line” of Appropriate Response in Foreign Policy,” Bhaumik says how Indian States have become more assertive on foreign policy issues, especially on those that concern them directly over the past few decades.

“Two recent examples of how States could significantly influence foreign policies are obvious. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s stiff opposition forced the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to back off from signing the Teesta water-sharing treaty during his Dhaka visit in 2010. She also blocked the implementation of the Land Boundary Agreement until Singh’s successor Narendra Modi managed her support with a federal package.

The Agartala doctrine, he says, emphasises the most on that part of the Gujral Doctrine that says no country in South Asia will allow its territory to be used against a neighbour.

“There is no place in the ‘Agartala Doctrine’ for Mamata’s strident opposition to the Teesta water-sharing treaty or the Land Boundary Agreement (LBA) with Bangladesh or Assam’s regional groups’ opposition to the LBA or the xenophobia reflected in the Mizo regional responses to the Chin migration issue in Mizoram or the perpetual Bangladesh-bashing witnessed in Assam by various groups on the illegal migration question,” Bhaumik argues.

“It is incumbent on States and the Centre to work together to block illegal migration and for local parties not to thrive on the politics of select vote-banks but it is also incumbent on them not to disrupt social peace and economic growth by perpetuating a culture of violent movements. That is the essence of the Agartala Doctrine,” he says. – PTI

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