A decision without forethought

The government’s decision to implement the CAA has thrown the Northeast into turmoil and shaken investor confidence

Published - December 24, 2019 12:15 am IST

Unity is strength: A sea of protesters, who came out in thousands, march against the new citizenship law at a peaceful protest in Dharavi on Sunday.

Unity is strength: A sea of protesters, who came out in thousands, march against the new citizenship law at a peaceful protest in Dharavi on Sunday.

Every cause has an effect and that is why every government decision must be preceded by careful thought about its potential repercussions. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) of 2019 has had huge consequences on both the domestic and foreign policy front. In India, widespread protests that began in the Northeast are now raging across the country. On the international front, soon after the protests broke out, two Bangladesh ministers cancelled their visit to India, the Japanese Prime Minister postponed his visit to the country and the annual India-Japan summit was cancelled. From the perspective of India’s ambitious development plans and strategic diplomacy, the question that arises is whether the Central government factored in the ramifications of the CAA on India’s Act East Policy and its potential side effects on the country’s relationship with foreign stakeholders heavily invested in the Northeast.

Repercussions on various fronts

Apart from being the unique region that links India with ASEAN nations, the Northeast is also the springboard for India’s engagement with Southeast Asia. This is precisely why New Delhi roped in Tokyo to fulfill its ambitious plan of expanding its global footprints via development in the Northeast. As part of its Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy, Japan has been investing in the Northeast in a big way. Recently Tokyo decided to invest ₹13,000 crore in different projects in the Northeast. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is actively engaged in building Northeast road network connectivity, water supply projects and economic modernisation of the region. It will be financing the construction of India’s longest bridge between Dhubri in Assam and Phulbari in Meghalaya. Japan has contributed official development assistance loans for the North East Road Network Connectivity Improvement Project. Private Japanese organisations are also financing a host of developmental projects in the region. It is but natural that the CAA protests and Internet shutdowns in the region would have come as a huge shock to Japan and its investment plans in the region which hinge on stability and a business-friendly environment conducive. Given these considerations, the government could have done well to analyse how such a decision would affect the economic development of the Northeast.

Second, in case Japan has a rethink on these development projects, will it do so keeping in mind only the Northeast or the rest of India too? JICA is involved in various big-ticket infrastructure projects in Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Odisha, etc. Third, the volatility of the Northeast can possibly be a setback to the collaborative efforts between India and Japan in providing an alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Fourth, besides being a development partner, Japan is also a member of the Quad, which came into existence to counter Chinese economic prowess and unlock India’s potential in the Indo-Pacific. Last and most importantly, when Kashmir is already volatile, can India afford to open another frontier of vulnerability in the Northeast?

Clearly, the government did not take various stakeholders into confidence while taking this decision. The proof of messy diplomatic pudding is in the eating as the UN has described the CAA as “fundamentally discriminatory”. The U.S., the U.K., Canada and others have issued travel advisories to those visiting the Northeast. Why did the government not utilise diplomatic channels to put forth its views before the stakeholders in the international community? Had it done this, it could have avoided the embarrassment it is facing today. It is high time that decision-makers of the BJP learnt the basic difference between raw muscularity and successful diplomacy before taking such measures.

Viewed with suspicion

The blunders of the BJP government are straining and staining India’s foreign policy. India has been described as the “Internet shutdown capital of the world”. Senior political leaders are under detention, Parliament is passing laws to grant religion-based citizenship to migrants of selected countries, and the youth of the country is out on the streets protesting. Will all this not shake investors’ confidence and dent the ease of doing business in India? The Indian economy is already going through a rough phase and the loss of investor confidence will only add to our woes. At the global level, India has always been respected for its diversity and inclusive character. It is because of parochial decisions like the CAA that India will now join the rank of nations which are viewed with suspicion because of their political and economic climate. Instead of being on an expansion mode, thanks to the government India will now be on an explanatory mode.

Jaiveer Shergill is a Supreme Court lawyer and national spokesperson, INC. Views are personal

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