Borders: Between people and policies
Nepal choosing China over India speaks of priorities of the Nepali government guided by their national interest and not by dominant ideological motives
A robust mechanism for border security serves to fortify not just the frontiers but also strengthens other aspects for general public welfare. Given the non-uniform dynamics between India and its neighbours, border policy with each state is reflective of the quantum and quality of the association between the neighbours. What distils as a basic premise is that there cannot be any one border policy that the nation may replicate with another state – for reasons beyond frontier issues. Just because there has been a clumsily conducted NRC exercise in Assam, suggesting the same in West Bengal is to provoke a stir unnecessarily.
Making a business out of any matter which does not directly impact public welfare is rather quick to garner patronage in India. Updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam with reference to 1951 and 1971 records to ensure documented and secure residency of people is bound to be a tedious process but going into an overdrive to 'weed out immigrants' from West Bengal and "convince people about the future perils" of "non-stop infiltration" of Bangladeshi Muslims into the state is a focus more on an ideology than on public welfare. Bangladeshi infiltrators do not enter India as Muslims but as opportunity-denied individuals seeking livelihood and sustenance.
With respect to the open border with Bangladesh and a flexible policy, in exchange for jute and hydropower, several Bangladeshis cross over to India every day for work and return home at night. If this option was available to all, few would seek home in India. Regarding the porous border with Nepal, the issues, as they have escalated recently, have a greater impact on the diplomatic ties and politics surrounding bilateral cooperation. Nepal, in its latest move, choosing China over India to reach out for ports, speaks of priorities of the Nepali government guided by their national interest and not by dominant ideological motives. Myanmar border is one that offers a plethora of opportunities to collaborate and augment capacities on both sides. The disputes with China are truly a challenge that put to test India's capability as a sovereign entity to not just withstand, but also deter any attempt of external threat. Bhutan's non-resistance to Chinese military developments in Dokalam have for long signalled India to step up its security along Siliguri Corridor and execute an integrative policy for the Northeast, especially when Bangladesh has steadily been a reliable friend to India.
Pakistan is a chronically difficult state and border issues with the western neighbour pertain primarily to territory instead of people, resources, economy, or just simply passive-aggressive power-play. Securing the northern region and keeping the forces confined to the borders in Kashmir has been an impossibility due to repeated institutional failures to enable enduring normalcy in the conflict-marred place. The purpose of securing borders is to primarily secure lives within those borders. Whether to prevent infiltration of any kind or check immigration, extreme measures like force or overbearing 'door-to-door campaigns' to 'weed out migrants' only manhandle the predicament. A better way to deal with (the suddenly extra) amount of people is to frame policies with the objective to either quarantine them without violating them or to absorb them to the benefit of the economy and general public welfare instead alienating them and leaving them in limbo without even disowning them. No change aimed at development and general welfare is too radical to not be tried. If Saudi Arabia can think beyond oil and look to infrastructure and development for its economy to thrive, India can certainly do better.
(The author is Senior Copy Editor with Millennium Post. The views are strictly personal)