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Catching up on Neighbourhood Gossip

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Your neighbours, with the exception of a few, will generally be annoying. One frequent feature (in popular culture or in life) is the Neighbour Aunty. Neighbour Aunty is well-meanng and endearing but more often than not, intensely annoying. Neighbour Aunty dishes out free advice like prashad on inconspicuous festival days and considers herself the moral authority of the building. Neighbour Aunty’s life goal is to find rishtas for every girl above the marriage-able age of 16. She is also aware of all the going-ons in the building. She keeps track of whose friends enter and leave (and at what time) and is particularly intrigued by their gender. She is also the one you go to when you’re locked out of the house and will be particularly helpful when you least expect her to be.

The Indian subcontinent is also filled with neighbours who vaguely like each other and dislike each other at the same time. The Maldivian crisis that erupted last week did not see Indian intervention contrary to what many analysts recommended. Happymon Jacob says that diplomacy and persuasion are better strategies for India in Maldives than any sort of intervention. Meanwhile Mohammed Nasheed, the former President of the Maldives who had asked India for assistance clarifies some of his earlier statements and makes his stance known in this interview with The Wire.

Another maritime neighbour is also facing an internal churn. In Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s party won local polls and demanded for new elections even though they are currently due only in 2020. There is a major power struggle between the President and Prime Minister and Sri Lanka and this is going to be a major flashpoint in the state as the coalition government will face a strong opposition in Rakapaksa.

To our east, in Bangladesh, Khaleda Zia, the head of the Bangladesh National Party was imprisoned for embezzlement of finances. Questions are being raised about the fortunes of the Bangladesh, National Party and the Awami League alike as Sheikh Hasina’s government looks stronger than ever to lead elections later this year. With respect to India’s stance, the Former High Commissioner to Bangladesh argues that India should continue backing the Awami League while prepping itself to deal with the BNP in the future.

In Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif appears before the Accountability Court today to hear corruption charges against him. The future of Nawaz Sharif depends on how the Pakistani Supreme Court deals with Pervez Musharraf. The most important story in Pakistan this week was the passing away of Asma Jahangir, the founder of Pakistani Human Rights Commission. She was lonely  in her causes and found it found it easy to make enemies, but is now being hailed as ‘Pakistan’s Joan of Arc’ Jahangir had also disagreed with the Pakistani Supreme Court over the way the impeachment of Nawaz Sharif was dealt with.

We began 2018 by “Looking East” but apparently now, India is looking west. The Prime Minister is on a trip to Oman, Palestine and the United Arab Emirates. Some analysts suggest looking beyond signing contracts with countries in the Middle East, and opening up military diplomacy. Another aspect of India’s approach could be to just consider the region on its own merit rather than looking at it as divided by the Israel and Palestine conflict. His visit to Palestine now is an indication of the de-hyphenated policy on the conflict between the two countries. While the Indian side sees de-hyphenation as a pragmatic move, it should also realise that the Palestinians will not view the view favourably as it comes at great cost to them. However, this is one of those strategies that is damned if we do and damned if we don’t so status quo seems like the only option.

The Prime Minister’s visit also saw the announcement of Oman providing India with access to its Daqm port. This seems an important part of the larger geopolitical chessboard considering that China is developing the Gwadar port in Pakistan. Amidst all of this, what happned the Chabhar port in Iran that India was developing? Even as India has verbally committed 500 million on the port, the US’ change in stance on Iran is also turning up the pressure on the project. This is as Iran refuses to engage with Western countries about its missile programs unless they keep their promises on the 2015 Iran Deal. All of this will play out later in the month as the Iranian President Hasan Rouhani is set to visit our country.

The changes in geopolitics will definitely have an impact on our foreign policy. The former governor of Mizoram writes how the Prime Minister’s trips abroad have achieved specific objectives abroad and that domestic opposition is corroding it. On a completely different vein, Pratap Bhanu Mehta argues that India is finding itself cornered within its own backyard.

While all of this happens, I feel like the neighbour at the window, constantly watching everyone on the street, how they speak to their spouses and park their cars. I want to scream at their children for playing so loudly but remind myself that criticizing their parenting skills will not make me any more likeable. While I stand, half-hidden by the window, I am expecting my doorbell to ring soon. Neighbour Aunty will come in to catch up on afternoon tea and building gossip.

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About the author

Hamsini Hariharan

Hamsini Hariharan is a Research Associate with Takshashila's Geostrategy Programme. She is also the Assistant Editor at Pragati, and one of the hosts of the Pragati Podcast. Her research interests include Chinese foreign policy, Asian geopolitics, and India's worldview.