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Anil asked: Why India does not support democratic movements in China, Tibet, Pakistan, etc? Isn’t it in India’s long-term interest?

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  • S. Kalyanaraman replies: India's establishment as a liberal democracy was the third great moment in the history of liberalism, the first two being the American and French Revolutions. There is no doubt that India favours democracy taking root among its neighbours as well as the spread of democracy throughout the world. However, India does not believe in imposing democracy on any country at the point of a bayonet. Instead, it prefers to serve as an example that other countries can emulate for their own benefit. India's past experience in promoting greater democracy within the sub-continent clearly demonstrates the limits of what can be achieved. India helped in the liberation of Bangladesh and its establishment as a democratic state; but democracy there was soon overthrown. Indeed, the latest attempt at a coup in Bangladesh partly stems from forces that do not favour better or closer India-Bangladesh relations. Similarly, through the 1980s, India attempted to convince Sri Lanka of the imperative of evolving a federal democratic polity (as opposed to Sri Lanka's preference for a unitary polity) that would address the grievances of its minority Tamils in particular, but failed to move Colombo. Even today, Sri Lanka refuses to see the merits of the Indian democratic model and is seeking to evolve a 'Sri Lankan' model in the wake of its 'victory' over the LTTE.

    The limits of what India can achieve in this regard are even starker when it comes to countries that are adversaries or rivals. Overtly promoting democracy and democratic movements especially in countries that are adversaries or rivals is not a prudent policy for two main reasons. Firstly, the very fact of extending such support will delegitimise or help to delegitimise these movements because of perceived support from the Indian adversary/rival; thus, detracting from the long-term goal of enabling these countries to become democracies. Secondly, a policy of overtly promoting democratic movements in countries that are adversaries or rivals will simply add another point of conflict to an already troubled relationship and further vitiate bilateral relations, something that needs to be avoided especially when India's principal focus continues to be on internal socio-political-economic development.