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Amit Kumar Jha asked: What is ‘Agartala Doctrine’? Why has it been ignored in India’s foreign policy?

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  • Pushpita Das replies:The so-called Agartala Doctrine is a distillation of the principles derived from the policies and postures adopted by successive governments in Tripura vis-à-vis East Pakistan and later Bangladesh. The same has been recommended for the Union government’s consideration. According to its advocates, the doctrine would not only help state governments in safeguarding the interests of their own people but also work towards strengthening the Union government’s neighbourhood policy.

    The three most basic components of the doctrine are: a) states should have a greater say in foreign policy matters involving neighbours so that their core interests are protected b) states should act as responsible stake holders and not as spoilers seeking narrow domestic electoral gains, and c) states should take the initiative to improve relations with neighbouring countries while keeping in mind the broader national interest.

    The conception of the doctrine, which emerged from the deliberations at the first Tripura Conclave held in Agartala in July 2014, has been dealt in detail in an eponymous volume edited by the veteran journalist Subir Bhaumik. In essence, this doctrine highlights Tripura’s seemingly “appropriate, proactive and befitting response” to challenges arising from East Pakistan/Bangladesh with a view to protect its own core security and economic interests.

    Bhaumik’s volume recounts a number of episodes to demonstrate how the doctrine has been at play. For example, when East Pakistan and later Bangladesh started sheltering Indian Insurgent Groups (IIGs) active in the Northeast, the response of successive governments in Tripura ranged from supporting the cause of Bengali liberation from the Pakistani rule, by extending support to Shanti Bahini-Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samiti (PCJSS), to authorising offensive action against elements of the All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) and the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) operating from the Bangladeshi territory.

    However, in a contrasting scenario, when the Sheikh Hasina Government decided to move against IIGs in 2008, and also granted permission for transhipment of heavy equipment for the Palatana Power Plant as well as food grains via its territory to Tripura, the Manik Sarkar Government not only felicitated Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina but also requested the Union government to provide 100-150 MW electricity from Palatana to Bangladesh. In addition to advocating friendly relations with Bangladesh, his government also proposed a liberal visa regime for the Bangladeshi nationals.

    Even though the architects of the so-called Agartala Doctrine envisage a proactive role for states in India’s relations with its neighbours, it is imperative to note that when it comes to matters pertaining foreign policy the role and authority of the Union government remains paramount. States can, at best, play a cooperative/supportive role. Be that as it may, the Union government invariably takes into account the interests of the states while formulating policy towards neighbouring countries. At times when it wilfully or inadvertently failed to do so, it had encountered resistance from the concerned states. The sharing of Teesta river water between India and Bangladesh is a case in point. Both countries had come to an understanding on the issue and were close to signing an agreement, but could not go ahead due to stiff resistance from the West Bengal Government.

    Posted on March 06, 2018