New Delhi: Unless India returns to its secular roots in foreign policy, it will face a torrid time in the neighbourhood. Pakistan has no identity save positioning itself against India. India is not a “Hindu rashtra” but the lie prevails in Pakistan empowering the Pakistan army and the terrorists. When India does lurch religiously rightward as with the Narendra Modi government supported by the RSS, Pakistan’s religious right warriors get new infusions of oxygen. It is pertinent to note that a BJP-led NDA government traded terrorists for Kandahar hostages while a prime minister from the Congress party broke Pakistan in two. There is no guarantee that national interest will always be protected by the religious right, but the religious right certainly fans Pakistan’s hatred for India. Hatred serves the cause of neither Pakistan nor India.

Let Pakistan be. It is an extreme example. Sadly, though, India’s faith-tinged domestic and foreign policies are not assisting relations with South Asian neighbours other than Pakistan as well. Nepal is touted as the world’s only Hindu kingdom. The RSS and the Sangh Parivar assume that close India-Nepal religious ties would bring the two states together. Religious tourism between the two countries was promoted. Has it made a difference? In the most inconceivable way, it would appear. Nepal has drawn close to atheistic China while India gnashes its teeth in helpless despair. Not just China; Pakistan’s intelligence presence in Nepal is on the rise. Shared religion is no guarantee for good relations.

The case of soured ties with Sri Lanka is a little more complex but it underlines once again that a shared religious or cultural identity could produce negative consequences. In the Sinhala-Tamil ethnic crisis in Sri Lanka, India began supporting the Tamils against Sinhala chauvinists. When Tamil terrorists commandeered the Tamil movement for equality and dignity, India did not alter course promptly. The situation rapidly got out of hand and a former prime minister was assassinated. Rather than learning lessons, RSS elements, backing another stable, claimed a special relationship with one of its worst products, the war criminal Mahinda Rajapaksa, and sought to make light of the recent coup against the elected government of Ranil Wickremesinghe. Sinhala origins from Orissa do not detract from Chinese inroads made into Sri Lanka’s polity dominated by Sinhalas. Religion or a shared ethnicity is not the geopolitical glue India believes it is especially under Narendra Modi.

Deriving from there is another significant feature. As the biggest and weightiest country in South Asia, India sets the trend that is unfailingly followed by its lesser neighbours. If Bollywood cinema is influential, so is the rise of the religious right. When the Sangh Parivar is ascendant at the Centre, it has a mirror effect in Pakistan with the rise of Islamists and the Sinhala chauvinists in Sri Lanka. Being a mammoth and stable democracy, India can step back from religious right aberrations, but Pakistan gets further buried in the morass of fanaticism and jihad, while Sri Lanka struggles to stay afloat. It goes without saying that politico-religious trends in India are reflected in Bangladesh which needs the smallest spark to turn against New Delhi and the same factor is exploited by adversaries like China in other places like Sri Lanka and Maldives. China knows that the simplest way to bait and infuriate India is to introduce Pakistani elements in Sri Lanka and Maldives. China offers nothing comparable to break its geopolitical hold on South Asia. While China’s totalitarianism is not a model for India, its eradication of religion and ideology from foreign policy in favour of pragmatism has contributed to its rise as a Major Power. This is worth emulating.

With reason the founders made India a secular republic although the word itself was introduced later into the Constitution. India has a multitude of social divisions for a single faith-based narrative to succeed. The insistence on a single narrative exacerbates and advertises the divisions to make India easy prey for enemies and adversaries. Jammu and Kashmir can only be part of a secular republic where religion is a private, personal matter. A narrative of exclusion emboldens even a rat such as the former Maldives president to bring up Jammu and Kashmir following India’s insistence on observing democratic norms in the Indian Ocean island state. Hindutva politics may or may not assist Narendra Modi in the 2019 general election but they are certainly ruinous for the country’s geopolitics.