Climbing the Ladder: India’s Pursuit of Regional Dominance
In the intricate tapestry of South Asia's political and economic landscape, India stands as a formidable player, driven by ambitions to ascend to the zenith of regional leadership.
Rafi Ul Haq
Its journey toward consolidating its position as a preeminent and hegemonic power in the region is a multi-faceted endeavor marked by meticulous strategic planning and deliberate actions aimed at safeguarding its national interests.
Throughout history, India has consistently sought regional leadership, propelled by a combination of factors. These include its strategic geographical positioning, political stability, sustained socio-cultural influence, historical connections with neighboring nations, economic growth, and advances in research and technology. These elements collectively underpin India’s enduring quest for regional hegemony.
Security Concerns: India has consistently pursued a central role in the South Asian region with a primary focus on safeguarding its security interests. This ambition is rooted in its historical and ongoing border disputes with neighboring countries, particularly China and Pakistan. These disputes, exemplified by the Kashmir issue with Pakistan and territorial conflicts along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China, have driven India’s strategic calculus. India’s overarching goal has been to mitigate future security threats emanating from these disputes. To achieve this, India seeks to neutralize and weaken the military capabilities, technological advancements, and economic growth of China and Pakistan. This approach is driven by India’s pursuit of regional hegemony, with the aim of fostering a conducive security environment that safeguards its territorial integrity and counters potential threats. India’s s ecurity concerns are deeply intertwined with its efforts to manage regional disputes, secure its borders, and establish itself as a dominant regional power, all in pursuit of safeguarding its national security and interests.
Geostrategic Considerations: India’s geographical location ensures its considerable strength and leverage in terms of maritime access, connectivity, and trade routes. In this critical geopolitical scenario, India’s quest for regional hegemony is to position itself as a key player in the Indian Ocean region and leverage its geographic position to counter the influence of other regional powers. India has established its strategic partnership with the US to contain China. The two countries regularly engage in high-level talks, defense cooperation, intelligence sharing, and joint military exercises. India has strengthened its ties with Japan through a “Special Strategic and Global Partnership.” Both countries express concern over China’s assertiveness in the region. India and Australia are working to strengthen their ties to counter China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific. India and Russia have a long-standing strategic partnership based on historical ties and defense cooperation. Additionally, India has developed close ties with France, Russia, and Israel in the areas of strategic partnership for defense cooperation.
Economic Interests: India’s burgeoning economy and burgeoning markets are propelling it into a more prominent position within the international economic arena. Its pursuit of regional hegemony is aimed at augmenting economic influence, fostering trade and investment, and securing access to critical regional resources. India maintains a watchful eye on China’s regional ascendancy, particularly its territorial assertions, military modernization endeavors, and expansive infrastructure undertakings such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which potentially impinge upon India’s sphere of influence. Concurrently, India actively engages in regional multilateral forums like the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), as a means to promote its regional interests.
Cultural and Soft Power Influence: India’s rich cultural heritage, including music, art, literature, and cinema, wields a profound influence in the region. Through the projection of soft power, India effectively shapes regional narratives, fosters cultural connections, and solidifies its status as a cultural and intellectual focal point. Cultural diplomacy and a soft approach serve as potent tools for subtly altering attitudes and mindsets within societies. The music culture of India has made a huge impact in the regional countries. Additionally, India has pursued various bilateral initiatives such as development projects, capacity-building assistance, and security cooperation to strengthen its relations with neighboring countries. The Indian government’s “neighborhood first” policy emphasizes close ties with South Asian countries and aims to create a stable security environment in the region to serve its national interests. However, it is important to highlight that India’s pursuit of regional hegemony need not necessarily be aggressive or expansionist ambitions. While it wants to increase its political, economic, diplomatic, and security influence in the region to achieve its goals.
The writer is a faculty member in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the International Islamic University, Islamabad.