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4th December 2020 – Editorials/Opinions Analyses


  1. The Iran challenge
  2. Personal choices, the Constitution’s endurance
  3. Does India’s neighbourhood policy need reworking?



When Joe Biden left the government in 2017 after having served as Barack Obama’s Vice-President for eight years, the U.S.-Iran relationship was on a totally different trajectory from what it is now.


GS Paper 2: Effect of Policies & Politics of Developed and Developing countries on India (India’s interests, diaspora)

Mains Questions:

  1. USA must go back to nuclear deal without expecting further concessions from Tehran. Comment. 15 Marks

Dimensions of the Article

  • Significance of India-Iran Relationship
  • Challenges in India-Iran Relations
  • Way Forward

Significance of India-Iran Relationship

Energy security:

Iran is the third largest supplier of crude to India. It has also the world’s second-largest reserves of natural gas which could be well leveraged by India.


  • The Chabahar port, being developed by India in Iran is strategically important to India for a variety of reasons.
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  • India is constructing a 560 mile long railway line linking the Iranian port with the Hajigak in southern Afghanistan which is close to Zaranj-Delaram Highway.
  • Iran is the key link to provide connectivity to Central Asia and Europe, via the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC).
International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) 
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Trade and investment:

  • India decided to set up plants in sectors such as fertilizers, petrochemicals and metallurgy in Chabahar Free Trade Zone (FTZ). This will promote India’s energy security while providing financial resources and employment opportunities to Iran.
  • Discussions on the exploitation of Farzad B gas field are underway.
  • India has been actively pursuing the Iran–Pakistan–India (IPI) gas pipeline project. O
  • Iran is a big market for India for India’s agro-products, software services, automobiles, petrochemical products among others, here the scale could be substantially increased. Crucially, Tehran has consistently offered New Delhi very favourable terms, including non-dollar oil sales.


Iran is a major player in securing stability in the overall West Asian region, especially with respect to India to maintain a balance between Shia-Sunni conflict and Arab-Israel conflict.

  • India aspires to become a net security provider in the Indian Ocean region where Iran is a major stake holder. Iran is also important in countering the string of pearls expansion of China in the Indian Ocean.
  • Terrorism: Iran is an important player in fighting global terror groups such as Al-queda, ISIS, Taliban among others. Moreover, Iran can also play a major role in dealing with other organized crimes such as drug trafficking, arms dealing etc

Challenges in India-Iran Relationship

USA-Iran tussle and India

USA had decided to withdraw from 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reinstated sanctions on Iran, citing following reasons:

  • It was alleged that Iran was placing restrictions on the work of the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
  • The deal did not target Iran’s ballistic missile programme, its nuclear activities beyond 2025.
  • Iran’s role in conflicts in Yemen and Syria.
  • Also, analysts point to Tehran’s banking on Paris and Berlin to come up with an alternative arrangement, one that allows Europe and Iran to conduct trade, business and diplomacy, a major cause of concern for US.

Implications of sanctions:

Implications for India

  • Impact on India Iran relations:
    • Energy trade: In 2017, Iran provided 11.2 percent of India’s crude oil imports, the third largest source after Iraq and Saudi Arabia.. India’s oil imports from Iran fell about 57 per cent year-on year since the sanctions came into effect. This shows impermanence in Oil import arrangement of India-Iran jeopardising the energy security of India.
    • Strategic initiatives with Iran- such as International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC), Chabahar port development.
  • Negative impact on the economy-
    • Rising inflation- Iran is the third-largest oil producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Now Iran’s supplies may fall by between 200,000 bpd and 1 million bpd. The price of oil has already shot up above the $70 mark in April, 2019.
    • Widening Current Account Deficit- given that the value of imports goes up with crude oil. It will further have effect on the value of Rupee, which may fall further.
    • Impact on Capital Markets- Indian benchmark indices slid by around 1.3%, as investors rushed to sell shares on concerns that rising oil prices could stoke inflation and adversely affect already repressed consumption.
    • Loss of favorable oil import- the substitute crude suppliers — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Nigeria and the US — do not offer the attractive options that Iran does, including 60-day credit, free insurance and buying oil using Indian Rupee rather than spending crucial FOREX reserves.
  • Strategic Autonomy- India envisages to assert it and balance the ties with both US and Iran. However, this seems to be eroding in favour of the US.

Internal Political issues:

The present government in Iran is under considerable pressure both on the domestic front, in political as well economic areas. Iran has not been able to diversify its economy which is heavily dependent on oil exports and promote entrepreneurship causing consistent rise of unemployment, inflation and decline in per capita income. Also, complex structure of government, tightly controlled rights to free expression are leading to protests.

Uncertainty over the nuclear deal-

The uncertainty over the fate of the nuclear deal Tehran signed with the West in 2015 poses a big challenge to Indian foreign policy. The US exit from the deal would affect India’s planned investments in Iran.

Bilateral trade:

On bilateral trade the biggest stumbling block is banking channels. The two sides are now discussing the possibility of alternate payment mechanism, in addition to the current channel through UCO Bank for rupee payments. Also, Indian exports to Iran have steadily declined from $4.9 billion in 2013-14 to $2.379 billion in 2016-17, increasing the trade deficit.

India-relation with Israel & USA –

Israel, one of the closest US allies in the region, has also been vocal against the nuclear deal, and considers Iran its biggest security threat. India’s relationship with the United States, and American concerns about Iran have also affected the India-Israel relationship.

India relation with Gulf countries-

Iran’s relations with Saudi Arabia remain tense. India has reinforced its historical ties with countries on both sides of the Gulf. This may come out to be an issue.

Kashmir Issue-

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei equated the on-going Kashmir conflict with that of Yemen and Bahrain which has created suspicion on India.

Way Forward

What India needs to do?

  • It’s high time that India strategically aligns with both countries on an autonomous and need based approach. For this, India has to take bold steps. As a leading power it cannot buckle under pressure of any country.
  • Short term course can be developing alternate mode of payment to Iran and promoting flexibility in investment mode.
  • Carrying out high level talks with US about the security and strategic concerns of India Vis a Vis China.
  • In the long term, India has to keep aligning with the other members of Iran nuclear deal to carry out peaceful solution to end nuclear terrorism. The Iran nuclear deal is a fair deal and US cannot unilaterally end it.
  • The engagement with Iran has to be fastened and the work on various Indian projects in Iran has to speed up. The engagement with Iran has to be moved to a partnership level e.g. development of Farzad B oil site.
  • India also needs to develop a comprehensive energy policy to arrest its west Asian energy dependence.

Collective Effort

  • There is a need to collectively resist American efforts to isolate Iran. Collective bargaining is the key to thwart American unilateralism.
  • America minus implementation of the JCPOA is first step to deal with these sanctions. Also, alternate payment arrangement will hugely impact American sanction diplomacy.



The Allahabad High Court verdict in ‘Salamat Ansari’ is a reminder of the Constitution’s most cherished values


GS Paper 2:  Historical underpinnings & evolution; Features, amendments, significant provisions, basic structure; Comparison of Indian constitutional scheme with other countries’

Mains Questions

  1. The High Court ruled that the freedom to live with a person of one’s choice is intrinsic to the fundamental right to life and personal liberty. Discuss. 15 marks
  2. Examine the scope of Fundamental Rights in the light of the latest judgement of the Supreme Court on Right to Privacy. 15 marks

Dimensions of the Article

  • What is right to life?
  • Judicial interpretations related to Article 21
  • Personal liberty and religious conversion
  • Way Forward

What is Right to Life?

Article 21 of Indian Constitution provides for “Protection of Life and Personal Liberty” and reads as “No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty except according to procedure established by law.”

The fundamental right under Article 21 is one of the most important rights provided under the Constitution which has been described as the heart of fundamental rights by the Apex Court in Unni Krishnans case.

  • The objective of the fundamental right under Article 21 is to prevent encroachment upon personal liberty and deprivation of life except according to procedure established by law.
  • It clearly means that this fundamental right has been provided against the state only.
  • If an act of private individual amounts to encroachment upon the personal liberty or deprivation of life of other person, such violation would not fall under the parameters set for the Article 21.
  • In such a case, the remedy for aggrieved person would be either under Article 226 of the constitution or under general law.

Therefore, the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 21 relates only to the acts of State or acts under the authority of the State, which are not according to procedure established by law. The main object of Article 21 is that before a person is deprived of his life or personal liberty by the State, the procedure established by law must be strictly followed.

Judicial interpretations related to Article 21

Judicial intervention has ensured that the scope of Article 21 is not narrow and restricted. It has been widening by several landmark judgements.

A few important cases concerned with Article 21:

  • AK Gopalan Case (1950): Until the 1950s, Article 21 had a bit of a narrow scope. In this case, the SC held that the expression ‘procedure established by law’, the Constitution has embodied the British concept of personal liberty rather than the American ‘due process’.
  • Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India Case (1978): This case overturned the Gopalan case judgement. Here, the SC said that Articles 19 and 21 are not watertight compartments. The idea of personal liberty in Article 21 has a wide scope including many rights, some of which are embodied under Article 19, thus giving them ‘additional protection’. The court also held that a law that comes under Article 21 must satisfy the requirements under Article 19 as well. That means any procedure under law for the deprivation of life or liberty of a person must not be unfair, unreasonable or arbitrary. Read the Maneka Gandhi case in detail in the linked article.
  • Francis Coralie Mullin vs. Union Territory of Delhi (1981): In this case, the court held that any procedure for the deprivation of life or liberty of a person must be reasonable, fair and just and not arbitrary, whimsical or fanciful.
  • Olga Tellis vs. Bombay Municipal Corporation (1985): This case reiterated the stand taken earlier that any procedure that would deprive a person’s fundamental rights should conform to the norms of fair play and justice.

Personal liberty and religious conversion

  • The Allahabad High Court declared last month that religious conversions, even when made solely for the purposes of marriage, constituted a valid exercise of a person’s liberties.
  • The High Court ruled that the freedom to live with a person of one’s choice is intrinsic to the fundamental right to life and personal liberty. In holding thus, the order recognised that our society rested on the foundations of individual dignity, that a person’s freedom is not conditional on the caste, creed or religion that her partner might claim to profess, and that every person had an equal dominion over their own senses of conscience.

Right to privacy

  • The High Court’s order makes it clear that it is neither the province of the state nor any other individual to interfere with a person’s choice of partner or faith.
  • By invoking the Supreme Court’s judgment in Puttaswamy, the High Court held that an individual’s ability to control vital aspects of her life inheres in her right to privacy, that this promise includes the preservation of decisional autonomy, on matters, among other things, of “personal intimacies, the sanctity of family life, marriage, procreation, the home, and sexual orientation”.

Freedom of conscience

  • Article 25 of the Constitution expressly protects the choices that individuals make. In addition to the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion, it guarantees to every person the freedom of conscience.
  • By its dictionary definition, “conscience” refers to each person’s own sense of moral right and wrong. It is an emotion that cannot be judged from the outside. It is certainly not something that the state can examine as a function of its sovereign authority.

Way Forward

Since then, a nine-judge Bench ruling of the Supreme Court, in Puttaswamy, has recognised that every individual possesses a guaranteed freedom of thought; that at the core of liberty is the rights of persons to decide for themselves how they want to lead their lives. When we fail to acknowledge and respect the most intimate and personal choices that people make — choices of faith and belief, choices of partners — we undermine the most basic principles of dignity. Our Constitution’s endurance depends on our ability to respect these decisions, to grant to every person an equal freedom of conscience.



Recent visits by Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval to countries in the region appear to show new energy in India’s neighbourhood policy.


GS Paper 2: India and its neighbourhoods

Mains Questions:

  1. Our engagement with our neighbouring countries should not be event-oriented; it should be process-oriented. Discuss. 15 marks
  2. India has been implementing a policy of asymmetric engagement to strengthen bridges of friendship and create new opportunities for the growth, security and well-being of her neighbours both bilaterally and through the SAARC mechanism. Elaborate 15 marks

Dimensions of the Article

  • Background of India’s Neighbourhood policy
  • Reasons for discontents with Neighbours
  • Suggestions for improving the relationship
  • Way forward

Background of India’s Neighbourhood policy

India by far is the largest country in terms of area, population, and economic and military capabilities, larger than all its neighbours put together. Each neighbour shares some significant ethnic, linguistic or cultural features with India but not so much with the others in the subcontinent. It is this asymmetry which shapes the neighbourhood’s perception of India and vice versa. But India also must recognize that the asymmetry is still not of the scale that can compel its neighbours to align their interests with its own. This is the challenge of proximity.

  • Since its independence, when the subcontinent itself saw major rearrangements, India frequently has had to compete with other suitors for its neighbours’ affections. This leads to either excessive and often misdirected generosity and accommodation, or harsh overreaction.
  • However, during the past decade there has been a visible change in India’s approach to its neighbourhood and to SAARC. This is the result of a growing recognition that economic integration in South Asia is indispensable for the Indian economy as it globalizes. Since 2014, when India’s neighbourhood policy was first enunciated by inviting leaders of all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries to swearing-in ceremony, of new government, India’s neighbourhood policy now seems adrift.
  • In 2014 India enunciated ‘Neighbourhood first’ policy by inviting leaders of all South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries to swearing-in ceremony, of new government. The policy signified:
    • India is willing to give political and diplomatic priority to its immediate neighbours and the Indian Ocean Island states.
    • It will provide support to neighbours with support in the form of resources, equipment and training.
    • Greater connectivity and integration to improve free flow of goods, people, energy, capital and information.
    • Promoting a model of India led regionalism with which neighbours are comfortable.
    • To connect with neighbours through cultural heritage.
India and the South Asian Neighbourhood - Indian Defence Review

Reasons for Disconnect with neighbours

Unfavourable Structural Challenges:

India has historical legacies of border conflict, ethnic and social tensions and India’s are the dominant structural handicaps working against success of India’s policy in South Asia. For example, the issues related to Madhesis in Nepal, Tamils in Sri Lanka, border and river water disputes with Bangladesh are accorded to various structural handicaps of India.

Lack of Consensus on Core issues of Security and Development:

South Asia is one of the only regions without any regional security architecture nor there is an effort to evolve any such architecture due to lack of consensus. India’s big brotherly stature has been seen as more of a threat by other countries of the region rather than an enabling factor to cooperate for security and development of the region.

Impact of China

  • China has made foray into India’s neighbourhood of alternative trade and connectivity options after the 2015 India-Nepal border blockade (e.g. highway to Lhasa, cross-border railway lines to the development of dry port).
  • In Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Maldives and Pakistan, China holds strategic real estate and has stake in their domestic policies.
  • China already had growing presence in infrastructure and connectivity projects and now it is undertaking political mediations such as stepping in to negotiate a Rohingya refugee return agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh, hosting a meeting of Afghanistan and Pakistan’s foreign ministers to bring both on board with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and is also mediating between Maldivian government and opposition.

India’s Hard Power Tactics:

India has a central location in South Asia and being the largest geographically and economically, India should be expected to hold greater sway over each of its neighbors but many of its hard power tactics do not seem to work:

  • The 2015 Nepal blockade and a subsequent cut in Indian aid did not force the Nepali government to amend its constitution as intended and may have led to reversal of India’s influence there.
  • Indian PM’s Cancellation of visit to Male in 2015 and criticism of emergency in Maldives have also failed to yield desired changes in government and led to Maldives cancelling its participation in the Indian Navy’s “Milan” exercises.

Political loggerheads:

For various reasons other governments in the SAARC region are either not on ideal terms with India or facing political headwinds.

  • In the Maldives, President Yameen Abdul Gayoom has challenged India through its crackdown on the opposition, invitations to China and breaking with India’s effort to isolate Pakistan at SAARC.
  • In Nepal, the K.P. Sharma Oli government is not India’s first choice, and both countries disagreements over Nepalese constitution, Treaty of Peace and Friendship 1950 etc.
  • In Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, where relations have been comparatively better for the past few years, upcoming elections could pose the challenge for India.

Suggestions for improving the relationship

Many of these factors mentioned are hard to reverse but the fundamental facts of geography and shared cultures in South Asia are also undeniable, and India must focus its efforts to “Making the Neighbourhood First Again”:

Soft Power:

Despite the apparent benefits of hard power and realpolitik, India’s most potent tool is its soft power. Its successes in Bhutan and Afghanistan, for example, have primarily been due to its development assistance than its defense assistance. Considering this India’s allocations for South Asia have also increased by 6% in 2018 after two years of decline.

Change in approach towards China:

Instead of opposing every project by China in the region, India must attempt a three-pronged approach:

  • First, where possible, India should collaborate with China in the manner it has over the Bangladesh China-India-Myanmar (BCIM) Economic corridor.
  • Second, when it feels a project is a threat to its interests, India should make a counter-offer to the project, if necessary in collaboration with its Quadrilateral partners, Japan, the U.S. and Australia.
  • Third, India should coexist with projects that do not necessitate intervention, while formulating a set of South Asian principles for sustainable development assistance that can be used across the region.

Learn from ASEAN:

Like ASEAN, SAARC countries must meet more often informally, interfere less in the internal workings of each other’s governments, and that there be more interaction at every level of government. Further some experts have argued that like Indonesia India too must take a back seat in decision-making, enabling others to build a more harmonious SAARC process.

Understand limitations of neighbourhood first:

India needs investments, access to technology, fulfilment of its defense and energy needs and defend its interests in international trade negotiations, besides seeking reform of the international financial and political institutions to obtain its rightful say in global governance which may not be fulfilled by its neighbors.

Way forward:  

A new neighbourhood policy needs to be imaginatively crafted in tune with the emerging realities in order to maintain its regional power status and to realise status transformation to the next level in the near future. It calls for promotion of a multi-vector foreign policy by diversifying its foreign policy attention on multiple powers (not only the US; but also Russia, the European Union, Africa and so on) in the global arena while developing a stronger matrix of multilateralism and employing stronger diplomatic communications strategies. 

February 2024