Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, the Minister of External Affairs of India, has shed light on the country’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy in the midst of a diplomatic row between India and the Maldives. This policy, he explained during a town hall meeting in Nagpur, Maharashtra, on Saturday, has been a cornerstone of India’s diplomatic efforts over the past decade, aiming to build a strong connection with neighbouring countries, regardless of political fluctuations.

Jaishankar’s comments come in the wake of a social media spat that escalated into a diplomatic row between India and the Maldives. The conflict began when supporters of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi suggested that his visit to India’s Lakshadweep Islands could boost tourism there, potentially rivalling the Maldives as a tourist destination. This led to a wave of posts from both Indian and Maldivian nationals, culminating in derogatory remarks made by three deputy ministers from the Maldives about India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Though Jaishankar did not mention the Maldives by name, he acknowledged the recent rift, attributing it to the inherent unpredictability of politics. He stated, “Politics is politics. I cannot guarantee that in every country, every day, everybody will support us or agree with us.”

Despite these challenges, Jaishankar emphasised the success of the ‘neighbourhood first’ policy over the past decade. The policy aims to build a strong connection with neighbouring countries, ensuring that despite political ups and downs, the people and society of these countries maintain positive feelings towards India and understand the importance of good relations, he added.

Explaining the practical implementation of this policy, Jaishankar added, “We are involved today in building roads, electricity transmission, supplying fuel, providing trade access, making investments, and having people holiday in other countries. All these are parts of how you develop those relationships.”

While acknowledging that sometimes things do not go as planned, Jaishankar stressed the importance of reasoning with people and bringing things back where they should be. This approach, he suggested, is a crucial aspect of his role in managing India’s foreign relations.

Jaishankar’s statement underscores India’s diplomatic strategy of fostering solid ties with its neighbours, even in the face of political disagreements. As the situation continues to unfold, this ‘neighbourhood first’ policy’s effectiveness will be tested, according to political commentators.

On the other side of the pond, Munu Mahawar, the Indian High Commissioner in the Maldives, and a delegation of Indian diplomats engaged in high-level talks at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Malé.

The discussions were conducted under the auspices of the India-Maldives co-committee, a body specifically formed to address the ongoing diplomatic issues between the two nations. Central to these deliberations was President Mohamed Muizzu’s request for the removal of Indian troops stationed in the Maldives.