A Road Less Travelled: Forks and Bends in India's Subregional Transport Diplomacy

A Road Less Travelled: Forks and Bends in India's Subregional Transport Diplomacy

18 December 2015

The subregional project as a narrative aimed at transforming economic geographies has been raised to the highest levels of rhetorical importance in India’s policy discourse. At the core of this vision stands a series of transborder infrastructure projects that India has initiated in the subregion, part of a larger feel-good narrative of rethinking borders as bridges. India’s connectivity projects have the potential to become effective drivers of subregional integration. But there exists formidable roadblocks to mobility, which needs to be addressed if the subregional vision of a seamless flow of people, goods and services is to be realised. The paper looks in particular at a set of regulatory and institutional roadblocks that India’s transborder transport diplomacy needs to overcome. Many of these challenges will ultimately turn on how India perceives its role in the region and the extent to which it prioritises regional integration as a goal. Is India likely to be a ‘leader of last resort’ interested only in minimalist goals or will it have the inclination to lead the region and invest in the creation of regional public goods? At the end of the day, the subregional project is fundamentally an experiment in co-governance that has to have robust subnational stakeholders as active partners in framing and fashioning subregional orders. This is clearly a road less travelled for Indian diplomacy and its institutional journey is likely to have several forks and bends as it unfolds.