Third, Delhi could have also looked further east and invited leaders from the Mekong countries under the auspices of Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC) or even the nations of ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) under India-ASEAN partnership. However, then questions could be raised as to why New Delhi overlooked its immediate neighbours. Moreover, India-ASEAN partnership and the MGC are forums involving only India and Southeast Asian nations without membership from other South Asian nations.
The unique position of the seven-member BIMSTEC presents itself fittingly in New Delhi’s current diplomatic interest. The strategic salience of the BIMSTEC forum for India can be ascertained when seen through India’s sub-regions. The BIMSTEC connects three important sub-regions of India — Nepal and Bhutan in the Himalayan sub-region; Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal sub-region; and Myanmar and Thailand in the Mekong sub-region. BIMSTEC is the only forum that brings together India’s strategic peripheries (South, East and North) under one single grouping. Furthermore, it also keeps geopolitical concerns at bay as regional players such as China and Pakistan are not members of BIMSTEC.
The BIMSTEC is also at the centre of New Delhi’s engagements with other various regional and sub-regional groupings in India’s eastern neighbourhood with its members often are also members of other regional and sub-regional groupings in their respective regions and sub-regions. For instance, Myanmar and Thailand are members of ASEAN and Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) while Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal are members of SAARC and BBIN. Bangladesh and Myanmar are also members of the four-member sub-regional BCIM (Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar) forum along with India and China. The progress of BIMSTEC, therefore, could help regional integration of the entire north-eastern Indian Ocean region with the Bay of Bengal at the centre.