Today's Editorial

31 August 2017

States have a role in foreign policy


Source: By Pranaav Gupta: The Statesman


It is not often that one would associate the concept of cooperative federalism with the conduct of foreign policy. Yet, it is this interesting idea that seems to have garnered a lot of focus in India’s diplomatic agenda. This can be seen in light of an increased engagement of ambassadors of various countries with chief ministers of Indian states. This marks a new era in the importance of Indian states in the conduct and formulation of India’s foreign policy.

The Ministry of External Affairs inaugurated a new division called the States Division in October 2014, which is primarily tasked with channelling investment to states and ensuring that there is synergy and harmony between the union and the states on matters of investment from abroad. Responding to a unstarred question in the Lok Sabha, the Minister of State VK Singh said that the States Division was set up “to coordinate with States and Union Territories for further facilitation of their efforts to promote their exports and tourism and attract more overseas investments and expertise.”

The States division has already facilitated the visit of a number of Indian chief ministers abroad and also helped in coordinating rescue and relief efforts with states governments during Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations. India’s North-eastern states have long been recognised as India’s gateway to South East Asia, Increased trade and better connectivity with the five neighbouring states, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar can certainly change the economic landscape of the Northeastern states. A review of the best practices of other countries shows that Victoria, an Australian state, has had a massive trade fair in India taking place over seventeen days and covering nine Indian cities, to attract investment in the form of a Super Trade Mission. Victoria also conducts such missions in the Middle East and China.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and South Korean Trade-Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) have been active in a number of Indian states. KOTRA has also set up a new office in the state of West Bengal to attract investments from South Korea into West Bengal. The re-opening of the Hamburg Consulate in Mumbai also points to the importance that cities are having in improving trade relations and foreign affairs. The Kolkata-Kunming partnership aims at building direct connectivity between West Bengal and Kunming which is located in eastern China and is the hub of a great amount of industrial activity.

Japan has been partnering with India on a number of initiatives such as Ganga Action PlanKyoto-Varanasi Smart Cities Agreements and the Bullet Train initiative under the terms of the India-Japan Vision for 2025, which was signed during Prime Minister Abe’s last visit to India. The Japanese ambassador to India also met Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal to discuss Japanese co-operation with infrastructure initiatives of the Delhi government. This is a great example of harnessing opportunities from abroad to help improve local governance. Indian diplomats have also been instructed to ensure that they are committed to economic diplomacy and have been sent on familiarising tours to various states. They have been told to adopt one/two states and scout for investment opportunities in their host countries that are in line with the government’s Make in IndiaSmart Cities MissionClean India and Digital India initiatives.

A number of Indian states have started regularly hosting yearly investor summits that bring promises of investment both from India and abroad. The Happening HaryanaVibrant GujaratMake in Madhya Pradesh and similar summits in Punjab, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Maharashtra and Rajasthan, etc. are a few examples. The presence of over eighteen states at the Hannover Trade Fair in Germany inaugurated by Mr. Narendra Modi is indeed an accomplishment worthy of praise.

However, Investment and connectivity cannot only be built on the foundations of grandiose talk and promises. To ensure that promises are converted into deliverables, the government must constantly undertake periodic reviews of its commitments to other countries and their corresponding status. Another commitment in which India is still lagging is the Kaladan Multi-modal Transit Transport Project Port connectivity initiative in Myanmar which was touted as a major project that could revolutionise connectivity between India and South East Asia. Similarly, the BIMSTEC (The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral and Technical Economic Co-operation) has not been able to fulfil its mandate of improving regional connectivity. This is where the importance of Indian sates comes in: the states must realise that their economic future is directly connected with these regional and sub-regional initiatives.

The relevance of states is never going to be a non-issue in the conduct of India’s foreign policy anymore. With the emphasis that is being laid on cooperative federalism and economic diplomacy, it is indeed an opportune moment for Indian states to harness investment opportunities abroad through effective co-ordination with the States division of the MEA.

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